ROME – Pope Benedict XVI (search) rails against Europe in his first book published since becoming pope, chastising a culture that he says excludes God from life and allows innocent lives — the unborn — to be taken from God through legalized abortion.
"The Europe of Benedict: In the crisis of cultures" was written when the pope was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's (search) guardian of doctrine, and serves as a strong indication of issues that will be priorities in his pontificate.
The book covers many of the themes Benedict has already focused on in his two months in office: the role of Christianity in Europe and the need to respect life from conception to its natural death. It also explores faith and what it means to be Christian.
It's an easy, 149-page read, written in Italian in 1992, 1997 and earlier this year, according to the Cantagalli publishers, which was releasing the book along with the Vatican's publishing office, Libreria Editrice Vaticana (search), at a ceremony Tuesday.
Parts of the book were made available to The Associated Press on Monday.
Ratzinger takes as a starting point the decision of European Union leaders to exclude a reference to Europe's Christian roots from the preamble of the proposed EU constitution, whose future remains uncertain following its rejection by French and Dutch voters in recent referendums.
The Vatican had campaigned to have the reference included, part of its attempts to stem what it sees as a continent of increasingly empty churches that is often hostile to religion.
"Europe has developed a culture which, in a way never before known to humanity, excludes God from public conscience, either by being denied or by judging his existence to be uncertain and thus belonging to subjective choices, something irrelevant for public life," Benedict writes.
He dismisses arguments that inclusion of the reference would have offended Jews and Muslims, saying they are more offended by Europe's attempt to deny a historic fact.
"It's not the mention of God that offends the followers of other religious, but precisely the attempt to build a human community absolutely without God," he writes.
He says Europe needs more people like St. Benedict of Norcia, the fifth and sixth century monk who is a patron saint of Europe. The Benedictine order that followed his teachings became the main guardian of learning and literature in Western Europe during the dark centuries that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.
The "Benedict" in the title of the book apparently refers to the saint.
Looking at current culture in Europe, Ratzinger acknowledges it would be easy to resign oneself to the fact that abortion is a legal right in much of Europe. But he concludes that there is no such thing as a "little homicide" and that when man loses the respect for life, "inevitably he ends by losing his own identity."
He criticizes parents who think their rights to freedom trump the rights of the unborn child, saying "they become blind to the right to life of another, of the youngest and weakest who don't have a voice."
"Accepting that the rights of the weakest can be violated, means that you accept also that the right of force prevails over the force of rights," he writes.
The pope, a world-renowned theologian who has written dozens of books, recently turned over his copyrights to the Vatican publishing house, an undertaking the publisher said was "mountainous."
By comparison, Pope John Paul II's literary output was relatively modest: He wrote five books during his 26-year pontificate.
Cantagalli officials said there were no immediate plans to translate Benedict's book into other languages.