They Did Not Vow
European governments and civil society groups are putting the screws to Christians in the former heart of Christendom.
In November 1944, before his arrest by Nazi collaborators, the Catholic bishop of Veszprém, József Mindszenty, prepared an essay describing his opposition to Hungary’s pro-Nazi regime. It was titled “Iuramentum non”—Latin for “no oath”—and its subtitle was “One cannot vow to serve the revolution and the Church at the same time.” The text was meant to be a response to the demand of the fascists that all priests, monks, and nuns swear fealty to the dictator of Hungary, Ferenc Szálasi, who was later executed by the Communists as a war criminal.
Mindszenty opposed the idea that the state should interfere in the life of the church and rejected its desire for total control over “individual, family, and state.” He also recalled the aggressive anti-Christian propaganda from the pro-Nazi newspapers at the time. His response was clear: One cannot be a Christian and vow to serve the revolutionary government.
This historic episode came to my mind as I read through the recent report on the persecution of Christians in Europe by the Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe (OIDAC). While most conservatives are aware that Christianity is persecuted in the Middle East and Asia, we can often forget its graphic and serious nature. According to Open Doors Analytical, a Christian advocacy group, 4,761 Christians were killed (many of them in Nigeria), 4,488 churches or other Christian buildings were burned or attacked, and around 3,000 Christians were raped or otherwise sexually harassed in 2021. These staggering numbers are only registered cases—the real numbers are almost definitely higher. For many Christians, life today is as hard as it was in the times of Nero.
Yet the situation of Christians in Europe is also becoming difficult. In the traditional heartland of Christendom, Christians now face legal and public persecution. Apparently the phenomenon is not only reserved for underdeveloped nations and comes not only from religious sources.
In 2021, OIDAC documented more than 500 anti-Christian hate crimes in 19 European countries, with many other hate crimes likely going unreported. Most of these were cases of hate speech or legal discrimination, but 14 physical attacks and four murders were also recorded, along with one attempted murder.
OIDAC is not the only source on this subject. In the United Kingdom, the Countryside Alliance organization has been reporting on “crimes committed at churches” for over two years. By using official police data, they reported that between July 2020 and July 2021, 4,169 incidents of theft, vandalism, assault, or burglary occurred at churches in the U.K. In England and Wales, 701 anti-Christian hate crimes were reported to the police between March 2021 and March 2022. In Austria, 156 anti-religious hate crimes were directed against Christians in 2021. In Germany, 109 attacks occurred with an anti-Christian bias, while 106 attacks on churches were documented in 2021, according to police numbers. Added together, one anti-Christian hate crime occurs almost every single day.
In France, state statistics show that Christians were targeted with 857 hate crimes, making them the most targeted religious group in the country. This means that on average, two Christian sites (places of worship or cemeteries) are attacked every day, while one Christian individual is attacked roughly every 5.5 days. The situation is so dire in France and Scotland that the government has had to implement budgets to improve the security of Christian sites; previously this had only been the sad “privilege” of Jewish communities.
The majority of hate crimes documented by OIDAC were acts of vandalism or damage to property (76 percent), but theft of sacred objects, desecration of religious symbols, threats, insults and arson are also prominently featured on the list. The most dangerous country in Europe for Christians was France, then followed by Germany and Italy. Other Western European countries such as U.K., Spain, Austria, Belgium, Ireland and Switzerland are also on the list.
The number of attacks usually rises around Christmas time, when publicly displayed nativity scenes are an easy target for a night-time rampage. In cases where the perpetrator could be identified, OIDAC found that Satanist were the most likely culprits of such attacks, followed by Islamists, and finally far-left, feminist, and LGBT groups.
Again, the stories behind the numbers are harrowing, and display an unholy alliance between the Islamists and leftists. Catholic processions in France were physically attacked in 2021 by Islamists who called them ‘kafirs’ (infidels) and yelled: “I swear by the Koran, I will cut your throats.” At around the same time, “pro-choice” demonstrators attacked a March for Life in Vienna, a peaceful protest for the rights of the unborn and women. The leftist disrupted the march with slogans such as “abort fundamentalists."
Sadly, Christian refugees coming to Europe often find no shelter here either. Open Doors Analytical has conducted various surveys among Christian refugees from the Third World to Germany and Sweden and found that their situation was and is “unbearable.” “As a minority they are discriminated against, beaten up by and receive death threats from Muslim refugees and partly by Muslim staff (securities, interpreters, volunteers) on grounds of their religion.”
