Christian values in pluralist EU


ARCHBISHOP OF Dublin, Most Rev Diarmuid Martin advocated “a Europe of participation” in a thoughtful speech yesterday to the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin on “Christian Values and Irish Membership of the EU”. He called on Catholics to “take part, actively and critically” in the EU’s affairs with a definite strategy rather than take pot shots at it from the sidelines. This was part of a wider case he made about the confident expression of Christian values in a pluralist European Union now more open to a structured dialogue with people of religious faith. It is a valuable statement of principles, which has implications for the forthcoming political debate in the second Lisbon Treaty referendum.

Archbishop Martin emphasised that in examining the place of religion in contemporary Europe “we need to look at the facts and to interpret the facts”. Social research discovers Europeans are not as secular as is often supposed, since religious values survive and strengthen, while there is still a widespread commitment to marriage and faithfulness. Nor has prosperity necessarily brought about a materialism that rejects Christian values, since the churches’ failure to evangelise effectively in a changed cultural climate may be more responsible, while escaping from poverty is anyway an achievement Christians should celebrate.

Above all Catholics should avoid blaming Brussels for bringing abortion to Ireland, when in fact that decision was made by an Irish court on the basis of Irish law. In the same way the malpractice at the root of the current economic crisis is definitely home grown. “In many ways Brussels is not the problem, but it is recognised more and more as an essential part of the solution.” He supports a Europe open to the world, defining its integration in that way as part of a more universal tradition.

This was the setting in which Archbishop Martin examined the guarantees being sought by the Government on social and ethical issues of concern to the Catholic Church. He acknowledged that even if these are satisfactorily achieved they would remain subject to legal interpretations. The only way to influence that is for public representatives to engage actively with a broad coalition of other like-minded governments and organisations, as well as European public opinion, “to avoid such over-innovative interpretations”.

This logic of civil engagement based on verifiable facts should also be applied by the archbishop and the Catholic Hierarchy to the debate on the Lisbon Treaty. They will reach their own conclusions on its merits and the guarantees obtained by the Government, as will other churches and organisations. But if they have proper regard for their role as religious leaders they should be willing to challenge patent inaccuracies about the treaty put about by its fundamentalist Catholic opponents. It is not enough to demand that only political leaders act in such an authoritative fashion. Those who spread confusion among Catholics by claiming the treaty will undermine their faith should not go unchallenged by church leaders.