Vatican official warns of discrimination after EU commission row

The row over Italian EU justice commissioner designate Rocco Buttiglione widened on Friday when a senior Vatican official said the case showed Roman Catholics were the object of discrimination in Europe.

In an interview with Italian daily La Repubblica, the Vatican's secretary of state Cardinal Angelo Sodano made no direct reference to the Buttiglione case, in which the Italian's nomination as EU commissioner was rejected because he said homosexuality was a sin.

However, the cardinal said: "This is not the first time that Catholics, Christians, men of the Church find themselves confronted by problems of this type and in danger of becoming victims of isolation and discrimination."

Buttiglione's rejection had come in a vote by an EU parliamentary commission on Monday. The vote is non-binding, as EU legislators have to vote the entire team up or down, and cannot reject individual nominees.

Buttiglione had said at his confirmation hearings that homosexuality was a sin and that the role of women was to have children.

The incoming EU commission president, Portugal's Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, backs his entire 25-member team ahead of the October 27 vote by the entire European Parliament.

The arch-conservative Catholic 56-year-old is the Italian minister for European affairs in the right-leaning government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Buttiglione said on Thursday that if he had to choose between the European Commission and his religious and moral beliefs, he would chose the latter.

In the interview, Sodano, the second most powerful cardinal in the Vatican, also said that the Catholic Church's real problems lay elsewhere.

"The big problem of the future will be our relationship with the Islamic world. It is a challenge that does not only concern the Church," he said.