Presence of Catholics in the European Parliament
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talking with Giorgio Salina
Giorgio Salina: The new Euro Parliament consists of 732 members from 25 countries of the Union. We should add immediately that so far, Catholic and Christian MEPs declaring to be members of the Church and prompted by a Christian vision of the world in their activity - have been, definitely, a minority. I think that the situation in the new Parliament will be similar.
- What political groups are represented in the Euro Parliament?
- The MEPs belong to eight big political "families". The biggest of them, the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats (PPE-DE), has 268 members. Its president is a German, Hans-Gert Poettering. A majority of the Catholic MEPs belongs exactly to this group.
The second with its number of members is the Party of European Socialists (PSE) with 200 deputies. It is headed by a German, Martin Schultz, and consists of MEPs who claim to be leftists and communists. It should be admitted that during the previous tenure of office this party took action against the Catholic Church a big number of times. For example, they voted for suing the Holy Father for breaking human rights before the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This group refers to the history and culture of socialism and communism.
- This explains why for the former Polish Communists this group is a point of reference.
- Yes, probably so. The third with its number of members - 88 - is the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), whose president is Graham Watson. This party claims to be a centrist party although it is only from the industrial point of view that its programme is moderate, while in philosophical terms it is marked by agnosticism with features of positivism and relativism. To be true, the ALDE members respect fair play in parliamentary discussions and their activity has a style, but their views are not congruent with the views of the Church. On the contrary, they regard them as old fashioned both in the field of economy (assistance) and morality (bioethical issues - cloning, reproductive health etc.). They aspire to be well-informed, unbiased and prudent authorities and claim to have the right to evaluate other people's views and ideas.
The fourth group is the Greens or European Free Alliance (Verts/ALE), whose leaders are an Italian, Monica Frassoni, and a Frenchman, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. It is enough to remember that Cohn-Bendit was a leader of the May 1968 Revolt of the French students to realize what kind of party this is. The views of the Verts/ALE deputies flow from the ideology of ecologism, but they also refer to the contestation of the traditional institutions of the society, which was so typical of the May 1968 Revolt. We do not need to explain that among the institutions that they think should be contested and fought against is also the Catholic Church.
- I remember that the leader of the Italian Communists, Enrico Belinguer, already deceased, said once: "One cannot be 'Green' unless one is 'Red'".
- And I remember that Giulio Andreotti, who was the Italian prime minister for many years, said: "When the 'Green' grow ripe, they become 'Red'". These opinions show how much the contemporary Greens' movement is associated with the leftist and communist ideas.
- So we should not let the Catholics who care about protection of the natural environment fall into the traps of the ideology of ecologism.
- You are quite right. Even more so as there is a feature in the ideology and policy of the 'Greens', which I would not hesitate to call antihuman. It is manifest in their propagation of the overpopulation myth, which would imply that abortion or sterilization of women should be supported etc.
- It is in these circles that the concept of "man being the cancer of the planet" was born...
- Exactly. This ideology is exemplified by Jacques Cousteau, the famous sea researcher, who claimed that the earth should not be populated by more than 700 million people (!). If people adopt such an extreme attitude, their concern about the fate of creatures becomes as it were secondary because ideology becomes predominant. Besides, everybody should be reminded that the Greens have no monopoly for environment protection. Also in other parties there are people who care about the fate of our planet, even if they act in a way that does not make politics out of this.
But let us come back to presenting the groups acting in the Parliament. The fifth group, consisting of 41 deputies, is the Confederation Group of the European United Left (Nordic Green Left /GUE/NGL/). It is similar to the previous Greens' groups, but it is even more leftist in character, which is manifest even in its name.
- The sixth party - the Independence and Democracy Group (IND/DEM) - is also interesting for the Polish readers because there are 10 MEPs from our country...
- The Group for Independence and Democracy consists of 37 persons, headed by a Dane, Jens-Peter Bonde. He enjoys some prestige in the Parliament. We should add, however, that he took part in the work of the Convent preparing the project of the European Constitution and that he was against a reference to the Christian roots of our continent in the Constitution.
The seventh group is Union for a Europe of Nations (UEN). An ideological leader of this formation is a Frenchman, Charles Pasqua, and its heads are: an Irishman, Brian Crowley and an Italian, Cristina Muscardini. It consists of 27 deputies, people with nationalist and rightist views who refer to the traditional rightist ideology, which is sensitive to social problems. Their attitude to Catholic culture is variegated.
It is difficult to say something about the last group - Non-Inscrits (NI) since it comprises deputies with largely varying views. They have made a Parliament group so that they may have some influence on the "day schedule" and the working programme of the Parliament.
