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'Dictatorships Have Tried to Do This Kind of Thing': Pope Slams EU for Swapping Christmas for 'Watered-Down Secularism'

Pope Francis greets the journalists onboard the papal plane on the occasion of his five-day pastoral visit to Cyprus and Greece, Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. (Alessandro Di Meo/Pool photo via AP)

Pope Francis is sharply responding against the European Commission's controversial efforts to make its communications more inclusive after leaked internal guidelines drew backlash for trying to "cancel Christmas," telling staff to "avoid assuming that everyone is Christian" and celebrates Christmas. 

The Religion News Service (RNS) reports internal communications of the European Commission were leaked last week by the Italian daily Il Giornale. The 30-page document, titled "Union of Equality," advised members to "avoid assuming that everyone is Christian," especially during the winter holidays.

The document advised commission members to avoid using the word "Christmas" and instead use the term "holidays." It also advised against using names "that are typically from one religion," substituting "Maria and John" with "Malika and Julio" when referring to a hypothetical couple, according to the RNS

The document also listed guidelines on how to address gender and sexual orientation. This drew criticism from representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, conservative politicians, and the pope. 

The European Commission withdrew the document last Thursday, saying it was  "a work in progress" and promising in a tweet to publish an "updated version."

Francis Advises EU Leaders to Respect Individual Countries' National Values

Francis, 84, spoke to reporters Monday on a plane returning to the Vatican from his trip to Greece and Cyprus. He likened the wording in the commission's guidelines to the rhetoric used by dictatorships throughout history. 

"In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do this kind of thing. Think of Napoleon… think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one," Francis said. "It is something that throughout history hasn't worked."

The pope rebuked what he called "watered-down secularism."

Francis noted the EU must "be careful not to take the path of ideological colonization, which could end up dividing countries and causing the European Union to fail."

He also warned EU leaders to respect each country's internal structure, its variety and not try to make them all exactly alike. 

"The danger is when there is a superpower that dictates economic, cultural, and social behavior to the other countries," he said. "Democracy is weakened when national values are sacrificed, are watered down toward an empire, a kind of supranational government."

According to the RNS, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, who heads the Vatican's Secretariat of State, also commented on the controversial European document in an interview with Vatican news outlets. He noted the "tendency to homogenize everything" without taking into account the "rightful differences" of countries and religious beliefs.

Addressing the European Commission's document, Parolin said it demonstrates "forgetfulness of what is a reality" and "a cancellation of our roots," especially when it comes to "Christian festivities."

"Of course, we know that Europe owes its existence and its identity to many influences, but we certainly cannot forget that one of the main influences, if not the main one, was Christianity itself," he added.

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