Russian Patriarch links rights and christian ethics

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STRASBOURG, Oct 2 (Reuters) Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexiy II today said European civilisation was threatened by a divorce of human rights from Christian ethics that opened to way to immoral behaviour.

Talking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at the start of a visit to France, he defended his opposition to a Gay Pride parade in Moscow. He told a questioner after his speech he had compassion for homosexuals, but gay sex was a sin and gay parades were ''propaganda for homosexuality''.

Alexiy's speech echoed similar defences of Christianity in Europe by Roman Catholicism's Pope Benedict, who is keen to hold a historic meeting with the Russian prelate. Alexiy told a French newspaper a meeting could take place in a year or two.

''From the very beginning, human rights developed in the context of Christian morality, forming with it a kind of tandem,'' he said.

The Council of Europe's role is to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

''Yet today, there occurs a break between human rights and morality and this break threatens European civilisation,'' he said .

''We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality.'' DESTRUCTIVE FORCES The growing gap between rich and poor and fading ideal of social justice in Russia and elsewhere in Europe was a major problem that required a moral solution, he said.

''In Russia, our Church has many times called to discuss the miserable condition of millions of honest workers whose very few compatriots are extremely rich and glaringly extravagant,'' he said.

Alexiy also called for the study of religions in school because, he said, many extremists claimed to act on religious grounds.

''These destructive forces grow on the soil of religious ignorance and moral scarcity,'' he said.

The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest in Orthodox Christianity, which claims about 220 million followers. The Vatican, representing 1.1 billion Catholics, wants to work more closely with it to defend Christianity in Europe.

Relations were strained after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991 as the Russian Orthodox Church accused the Catholics of trying to expand their influence there. Recent high-level contacts have been friendlier.

REUTERS ARB RAI1958

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