Iraqi cardinal Louis Raphael Sako has denounced the rise of “relativism” and “Christianophobia” in Europe. The Patriarch of the Chaldean Church offered the example of a supposed ban on Christian religion classes in Belgium, something which is not entirely true.

Driving the news

“Europe fell prey to relativism a long time ago. I understand that there are no longer Christian religious classes in Belgian schools, only classes about Islam. There has been much talk about ‘Islamophobia’ but clearly ‘Christianophobia’ should be discussed too”, Cardinal Sako was quoted as saying in an interview with the European Post.

But according to a 2019 US State Department report:

“The [Belgian] constitution requires teaching in public schools to be neutral with respect to religious belief.  All public schools outside of Flanders offer mandatory religious or ‘moral’ instruction (which is oriented towards citizenship and moral values); parents in schools in Flanders may have their children opt out of such courses.  Francophone schools offer ‘philosophy and citizenship’ courses alongside courses on the recognized religions, based on a constitutional court ruling.

“Schools provide teachers, clerical or secular, for each of the recognized religious groups, as well as for secular humanism, according to the student’s preference.  The public education system requires neutrality in the presentation of religious views outside of religion classes.  Teachers of religion are permitted to express their religious beliefs and wear religious attire, even if school policy otherwise forbids such attire.  Public school religion teachers are nominated by a committee from their religious group and appointed by the linguistic community government’s education minister.  Private, authorized religious schools, known as ‘free’ schools, follow the same curriculum as public schools but may place greater emphasis on specific religious classes”.

As recently as this past May, eight leaders of the Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim faiths signed a joint letter urging Belgium’s lawmakers to maintain religion classes in schools.

The leaders said “between 80 and 90 percent of parents (…) sign up their children to a religion or morality class”. They added that the religion subject encourages “dialogue between culture and religion”.

More on Novena:

Attacks on churches in France point to loss of sense of sacred, not Christianophobia

Go deeper

Cardinal Sako, who is also president of the Iraqí Bishops’ Conference, accused Europe of shying away from its Christian heritage.

“Europe should not be ashamed of Christian values that we in Iraq defended for centuries and this contributed to making a plural society which survived until a relatively short time ago”, said the cardinal.

“Christians are afraid of Muslims in Europe but they are not helping Christians in Iraq, a situation which is very dangerous. Throughout the Middle East Christians are ready to die rather than deny their faith, while many Muslims in Europe are ready to die rather than continue living in a continent where ‘infidels’ make the law”, Sako warned.

Novena investigates:

Is religious freedom under threat in Europe?

For the record

“The European Union as such is not helping Christians”, Cardinal Sako denounced, adding that only “some” individual EU countries – such as Hungary and Austria – are providing funds for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

“We can work very well ourselves and manage the money that Christian charities give our projects; we do not understand why the EU does not consider us capable of handling their money”, Sako questioned.


Bishops head push for more religious literacy in the EU