Austrian church leaders have declared that foreign criticism of their nation - where the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) is now part of the government - shows a lack of understanding and could be highly damaging. Church leaders told ENI that efforts by foreign governments to isolate Austria could be dangerous. The leader of Austria's Lutherans said that anti-Austrian actions were making Jorg Haider, controversial head of the FPO, Austria's most famous citizen. But the church leaders welcomed a pledge of support from the Conference of European Church's (CEC), Europe's leading ecumenical organisation. "This letter of solidarity shows we can maintain normal relations with other churches and answers our request for a critical dialogue," said Roman Catholic nun Christine Gleixner, who is president of Austria's Ecumenical Council. She was commenting on a letter sent on 14 February by Keith Clements, CEC's general secretary, promising "deepest solidarity" with Austria's churches in their stand against "racism, xenophobia and anti-semitism". Gleixner said: "Although we can't speak politically [about the Freedom Party], we've expressed our position very clearly from the beginning, drawing on the biblical foundations of our Christian faith."

She said the Ecumenical Council's 14 member churches had shown "full continuity" in all public statements since the FPO's election success last October. The council planned to invite political groups to an "open dialogue programme" next month, she said. "It's important to recognise that all 14 churches are following the same line and giving the same message," added Gleixner. "At a time when the reaction of other countries is difficult to accept, we're glad the churches have given a different answer." ...

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