Noel Muscat ofm
On 25 November Pope Francis addressed the European Parliament and the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. His speech was well prepared and touched upon the main issues facing the European Union at this point in time. He expressed his deep respect for the members of the European Parliament and their mission in favour of the unity in diversity of the European continent. At the same time he referred to problematic issues faced by countries of the European Union, including the fact that Europe needs to revitalise its existence and mission since it is a “haggard” institution.
The Pope spoke out courageously in favour of the primacy of the human person and human rights, the danger that a technocratic and bureaucratic mentality based on the primacy of the economy is detrimental to the social fabric and to the dignity of workers, the need to address the issue of immigration and the status of refugees in a humane and responsible manner, the importance of the “transcendent” vocation of Europe against the “forgetfulness of God”, the sacredness of the family, “united, fruitful and indissoluble”, linked with the care of the elderly and the weak in society, and the centrality of education to a “humanistic spirit”.
All in all, the impression one got was that the majority of the members of the European Parliament welcomed the Pope’s speech as a down to earth and inspiring analysis of the current situation, and as an occasion for hope in a better future. Pope Francis came out as a courageous critic of a European social, political and economic fabric that has largely relegated Christianity and marginalised it in favour of secularism and laïcité based on a militant attitude of rejection of all that smacks of religion in Europe. At the same time he reached out to those human values that the founding fathers of Europe enshrined and which are still embraced by the European Constitution.
The aftermath of the Pope’s speech was an occasion to listen to the discordant voices of those who were certainly very unhappy with what Pope Francis had to say. I followed an interview given on Euronews to Anne Morelli, head of the Centre Interdisciplinaire d’Étude des Religions et de Laïcité in the Free University of Brussels. I was flabbergasted by her interpretation of the Pope’s speech. Here, in synthesis, is what she said.
There was nothing special that surprised her in the Pope’s speech. The Pope spoke, as usual, against issues like abortion, although in a veiled and gentle manner. The issue of economic reform versus social justice will not convince political and economic leaders in Europe to change their strategies. The Pope should never have been invited to the European Parliament. It was “a problem of principle”. The European Parliament should represent all European citizens, the majority of whom are not Catholics. Why not invite other religious leaders? Even if the Pope is a head of state, the Vatican is a microstate. Why not invite also the princes of Lichtenstein or Monaco? The Catholic Church wants to give an impression that it is reaching out to a secularised society. The Pope skilfully deviated from sensitive subjects, like the topics discussed during the Synod, including homosexuality, remarried divorced couples, abortion, euthanasia. All in all, it was the “Vatican’s vision of politics.”
This view of the Pope’s speech is certainly indicative of the way in which European institutions, including educational institutions, look at the Catholic Church. It might be true that Pope Francis is an aging ecclesiastic whose ideas might seem anachronistic to a continent that has discovered its true freedom. It is also true that this aging Pope has spoken to an aging continent that is pretending to put on a young face and affirm itself as a beacon of freedom militating against an outdated theocratic social and political fabric that happens to be Christian.
What these respected ladies and gentlemen do not understand is that a godless Europe is a continent breeding new tyrannies based on the primacy of a free market economy, a valueless society in which the rights of minorities who know the rules of lobbying are dominating the fundamental human right of expression, including religious expression, an institution that is being dominated more and more by extremist and xenophobic elements that are dangerously close to the tragedies that Europe experienced during the last century. The Catholic Church stands as the only beacon of hope and sound reasoning in this chaos. Its openness to dialogue is persecuted by those who think that they alone can dictate principles of conduct according to their own pseudo-ethics. Maybe we shall see the result of this reasoning in the affirmation of militant religious fanaticism that is invading Europe from its southern and eastern shores. And then we’ll see who the European Parliament will have to invite next time!