Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor accused Labour of “legislating for intolerance” in his most outspoken attack yet on the imposition of gay rights laws on church bodies.
The leader of England and Wales’s four million Roman Catholics also questioned “whether the threads holding together democracy have begun to unravel”.
The lecture delivered in Westminster made him the first Catholic leader in nearly 180 years to place a question mark over the allegiance of his church to the British state.
He has already threatened to close nine Catholic adoption agencies if they are forced by the Sexual Orientation Regulations to place children with homosexual couples.
He declared: “For my own part, I have no difficulty in being a proud British Catholic citizen.
“But now it seems to me we are being asked to accept a different version of our democracy, one in which diversity and equality are held to be at odds with religion.
“We Catholics – and here I am sure I speak too for other Christians and all people of faith – do not demand special privileges, but we do demand our rights.”
The Sexual Orientation Regulations come into force next month after minimal debate in the House of Commons.
They are aimed at stopping businesses discriminating against gays, but Christian leaders say they will force those of faith to act against their conscience.
The speech is likely to make uncomfortable reading for Tony Blair – he is expected to convert to Roman Catholicism after he leaves Downing Street later this year – and for Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a staunch Catholic responsible for pushing through the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
This must be some sad and pathetic joke. I am not sure what is more comic: the fact that Tony Blair sees no problem in giving the Catholic Church the boot in forcing the Church to accept homosexuality or not seeing a contradiction between what he has done as a politician and the Catholicism that he espouses or that the British Church will welcome him with open arms.
I think that we have lost our collective minds.