A back-down by the British Government on its so-called Equality Bill in February followed Benedict XVI's forthright comments to English and Welsh bishops during their ad limina visit to the Vatican. Benedict is due to visit the UK later this year.
The British Government has withdrawn controversial provisions of its Equality Bill that threatened to undermine religious freedom. A Government source said that 'the Pope's intervention has been noted.'
Benedict told the UK bishops on 1 February: 'Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.
'In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed. I urge you as Pastors to ensure that the Church's moral teaching be always presented in its entirety and convincingly defended.
'Fidelity to the Gospel in no way restricts the freedom of others - on the contrary, it serves their freedom by offering them the truth. Continue to insist upon your right to participate in national debate through respectful dialogue with other elements in society.
'In doing so, you are not only maintaining long-standing British traditions of freedom of expression and honest exchange of opinion, but you are actually giving voice to the convictions of many people who lack the means to express them: when so many of the population claim to be Christian, how could anyone dispute the Gospel's right to be heard?'
A few days later, Benedict addressed the Scottish bishops along similar lines during their ad limina visit: 'A strong Catholic presence in the media, local and national politics, the judiciary, the professions and the universities can only serve to enrich Scotland's national life, as people of faith bear witness to the truth, especially when that truth is called into question.'
The British situation reflects what has been occurring worldwide as strategically placed secularists use their pivotal positions in the UN, the European Union, and in various Western nations, including the US and Australia, to marginalise religious inputs to public policy on contentious moral issues such as abortion on demand and same-sex marriage.
Already in some countries the freedom of Catholic hospitals, schools and other institutions to operate according to their moral principles has been put at risk.
In the United States, in response to this growing threat an historic document, called the Manhattan Declaration, was signed by over 140 leaders representing every branch of American Christianity and launched in Washington DC on 20 November 2009.
The Declaration was a wake-up call to Christians and their leaders to stand and be counted, and a challenge to civil authorities to cease their assaults on the sanctity of human life, the institution of marriage, and religious freedom:
'[E]ven in a democratic regime, laws can be unjust. And from the beginning, our faith has taught that civil disobedience is required in the face of gravely unjust laws or laws that purport to require us to do what is unjust or otherwise immoral. Such laws lack the power to bind in conscience because they can claim no authority beyond that of sheer human will.
'Therefore, let it be known that we will not comply with any edict that compels us or the institutions we lead to participate in or facilitate abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, euthanasia, or any other act that violates the principle of the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every member of the human family.
'Further, let it be known that we will not bend to any rule forcing us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality, marriage, and the family.'
On the same day, Cardinal George Pell spoke on similar lines during his address to the Australian Christian Lobby National Conference in Canberra.
Referring to a federal inquiry into freedom of religion in Australia by the Human Rights Commission, Cardinal Pell said 'the only question about its outcome is how bad it will be ...
'The problem for the Commission and those who share its world view is that human rights often get in the road of their particular secular agenda. The rights to life, to marriage, to family; the recognition of the family based on marriage as the fundamental unit of society; the rights of parents to determine the moral and religious education of their children; and the rights to freedom of religion, belief and conscience, are all recognised by the major international human rights agreements. They also stand squarely in the road of the radical autonomy project which the extreme Left, the anti-religious Left, is pushing.
'This is the main reason why these inconvenient rights have been read down, reinterpreted and displaced by other, newer 'rights' such as those to abortion, euthanasia, anti- discrimination and same-sex marriage, and all they carry with them ...
'The USA and Britain are still a long way away from where we are now. And that is where we want to keep it. We need to be clear about what is happening elsewhere in the world and be vigilant and confident in protecting all human rights, including the right to religious freedom, especially through the parliaments.'