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The Church Can Help Build a Better Europe

The Church Is at the Forefront of the European Construction

European Union 2014

Philippe Oswald - published on 05/14/14

Europe is gravely ill. We must help it recover its soul to serve the nations and revive the hope of the peoples.

The campaign for the European elections opens on May 12. The elections will take place from May 22 to 25 in the 28 member states of the European Union (May 25 in France). More than 500 million Europeans will choose their 751 representatives (74 for France) in the European Parliament for the next five years.

This election poses a heavy challenge as regards the common good of Europe, both from the ethical and economic point of view. But the complexity of the European system, its apparent remoteness from citizens’ concerns, not to mention the evils that are rightly or wrongly attributed to European institutions, allow us to anticipate a new record of abstentions.

Catholics are often the first to criticize Europe as if it were responsible for all evils, not only economic ills, but also problems in the moral and family area. The fact is that it is more than ever in Strasbourg and Brussels that the future of the "old continent" is decided. We must therefore pay close attention to what is going on and ask how to act positively for the founding project of the "fathers of Europe" to get back on track rather than contribute to its derailment.

Faced with "the Apostasy of Europe"

The hierarchy of the Catholic Church not only hears and shares many of the criticisms of Europe, but it is she who has issued the most severe statement by denouncing, in Pope Benedict XVI’s words, its "apostasy." This statement was made during a conference organized by COMECE on March 24, 2007 in Rome: "Is it not surprising," the Pope asked, "that today’s Europe, while aspiring to be regarded as a community of values, seems ever more often to deny the very existence of universal and absolute values? Does not this unique form of ‘apostasy’ from itself, even more than its apostasy from God, lead Europe to doubt its own identity? And so the opinion prevails that an ‘evaluation of the benefits’ is the only way to moral discernment and that the common good is synonymous with compromise. In reality, if compromise can constitute a legitimate balance between different particular interests, it becomes a common evil whenever it involves agreements that dishonour human nature."

When Europe denies the existence of "universal and absolute values," it falls into utilitarianism, materialism, and repudiates itself. How can we deplore the rise of intolerance, racism, and extreme nationalism if we turn our back on the very existence of human nature, and therefore the existence of an objective good and the very possibility of brotherhood?

The Church Continues to Support European Integration

The Church is clearly aware of the presence of evil but never loses hope. That is why she continues to defend the European construction, not wanting the baby to be thrown out with the bathwater. The baby, in this case, is this "Christian brotherhood" that one of the founding fathers of Europe, Robert Schuman, wanted to recover and bring back to life in the aftermath of World War II, which had torn it to shreds. This brotherhood is rooted in these values ​​enumerated by John Paul II: "…the affirmation of the transcendent dignity of the human person, the value of reason, freedom, democracy, the constitutional state and the distinction between political life and religion" (John Paul II, Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Europa , June 28, 2003, No. 109). The fact is that the erosion and dilution of these values ​​directly threatens brotherhood not only between peoples, but also within each nation.

It is not a matter of waving our Christian roots like a red rag under the noses of atheists, but of recalling that Western culture, with its dual Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritage, has developed a anthropology with a universal vocation. Indeed, this view of man has become, to a greater or lesser degree, a benchmark for the world. The current mobilization to save the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram, the global outrage that this barbaric kidnapping has caused, shows that some Christian values ​​such as respect for the human person, for women, for children, and for freedom still prevail in most of the world – to the chagrin precisely of the Islamists for whom "Western education is a sin" (this is the approximate meaning of "boko haram" in the Hausa language). 

The Great Paradox of Contemporary Human Rights

The paradox is that Westerners, especially Europeans, or at least their elites, while being heralds of human rights and proclaiming crimes against humanity imprescriptible, no longer seem to know what man is. Too many of them even give the impression that they do not want to know, in order to promote a human identity with a variable geometry that can be revised according to opinion, or rather opinion makers. Thus, after legalizing abortion as an exception, they passed a law scorning the lives of the weakest human beings; then they attacked sexual identity and difference in education and marriage; finally, they began and already won in several European countries the battle to legalize euthanasia.

So, the question that arises today in Europe is not primarily that of the economy and the role of the euro, as important as these economic and financial problems indeed are, since they are the most complex ones. But the economy is a servant, not a master, otherwise it becomes a tyrant, like money and through it.

Europe, at the Service of What Humanity?

For the Church, the question raised now more than ever in the European construction is that of a man: what humanity do we want? The purpose of the Church is to help Europe discern the architectural question– the one on which everything else depends– and to answer it without compromising on the fundamental principles of natural law and human anthropology that are taken today as negligible or worse, gone.