Physical attacks are not the only thing worrying European Christians. Self-censorship and infringement on their freedom of conscience has become a common phenomenon—largely driven by secularist actors.
One recent and notable example was the case of Finnish MP and former Minister of Interior Päivi Räsänen. Räsänen has faced criminal charges since April 2021 for publicly speaking about her opinions on marriage and human sexuality, including posting a direct quote from the Bible. She has been charged with hate speech, as the Finnish prosecutor general opined that her words amounted to whipping up hatred against homosexuals. She has also been investigated for various other statements and tweets, including one where she criticized the involvement of Finland’s Evangelical Lutheran Church at local LGBT Pride events. Some of these investigations have been shut down, but were reopened later.
Even though a first court ruling in the case relating to the Bible quote acquitted Räsänen of all charges and ordered the prosecution to pay for the costs of the trial, the prosecution has filed for an appeal. The case will likely continue for years. In 2022, Catholic Irish bishop Kevin Doran was banned (and then reinstated) by Twitter for “violating their rules” and promoting “suicide or self-harm.” His crime? He expressed disapproval of the legalization of euthanasia. The message for the Christians of Finland, Ireland, and the rest of Europe is clear: Vocalize your opinions on public matters, and you will face not only mockery and ostracization, but legal and financial troubles—even if you are the former Minister of Interior.
This message appears to have been duly received by Christians throughout Europe; a national poll in the UK in 2020 hinted that self-censorship is becoming an increasing phenomenon at universities.
European hospitals have become the battleground in the ongoing war against Christianity. In the U.K., a nurse at Croydon University Hospital in London was suspended in August 2021 for refusing to take down a cross from her neck. In another case that merits attention, two Swedish midwives were denied employment in 2020 due to their conscientious objections to abortion. The legal background for such discrimination has been diligently laid by leftist lawyers throughout Europe. In 2022, the European Parliament approved the Matic report, a non-binding resolution that describes abortion as an “essential” health service, and redefines conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.” The report labels any violations of the new amendment “a form of violence against women and girls.”
Luckily, the debate is not settled on an E.U. level, but by national parliaments—but local left-wing M.P.s are not idle either. Spain’s “Ministry of Equality” recently outlined a plan to create a registry of medical doctors, nurses, and staff who conscientiously object to abortion. Spanish legal scholar Dionisio Llamazares Fernández pointed out the nature of such a proposal contradicts basic elements of modern Spanish law: The Spanish Constitution protects the right to freedom of ideology, religion or belief, as well as one’s moral integrity and personal intimacy. Spain is also a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights, which protects freedom of conscience.
The left, however, does not seem to care. The Spanish equality minister, Irene Montero, declared that “the right of physicians to conscientious objection cannot be above women’s right to decide.”
Dark clouds gather over France as well. At the end of 2020, Green and Socialist members of the French Parliament attempted to remove the conscience clause in the French constitution protecting the right of doctors, nurses, and midwives to refuse to take part in abortion. The very issue at the core of the left’s efforts to force doctors’ hands is that doctors do not want to murder babies. As OIDAC points out, only 27.5 percent of gynecologists in France are willing to perform an abortion.
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There are counterexamples to these worrying trends. In 2017, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán launched the Hungary Helps Program, which focuses on supporting religious communities in need, and the government currently tasks a secretary of state, Tristan Azbej, with assisting persecuted Christians around the world. Hungary, however, is a small country and cannot solve the titanic issues facing world Christianity. Orbán told a crowd of Western conservatives in Rome in February 2020 that “To fight against the liberal mainstream is not the job of small countries.… That is the reason I try to find partners in Italy and in Spain, and I hope that the upcoming new political forces, bigger countries will take the same flag and take the role away from us or join us in leading that fight.”
Only time will tell if the recent right-wing victory in Italy will help improve the situation of Christians in Europe and the Middle East and Asia. Back in 2017 Vice President Mike Pence made some steps toward better assisting persecuted Christians—but that was then. As the Christians of the world face increasing discrimination, persecution, harassment and even death, the words of bishop Mindszenty from 79 years ago ring true: “One cannot vow to serve the revolution and the Church at the same time.” And indeed: today's martyrs have not “taken the vow.”