(AFP) THE Vatican has warned of threats of “unprecedented gravity” to the Catholic Church in the United States, in the latest such censure in the lead-up to the US presidential elections.

“Concerted efforts are being made to redefine and restrict the exercise of the right to religious freedom,” Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone said in a new charge seen by observers as targeting the Obama administration for allegedly denying Catholics the right to conscientious objection.

Pope Benedict XVI has told American bishops repeatedly over the last eight months that the compulsory provision for contraception in employees’ health insurance included in President Barack Obama’s health-care plan threatens religious freedom.

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