26/09/05 The Future of Europe – Challenges for Faith and Values

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THE FUTURE OF EUROPE
Challenges for Faith and Values
 
Speaking Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
———–
Public Seminar, All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin 26th September 2005

“If we look at Europe as a civil community, signs of hope are not lacking: when we consider these signs with the eyes of faith we can perceive even amid the contradictions of history the presence of the Spirit of God who renews the face of the earth”.  (Ecclesia in Europa #12).
 
        These are the remarkably strong words of Pope John Paul II about the European endeavour. Pope John Paul II was indeed an extraordinary European.   I always remember the first time that I heard him explicitly state his view that the decisions of Yalta were unjust and had to be reviewed.  At that time, this was heresy; it was as politically incorrect as you could get at the time!  Yalta, no matter how undesirable, was a fact of Reapolitik and to challenge it – according to the accepted wisdom – was to put the stability of Europe at risk. 
 
        Even the Helsinki process – which played an enormous role in the promotion and protection of human rights right across Europe – set out from the presumption that there would be no changes in the boundaries of the European states.  In the diplomatic language of the times, that effectively meant that the regimes of Eastern Europe – in particular the German Democratic Republic – would remain for much time to come.  It is amusing to see the list of those who signed the Helsinki agreements.   The signatures of all the old party chiefs and dictators of Eastern Europe are there, quite a motley crew!  I won’t comment on the names of the Western side.
 
        Pope John Paul II was always led by the inspiration that a different Europe was possible.  This was similar to the insight of the early founders of the European Union who went against what was for centuries the politically correct praxis that at the end of a war the loser was to be punished.  They, inspired by their Christian faith, looked to a vision which stressed that, in the long term, the future of Europe depended not on punishing or isolating but on integrating.
 
These two changes in European geography and politics – the process of the establishment of the European Union and the move to true democracy in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe – have produced that great gift which was so lacking in the Europe of the twentieth century: peace.  European nationalism had given rise in the twentieth century to the two most disastrous wars of human history.   We cannot forget the horror of the fighting in the trenches of the First World War, and the stories of children falsifying their age to be enrolled.   Europe – with the exclusion of the Balkans – has now not seen war for over sixty years.  Nations which for centuries had been enemies have found a peaceful working relationship.  This is an enormous achievement and we thank God for it.
 
        It should not be forgotten that in addition to the European Union, there was another movement of integration in Europe after the Second World War and that was NATO.  Many think of NATO as just an anti-communist phalanx.  NATO, however, was also built on the principle of integration.  It aimed at keeping the military powers of Europe integrated and not allowing any one of them to remilitarise to the detriment of others.  It should also be remembered that after the fall of the communist systems, the desire of the Central and Eastern European governments to integrate into a new Europe meant joining NATO just as much as joining the European Union.  They knew that at a perilous moment for their security, that security would only be defended through participation in an alliance which included the United States.  This realization of how their security was linked with a North Atlantic alliance might also explain to some degree the greater willingness of the Central and Eastern European countries to support the United States on other occasions.
 
Where is Europe going today?  What are the signs of hope?  Which are the signs which should cause us concern?  On what principles will the Europe of the future base its values?   What will be the contribution of faith and of men and women of faith to the construction of those values?    
 
Pope John Paul II, in Ecclesia in Europa, was moderately   optimistic and hopeful in his analysis of some of the positive developments in Europe in recent years.  Taking up the reflection of the Synod of Bishops on Europe he indicated some of these positive aspects.
 
The first was one to which I have already alluded, namely reconciliation between countries which had been hostile and the progressive opening to the counties of Eastern Europe.  This in its turn has led to what Pope John Paul called the creation of a European consciousness.   This concept and culture of Europe, the Pope would note, draws from the fact that Europe must “be described as more than a geographical area, primarily as a cultural and historical concept, which denotes a reality born as a continent thanks also to the unifying force of Christianity, which has been capable of integrating people and cultures among themselves (#108).
 
The idea of a European consciousness was taken up in a talk given in 1991 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who spoke of the “the prestige of the idea of Europe”.   Ratzinger pointed out that that the ideal had seen its high point at the hour of necessity, when nationalism, elevated to an ideological barrier, had shattered the nations of the old continent.   It is interesting that after the horrors of each of the two World Wars there was a clear understanding that peace required some concept of collective security which would curb exaggerated nationalism.  Thus after World War One came the idea of the League of Nations, which sadly rapidly became the victim of the lack of coherence of its own member states.  After the Second World War the United Nations emerged on a world level and the idea of European unification took on a new chapter in its history. 
 
 But Ratzinger also noted that in our day the ideal of Europe had become blunted.  He noted that the Europe of the future must recover its links to its “common roots, the common civilization built up on multiple exchanges, on the common moral and religious heritage, on the rational character of that civilization and of its creative force for unity”[1].  For Ratzinger a European culture is one which stresses what unifies and what is common over and above all division.
 
