After nearly three centuries of enlightened disdain for religion, Europe is about as dechristianized as it's likely to get; everyone who's going to leave the
Church already has, and still there are millions of believers scattered across the continent--to say nothing of the billion or so who don't happen to live a train ride away from Rome. In all likelihood, the European Union and the national governments will soon cave in and grant their Muslim immigrants the religious exemptions those governments have consistently refused to grant Catholics. And that will prove what the Vatican claimed all the way back in its struggles with the French Revolution: The European form of Enlightenment secularism and laïcité was never some purely philosophical stand on the necessary political separation of church and state; it always began and ended with anti-Catholicism.
It still does. As the refusal to mention Christianity in the historical preface to the new constitution of the European Union proves, Catholics in Western Europe are going to have to look out for themselves. They're only a remnant, but they're still a large one, and to them Benedict XVI can continue carrying the message of the Church--even though they live on a continent where the Italian conservative Rocco Buttiglione was not allowed to become a European commissioner because, it was argued, his Catholicism was incompatible with the office, and where influential French figures protested loudly when France's president dared to attend John Paul II's funeral.
Amazing piece. It should be your first read this weekend.