Pope urges recognition of Christianity in EU constitution
Pope John Paul II has entered the debate over the European Union's constitution, saying it should include a recognition of Europe's Christian heritage when it is signed next year.
A draft constitution presented to European leaders at their recent summit in Greece referred to the "cultural, religious and humanist inheritance" of Europe, but not to its Christian tradition.
Other Christians who are opposed to lobbying for the recognition of Christianity in the EU constitution however point to Jesus tirade against the Pharisees in the gospel of Matthew, where Jesus paraphrases the prophet Micah.
There Jesus emphasises issues of justice over and above religious tradition, which critics say, Jesus suggests is a distraction from the matters of real importance.
However, the Pope has issued a lengthy document - a so-called exhortation to the Church in Europe - in which he urges those drawing up the constitution to include a reference to the religious, and in particular the Christian heritage of the continent.
He also wants churches and other religious bodies to have a recognised status as social bodies, arguing that they are far more than merely private entities.
The draft constitution was accepted by the EU leaders as a good basis for negotiation, but it now goes to a commission of member governments which could make substantial changes.
The Greek Orthodox Church and centre-right parties in Italy, Spain, Portugal and Poland are also understood to be lobbying in the same way as the catholic church.
But strong counter arguments against endorsing any particular religion in a constitution for the Europe of the future are also emerging.
Many European countries have substantial minorities who are not from Christian traditions.
One Muslim country, Turkey, is already in the queue of countries waiting to join, with Bosnia and Albania expected to apply in the not-too-distant future.