Patriarch's Speech at Council of Europe
- Patriarch Alexy of Russia assails gays in speech at Council of Europe
By Stephen Castle Published: October 2, 2007
STRASBOURG: Russia's senior religious leader assailed homosexuality as a sin
and an illness Tuesday and urged Europe to rediscover its Christian values.
Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body that
polices human rights in Europe, Patriarch Alexy II, head of the Russian
Orthodox Church, made few concessions to West European sensibilities as he
called for a return to Christian values.
Alexy's visit to Strasbourg came before a planned meeting Wednesday with
French bishops and President Nicolas Sarkozy. Though he has travelled before
to countries that are predominantly Roman Catholic, this visit is his
highest-profile trip to Western Europe and another step toward better
relations with the Vatican, from which the Orthodox Church has been
estranged for almost a thousand years.
In a recent newspaper interview, Alexy suggested that a meeting with the
pope could take place within two years, though he has also emphasized that
difficulties remain, in particular the activities of Catholic missionaries
Alexy's speech to the assembly in Strasbourg echoed the Russian government's
condemnation of acts of terrorism and its resistance to independence for
"There are many monuments that are sacred to the people of Serbia," the
patriarch said of Kosovo, "and we cannot silently stand by when those
monuments are being destroyed, despite the fact that they are under the
protection of Unesco and were built in the 12th, 13th or 14th century."
But in a 50-minute appearance Alexy focused mainly on the need for Europe to
rediscover its Christian values and abandon moral relativism, arguing that
there was a "break between human rights and morality, and this break
threatens the European civilization."
"We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and
in how human rights are used to justify immoral behavior," Alexy said. He
has called for an alliance with the Roman Catholic Church on moral issues.
Alexy's comments on homosexuality provoked the most direct challenge to West
European liberal thinking and the ideas of nondiscrimination pioneered by
the Council of Europe, among other bodies.
Asked by the British Liberal Democrat council member David Russell-Johnston
about the Orthodox Church's opposition to a planned gay pride march in
Moscow, Alexy said that his religion told him to "love sinners despite their
He added, however, that "no one should force me and my brothers and sisters
in faith to keep quiet when we call something a sin when it is a sin
according to the word of God."
Homosexuality is, he continued "an illness" and a "distortion of the human
personality like kleptomania." The patriarch portrayed the gay rights parade
in Moscow as advertising for immoral behavior and asked: "Why don't we have
advertising for kleptomania?"
The comments drew applause from a number of council members from Orthodox
countries including Russia, which is a member of the Council of Europe.
Russell-Johnston said later that the analogy drawn between homosexuality and
kleptomania was "ridiculous."
The patriarch had, Russell-Johnston said, "repeated his aggressively
"What was regrettable was that a lot of people applauded him,"
Russell-Johnston said. This contradicted the position of the parliamentary
assembly that "homosexuals and lesbians have human rights and their dignity
should be respected."
In May 2006, violence against homosexuals prompted Terry Davis, secretary
general of the Council of Europe, to urge the Russian authorities to
prosecute those involved in the attacks which, he said, were "neither
isolated nor spontaneous."
After the patriarch's appearance Tuesday, Davis, who held a 30-minute
private meeting with Alexy, described the reference to kleptomania as an
"unfortunate analogy." He praised Russell-Johnston for raising the issue,
but added that the patriarch was "entitled to his view as a religious
leader." Gay rights were not discussed during their private meeting, Davis
Davis also highlighted other areas of Alexy's speech, including his
criticism of the growing gap between rich and poor in Russia, and the
growing materialism of Russian society.
Other senior figures in the council also emphasized the symbolism of the
patriarch's appearance for the cause of intercultural dialogue. René van der
Linden, president of the Parliamentary Assembly, said that through his
"strong public condemnation of xenophobia, extremism and ethnically
motivated crimes," Alexy had demonstrated his "commitment to peace and