The Pope has criticised Britain’s equality legislation, warning that it is unjustly limiting the nation’s religious freedom.
Pope Benedict XVI also warned that the equality legislation “violates natural law” in a message to the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.
The Pontiff’s comments have been seen as an implicit attack on Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill which is currently before Parliament.
Pope Benedict told the Bishops: “Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society.”
He added: “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 on which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed.”
The Pope’s comments have been interpreted by media sources as an attack on provisions in the Equality Bill which would have forced churches to hire staff whose conduct was not consistent with the Bible’s teachings on sexual behaviour.
These provisions were defeated in the House of Lords last week.
The Government has yet to announce whether it will attempt to reverse these defeats in the Commons.
The Pontiff also called upon the Bishops to stand firm on moral issues and urged them to take part in national debates.
He said: “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”.
The Pope’s criticisms came in response to representations made by the English and Welsh Bishops in which they expressed concern about the place of religion in an increasingly secular society.
The Bishops also drew attention to the closure of many of Britain’s Roman Catholic adoption agencies due to the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The Pope’s comments have drawn criticism from secular and ‘gay rights’ groups.
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist, accused him of “defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding they should be above the law”.
A recent Christian Institute report revealed the extent to which Christians in Britain are being marginalised by equality and diversity laws.
The report, called Marginalising Christians, catalogues numerous cases of Christians being sidelined by public bodies, popular media, employers and barriers to public funding.