The European bishops who met at a congress marking the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome in 2007 specified in a message some key points of the European construction:

Patience: "We consider it to be our duty to carry on the work of European construction, bearing in mind that it is a century-long task. It took our forebears more than 100 years to build a new cathedral for just a few people. In 50 years we have built a new ‘cathedral’ for all Europeans."

Dialogue: "It is through a dialogue on and for the common good of our citizens that we shall best contribute to that strong social cohesion which, today, is so important and so necessary for Europe…"

Respect for human dignity: "We ask that the EU be guided by the values and principles which have motivated European unification since its beginning. These are human dignity, equality of man and woman, peace and freedom, reconciliation and respect, solidarity and subsidiarity, the rule of law, justice and the pursuit of the common good… "

Respect for rights and the obligations arising from them: "We hope that whatever the institutional solution that is found, it safeguards human dignity and the values which flow from it, such as freedom of religion in all its aspects. It must protect the institutional rights of Churches and of faith communities. It should also explicitly recognize the Christian heritage of our continent."

Finally, commitment: "As Christians, in our communities, in our associations and movements, we will contribute with our commitment to promote those initiatives which authentically respect human nature created in the image and likeness of God, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, and thus promote authentic reconciliation, freedom, peace, solidarity, subsidiarity and justice."

A Call Renewed in 2014

The Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) published (03/20/2014) a statement for the 2014 European elections in which the bishops reaffirm their support for the European project "inspired by a noble vision of man" and encourage all citizens of the EU to engage in a constructive dialogue with their elected European representatives. They also highlight topics that should be a major concern not only for Christians but for all men and women of good will who are concerned about the legacy they want to leave to their children.

Respect for Fundamental Human Rights

"Respect for human dignity" is "the basis of all social and economic policy," the bishops emphasize again. It starts with the right to life: "Human life must be protected from the moment of conception to that of natural death. The family, as the basic building-block of society, must also enjoy the protection it needs," say the bishops.

Breaking down these rights as regards migrants, ecology, religious freedom, the Sunday rest, and solidarity between generations, the European Bishops remind us that "the European Union is at a turning point." Solidarity between Member States is being challenged by the economic crisis, which "has brought in its wake increasing poverty […] and blighted the future prospects of many of our young."

The bishops add to their previous statements a specific note about the economic crisis, calling future members to become aware of its "collateral damage" which disproportionately affects the most vulnerable. And the bishops addressed a call to revise our way of life, a recurring theme of Pope Francis: "We must learn to live with less and thereby ensure that people living in real poverty get a better deal. "

The Pillars of the Functioning of the European Union: Subsidiarity, Solidarity

With regard to specific policy areas of the EU, the Bishops recall that the "pillars of the EU are also principles of the social doctrine of the Church. 

First, subsidiarity: "It is important that the increasing moves towards unity within the EU do not sacrifice the subsidiarity principle, a basic pillar of the unique family of nation-states which constitutes the EU, nor compromise the long-standing traditions which prevail in so many of the Member States." Notice to bureaucrats considering "guidelines" that do not want to admit that the Estonians do not have exactly the same aspirations or the same needs as the Greeks… that we will not forge their happiness without them, much less against them.

Then solidarity: "This principle should be seen to govern policy at every level across the EU, between nations, regions and population groups. We need to build a different Europe, with solidarity at its heart." And not the suicidal selfishness of "every man for himself" that brought us two world wars and now an economic war we dare not call by name, and backing it, a libertarian war against human nature, the same one that Pope Benedict XVI called "the apostasy of Europe."

They end with a new plea for the European project: "We, Catholic Bishops, would plead that the European project not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress. It is essential that all of us – politicians, candidates for office, all stake-holders – contribute constructively to fashioning Europe’s future. We have too much to lose if the European project is derailed."

Very Concrete Commitments

The calls of the Church and of the defenders of fundamental human rights did not remain a dead letter. The Manif pour Tous prepared a questionnaire for the EU candidates similar to the charter which had been submitted to candidates in municipal elections (successfully: 2300 had signed it). They are asked to commit to defend the family by joining the intergroup on the family that the MPT (Manif pour Tous) wants to create in the European Parliament. Another effective force for the pro-life cause is the "European Citizens’ Initiative" (ICE) One of Us, which addressed the candidates for European elections with a questionnaire on respect for life and human dignity. The Catholic Family Associations (AFC) also contact and meet with the candidates for the European elections to offer them to commit to the family by signing the Manifesto "Vote for Family" prepared by the Federation of Catholic Family Associations in Europe (FAFCE).

There are plenty of initiatives to join and actively support!

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