In his first visit to the Council of Europe on a mission to discuss inter-religious dialogue, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, gave a spirited defense of Christian morality. He noted that the notion of human rights in Europe stems, at least in part from Christian morality. "Yet today there occurs a break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens the European civilization," he warned.
"We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behavior," he stated.
The remarks prompted British Liberal Democrat council member David Russell-Johnston to demand an explanation of the Russian Orthodox leader's opposition to the Moscow "gay pride" march.
"When persistent attempts were made to hold a homosexual parade in Moscow, we believed that that meant propaganda and advertisement of sin," Alexy replied before the Council. The Patriarch compared homosexual sex acts to kleptomania and asked, "Why then (does) no one advertise kleptomania while homosexuality gets advertised via gay parades?"
"It is advertisement that is being forced on people who are a very long way from it," Alexy added.
The Patriarch stressed that persons who have such temptations and engage in homosexual acts are nonetheless loved by Christians. They are, he said, "sinners whom we love while we hate their sin."
"But at the same time we Orthodox Christians cannot depart from what is taught by the Bible and by the apostolic tradition of the church," he added. "Nobody must try to force me or my brothers and sisters in faith to be silent and [to prevent us from] using the word sin for something that is called sin in God's Word."
Several Council of Europe members including the Russian representative applauded these remarks by the Patriarch, much to the chagrin of Mr. Russell-Johnston. The irate councilman called the Patriarch's analogy between kleptomania and homosexuality "ridiculous" and dismissed the Patriarch's remarks as merely having "repeated his aggressively intolerant position."
"What was regrettable was that a lot of people applauded him," Russell-Johnston told the International Herald Tribune.
During his speech the Patriarch warned of just such intolerance of morality leading to Europe's demise. "If we ignore moral norms, we ultimately ignore freedom too," said Alexy. "Morality is freedom in action. It is a freedom brought into reality as a result of responsible choice, in which human person restricts his or her self for the good of that very person and broader society."
"Moral principles secure societal vitality and growth, as well as unity of society," he added. "And whenever moral norms are trespassed and declared to be relative, it may undermine the whole worldview of the Europeans. They may draw nigh to a disastrous moment when European nations risk losing their spiritual and cultural identity and ultimately their own place in history."