Pope likens EU’s bungled inclusive language efforts to ‘dictatorship’

ROME — Pope Francis slammed controversial efforts by the European Commission to make official communications more inclusive, comparing recently withdrawn guidelines on using terms like “Christmas” and “Christian” to the actions of historic dictatorships.

“In history many, many dictatorships have tried to do this kind of thing. Think of Napoleon … think of the Nazi dictatorship, the communist one,” the 84-year-old Catholic leader told reporters Monday on a plane returning to the Vatican from a trip to Greece and Cyprus. “It is something that throughout history hasn’t worked.”

The pope’s remarks come after the European Commission last week abruptly pulled back its 30-page guide aimed at ensuring no European felt excluded from EU communications following a firestorm of criticism from many far-right and conservative politicians, in particular over the suggestion that staff members “avoid assuming that everyone is Christian” and celebrates Christmas.

The pontiff denounced what he called “watered-down secularism” and urged the EU to reflect on the ideals of its founders, according to a transcript of his comments.

Brussels must “be careful not to take the path of ideological colonization, which could end up dividing countries and [causing] the European Union to fail,” Francis said. “The European Union must respect each country’s internal structure, its variety and not try to make them uniform — I don’t think it will do that, it wasn’t its intention, but it must be careful.”

During his visit to Greece on Sunday, the pope had also criticized European countries increasingly tougher stance on migration and warned that democracy was “on the retreat” across the Continent, accusing governments of falling prey to “nationalistic self-interest.”

Asked to elaborate on Monday, he cautioned against “drowning our identities in an international government,” adding: “The danger is when there is a superpower that dictates economic, cultural and social behavior to the other countries.”

“Democracy is weakened when national values are sacrificed, are watered down toward an empire, a kind of supranational government,” he added.

The pope has long accused EU institutions of at times losing sight of their founding pillars of humanity, solidarity and being open to the world.

Addressing the European Parliament in 2014, he declared the EU guilty of pursuing “self-interested policies” and described “growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards EU institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.”

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