Under attack for calling homosexuality sinful, Italian cabinet minister and papal confidant Rocco Buttiglione said Saturday that he was abandoning efforts to become the European Union's justice commissioner, a bid that has kept an entire new E.U. commission from taking office.
At a news conference here, Buttiglione defended his religious beliefs, saying they would not have affected his work for the E.U.
Buttiglione depicted himself as a victim of an "ably orchestrated campaign," but declined to elaborate. "I have the right to think that homosexuality is a sin, but this has no effect on politics, because in politics, the principle of nondiscrimination prevails, and the state has no right to stick its nose in these situations," Buttiglione said.
The commission is the executive arm of the 25-country E.U. Its current members were due to leave office on Nov. 1; a new set had been nominated by Jose Manuel Durao Barroso of Portugal, the commission's president-elect.
To take office, the nominees must be approved as a group by the European Parliament. Legislators do not have the option of turning down individual nominees.
The proposed new commission faced rejection by the parliament if Buttiglione was part of it. Some lawmakers argued that his views on women and sexuality would make it impossible for him to carry out his job fairly.
During a confirmation hearing earlier this month, Buttiglione said he considered homosexuality a sin and that marriage existed "to allow women to have children and to have the protection of a male." Buttiglione has had close ties with Pope John Paul II during his career.
Earlier this week, Barroso withdrew his full set of nominees to gain time to find a solution.
On Saturday, Buttiglione removed himself from the picture. "I am ready to step aside . . . to favor the path of the Barroso commission, which I wish every success," he told reporters.
Hans-Gert Poettering, head of the Christian Democrats in the European Parliament, greeted Buttiglione's decision with "great respect," although he had favored the nomination. But Poettering warned that Buttiglione's departure would not solve all of Barroso's nomination problems.
Poettering said three nominees "lacked the necessary competence." He named them as Laszlo Kovacs, Hungary's former foreign minister, tapped for energy commissioner; Neelie Kroes, a Dutch businesswoman slated for competition commissioner; and Ingrida Udride of Latvia, up for the budget post.