        Pope John Paul and his successor Pope Benedict XVI are thus both convinced Europeans.  This springs from their personal experience of the tragic consequences of extreme nationalism and the effects on society when fundamental values break down.  But this does not mean that they embrace any vision of Europe or that they are not aware of “the contradictions of history” or are uncritical of certain current expressions of the European ideal.
 
Pope John Paul noted clearly that “today Europe at the very moment that it is in the process of strengthening and enlarging its economic and political union seems to suffer from a profound crisis of values”.   He continues: “While possessed of increased resources it gives the impression of lacking the energy needed to sustain a common project and to give its citizen new reasons for hope” (#108). Further he notes “in the process of transformation which it is now undergoing, Europe is called above all to re-discover its true identity” (#109).  In the light of the crisis of European identity which has emerged around the project of the draft Constitutional treaty, these words of Pope John Paul were clearly to the point.
 
In Ecclesia in Europa (#114) Pope John Paul had made a direct appeal to those who at the time were drawing up the European Constitutional treaty, as he had done in speaking to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See earlier in 2003.   It is useful to recall exactly what Pope John Paul asked for.  In the first place he asked that the Constitutional treaty contain “a reference to the religious and in particular the Christian heritage of Europe”.  This request was answered in part.  There is reference – despite the initial objection of some countries – to the religious heritage, but not explicitly to the Christian heritage.  The text does refer to the contribution of Churches to the construction of Europe – and only Christians have Churches! 
 
It is useful to recall that the rejection of this appeal for an explicit mention of the Christian heritage of Europe was not some sort of a pan-European plot against religion, but de facto the result of the rigid and immoveable objection principally of one European nation.
Pope John Paul then made a further appeal that three complementary elements be recognised in the Treaty: 
·        “the right of Churches and religious communities to organize themselves freely in conformity with their statutes;
·        respect for the specific identity of the different religious confessions and provision for a structured dialogue between the European Union and those confessions;
·        respect for the juridical status already enjoyed by Churches and religious institutions by virtue of the legislation of the member states of the union” 
Effectively, the Constitution incorporated these suggestions.

 
In Ecclesia in Europa Pope John Paul did not make an explicit request for the inclusion of a mention of God in the Constitutional treaty.
 
Pope John Paul did mention a further series of values or focal points of value which the Union should address. One was respect for human rights, of individuals, minorities and peoples.   The European Union considers respect for human rights as a fundamental foundational principle of its existence and policy.  The difficulty here is to understand what is covered under the term human rights and where human rights are grounded, especially in a period where juridical culture is dominated in Europe and elsewhere by legal positivism and by individualism.  Whereas these trends are not exclusive to the European Union, the Union has become a powerful vehicle for the propagation of a certain interpretation of human rights.
 
This applies in particular to the right to life from the moment of its conception to natural death and to the family based on marriage.  There is no doubt that decisions of both political and juridical organs of the European Union can be greatly influenced by ideological visions, but again it is often the case that these visions are present due to the strong influence of individual member States, which at times look on such an understanding of human rights as part of national policy.
It is true that the viewpoint of the Church enjoys a stronger adherence within the culture of some individual States than in the Union itself and it is feared that the European Union structures might be used to undermine such national cultures.  In other cases, the national juridical culture is even more liberal than that of the Union.  In any case, recent events show that, with or without a European Union, individual countries can overnight radically change their policy on issues such as those of marriage and family.  
There should be a greater alertness on national level – both within government and within civil society – in monitoring mechanisms of the Union if they push to a standardization of issues and values which perhaps goes beyond the specific competence or mandate of the Union itself.  It is important to monitor also what is done through the interaction of the EU member States in the field of multilateral diplomacy.
The structures of the European Union still have a democratic deficit, although efforts are being made to remedy this.  In the interim period, not only are strong monitoring mechanisms required to identify overreach of competence but there is need to push for a priority option for subsidiarity rather than for centralization, a priority option for what has been democratically established over  the power of non elected bureaucrats. 
        There is a further striking short sentence of Pope John Paul in Ecclesia in Europa (#111).  The Pope says that “saying ‘Europe’ must be equivalent to saying ‘openness’”.   This means that any European vision must be one based on openness and that Europe must respond with justice and equity and a great sense of solidarity (cf. #115).    Quoting a Letter to the President of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences, Pope John Paul notes that “Europe cannot close in on itself. It cannot and must not lose interest in the rest of the world. On the contrary, it must remain fully aware of the fact that other countries, other continents, await its bold initiatives, in order to offer to poorer peoples the means for their growth and social organization, and to build a more just and fraternal world”.
 
To carry out this mission adequately the Pope suggests “rethinking international cooperation in terms of a new culture of solidarity. When seen as a sowing of peace, cooperation cannot be reduced to aid or assistance, especially if given with an eye to the benefits to be received in return for the resources made available. Rather, it must express a concrete and tangible commitment to solidarity which makes the poor the agents of their own development and enables the greatest number of people, in their specific economic and political circumstances, to exercise the creativity which is characteristic of the human person and on which the wealth of nations too is dependent”.  
 
