So it is easy to see why the desperately unpopular EU might want to host the tantalizingly stellar Pope Francis right now.
I only hope that in this context, EP President Martin Schulz isn’t going to get away with playing the Catholic Church like a Stradivarius. A real risk, given that people are pretty cynical these days, would be that some of the European Union’s growing unpopularity rubs off, by association, on the Church.
If all we get tomorrow are foggy reminiscences about Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, and “Martin Schulz was educated by Jesuits” then we will see the EU doesn’t have much serious to offer Catholics in return for being ‘legitimized’ by a papal visit, other than warm memories of the past, masking a hard-line secularist intolerance today.
European Catholics, who lest we forget are also taxpayers and voters, deserve to have their faith taken seriously by the EU.
Is there much of a danger that a papal visit could give credence to the secularist agenda of the EU, and especially that of the current president of the EP, Martin Schulz?
Yes, there is absolutely this danger, in my opinion. One has to be alert to the pressures being put on Catholics these days to "de-catholicize" themselves. Yet a Catholicism devoid of Catholic content is essentially a Christianity without Christ. Catholics need to be courageous about saying — about shouting from the rooftops, in fact — all the stuff that only a Catholic would say. The Pope could use his opportunity tomorrow to politely — but firmly — request greater space for this. He could show that he is aware of these pressures, and that they pain him.
I’m not saying that the Catholic Church should use irresponsibly the influence it has: however, there are the non-negotiables that cannot be compromised; and these apply to all Catholics: whether they work in public, or in private, life. A continuance of the current secularist intolerance would succeed in driving all faithful Catholics out of public service.
So what does this militant secularism actually look like in practice? Rocco Buttiglione (the Dignitatis Humanae Institute’s founding patron) was vetoed by the European Parliament in 2004, because he was Catholic. One senior British Socialist, who was leading the revolt, said at the time that: “Rocco Buttiglione’s nomination [as Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for Justice and Home Affiars] is unacceptable. It is unacceptable not for anything he has ever said, but for what, as a Catholic, he might think.”
(As an aside, it was in response to this very event that the Dignitatis Humanae Institute was formed. The Universal Declaration of Human Dignity was launched in the European Parliament by its then Speaker, Prof. Hans-Gert Pöttering MEP, which I strongly invite all Aleteia readers to sign.)
Moving on in time, in 2012, Tonio Borg, the Catholic Maltese Commissioner for Health and Consumer Affairs, at risk of finishing in the same sticky end during his own nomination process, had to write to MEPs, to assure them that he would not let his private views influence his professional role as a Commissioner, and then again, to assure them of seven special guarantees, before they would approve his nomination. Even then, the socialist and liberal MEPs, despite crowing about these concessions that they had secured, refused to vote in support of him.
The European Union gives every indication of only tolerating the Catholic faith as long as it has been shorn of everything about it that is specifically and uniquely Catholic. Unless, in the years ahead, we don’t want our public officials metaphorically reduced to praying on rosaries with no crucifixes, we need to start institutionally asking the question of why members of other religions, say for example, from the Muslim community, have their sensibilities meticulously taken into account, when they are in reality, far smaller in number.