There is a sense in which a Europe based on the concept of integration can never be satisfied within its own boundaries. Its sense of responsibility at least must always be outward looking.  This does not mean that it can just embrace every country as a member and that it must open its borders indiscriminately to all. European Union expansion is a complex matter.  Studies have shown that those countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have been most successful in their search to become modern, democratic nations with a flourishing free market are those which had to go through the exercise of adapting to the norms of EU integration.  The process itself has its own value.  Other states which have not been accepted for membership by the EU have been slower and more lax in the process of modernisation.  There is no short cut along the path of the economic and democratic reforms needed to join the European Union.
 
Europe has responsibilities worldwide.  I have said on many occasions that it is not the task of the European Union to become a “mini superpower”, but to be maxi and super in its spirit of solidarity.  Again I quote Pope John Paul: “Europe must moreover become an active partner in promoting and implementing globalization ‘in’ solidarity” (#112). That programme requires a different style to that of a superpower.   There is however a growing tendency of the EU in international negotiations to adopt some of the trappings of a superpower, especially in trade negotiations.  Once again the EU positions in trade negotiations, especially in agriculture and textiles and intellectual property rights, are very often subject of pressure from national governments and national interest groups.  The Union is often held back from more enlightened positions by national interest.
What is the role of Christians in forming the new Europe?  The first thing is that they be present, that they bring their voice to the table and ensure that it is heard.   Ecclesia in Europa stresses that: “Europe needs a religious dimension” (#116). “Europe needs to make a qualitative leap in becoming conscious of its spiritual heritage” (#120).  
 This task should be undertaken with renewed vigour – also in an ecumenical context – by the Church as an institution and by individual Christians exercising their mission as lay persons in the structures of society. 
It may not the task of the European Institutions themselves to build that religious dimension, but they should ensure that mechanisms are there to facilitate the contribution of religion and of believers and not become an obstacle.   Hopefully the proposals of this nature outlined in the draft Constitutional treaty will find concretization, independent of whatever the fate of the entire draft treaty may be.
 
The Gospel can elicit a new enthusiasm within Europe and bring a message of hope.  All European Christians can make a contribution to this process.  Indeed, Pope John Paul noted that “not only can Christians join with all people of goodwill in working to build this great project, but they are called to be in some way its heart, revealing the true meaning of the organization of the earthly city” (#116).
Christians, within Europe, have a responsibility to work to build a body of legislation which is consonant with the moral law and where possible to correct morally defective laws.   The first step on this path is to stress the good news in the conviction that it is true and leads to freedom.  The task is to challenge society anywhere with the message of Jesus Christ and the radical newness of his Gospel.  A genuinely pluralistic system will not exclude religion from bringing its contribution to the public square nor will it unfairly exclude from the public square those who profess their religious convictions openly. 
On the other hand, the Church has no mandate to attempt to generally impose on believers – much less on those who do not believe – specific political solutions.  The Church can only propose what is derived from her Gospel mandate and the founded tradition of the Church.  The Church must rather help enlighten consciences and provide support for Christian politicians and experts so that they can bring the newness of the Gospel message to the future of Europe in a way that is free from compromise and which will win the minds and hearts of others.
The role of the Christian in Europe is not simply to ascertain sociologically what are the current value systems of European citizens, but to influence European public opinion, to evangelize it, that is to bring to the emerging European society, together with its member states and component societies, that radical newness of the gospel. 
Christians however can only use the instruments that are available and appropriate in this specific context, namely democratic means. They have, however, the right to full access to those means and to influence the process of discernment of what a future Europe of values, a Europe with a sense of purpose, a Europe of service in solidarity should look like.  I was very pleased that in recent meetings between the President of the European Commission and Church leaders, Mr Barroso has expressed his desire to foster such a contribution by the Churches.
I conclude by once again quoting Pope John Paul II who summarizes the contribution of the Church to building a new Europe in the following terms: “For her part, in keeping with a healthy cooperation between the ecclesial community and political society, the Catholic Church is convinced that she can make a unique contribution to the prospect of unification by offering the European institutions, in continuity with her tradition and in fidelity to the principles of her social teaching, the engagement of believing communities committed to bringing about the humanization of society on the basis of the Gospel, lived under the sign of hope. From this standpoint, the presence of Christians, properly trained and competent, is needed in the various European agencies and institutions, in order to contribute – with respect for the correct dynamics of democracy and through an exchange of proposals – to the shaping of a European social order which is increasingly respectful of every man and woman, and thus in accordance with the common good (#117).
 
 


[1]   Personal translation from the Italian: Svolta per l’Europa:  Chiesa e modernità nell’Europa dei rivolgimenti, Edizioni Paoline 1992.  This is a translation of the collection of articles Wendezeit fuer Europa 1991.
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