- In its previous tenure of office, the PPE-DE constituted a relative majority in the Parliament (ca one third of the deputies). Why then were the decisions made by the Union so often in contradiction with the Christian vision of man and the social doctrine of the Church?
- As I already mentioned it, committed Christians are a minority in the Parliament, also in the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats, who, theoretically, should represent the Catholic electorate. However PPE-DE comprises not only European Christian-Democrat parties, but also English conservatists, Lutherans from the North European countries and the fraction which I would call radical-and- liberal. Let us take for example the Italian representatives: they are 24, including not more that 10 Catholics; the rest are liberals and radical liberals from the Forza Italia party. This is why - even if their leader, Poettering, has a Christian vision of the world - the results of the Parliament's work are not always as Catholics would expect. Apart from this, I would like to signal the problem of misconception of tolerance. Some Christians think as follows: "I do not approve of homosexual marriages but I have no right to forbid others to live so" (this is why some Catholic MEPs voted for acceptance of homosexual marriage). This misconception of tolerance has very serious consequences because it is actually seen by many people as a proof that Catholic culture is not based on truths about the man and the world, and that, consequently, its significance is limited. Also political debates and public discussions stop being what they should be: a confrontation of subjects with precisely defined identities. Does not tolerance mean something else - acceptance and respect for those who do not share our ideas, without adjusting ourselves to their views, as this does not contribute to an open and sincere dialogue?
- Many Polish people are afraid that the European Union will impose the French, anticlerical kind of the state secularism on our country. It consists in a radical separation of the state and the Church, and rejects the principle of assistance and cooperation of these two institutions for the benefit of the society. Are these apprehensions justified?
- I think that this kind of danger does exist. At the time of the previous tenure of office, when the outline of the project for culture was presented, it was said that Europe's wealth consisted in the variety of its cultures. Unfortunately, it was at once added that the various cultures of the continent were able to develop only after the Enlightenment, as formerly they had been suppressed by the Catholic hegemony. This is why freedom should be ensured to all, including Catholics, provided that they would not decide important issues because they already put a hand to numerous misfortunes (this last sentence, of course, is not present in the document, but the very idea can be concluded from the tone of the document). This view is shared by many MEPs who do not accept the Christian culture with its vision of the world and the man, and who practically deny the right of the Catholic culture to participate in the dialogue for the sake of the society. This approach is ideological and totalitarian.
- After the Communist and Nazi totalitarianism, Europe wants to establish a secular totalitarianism...
- This is a real threat since a number of political powers both in the Euro Parliament and beyond it try to achieve this aim. The way that leads to secularism is ethical relativism. It is worth emphasizing that secularism appeared in human history owing to Christ who said: "Pay Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and God what belongs to God" (cf. St Mark 12:17; St Luke 20:25). It did not exist previously, and today not everyone accepts it (the example of Islam is very conspicuous). A secular state should be for everybody and it cannot be against some part of the society as this would mean a bias and ideologically motivated discrimination.
- What could the Polish Catholic MEPs do in this difficult and alarming situation?
- They should - like all other Catholics - present the Catholic vision of the world and the social doctrine of the Church seriously, in a way culturally mature and with a scholarly documentation, so that they may reach the contemporary man. This requires unity even if there is a variety of political options. This is why these MEPs should remain in solidarity with other deputies who declare to be Christians and they should maintain a continuous dialogue with them. But let me repeat once more that the Catholic, Christian, point of view should be presented in a 'secular' way, i.e. views concerning industry should be supported by solid economic arguments (a quote from an encyclical by Leon XIII is not enough). If bioethics or genetics is discussed, one should have proper documentation, also scholarly one. This way has two aims: to show that the attitudes flowing from the Catholic culture are rational and beneficial to each man and all people, and, on the other hand, to confirm the right of our culture to co-participate (with other cultures) in the dialogue on political, social and economic issues.
- Is there, to your mind, a possibility of creating a separate Christian-Democrat party?
- As far as we know the situation in the Parliament and in the Union countries, we should admit that this perspective is not realistic, at least in the nearest future. This should not, however, serve as a pretext for avoiding seeking it.
- Is it a fault of the Catholic electorate that the Euro Parliament consists of members who do not accept Christian values?
- We cannot deny that a part of the Catholic electorate is to blame for this, but not only them. Feeling an obligation to the Church, I must say, not without some apprehension, that also part of the Catholic hierarchy is responsible for this status quo.
- Why also the hierarchy?
- First of all, because not all bishops made the electorate sensitive enough to this kind of threat.
- This is not always so simple... When one of the more courageous Polish bishops summoned the Catholic electorate to vote on Catholics, our local liberals of all kinds and also those priests who claim to be anticlerical - started a campaign against him...
- Secondly, the hierarchy sometimes underestimate it that faith should become a culture, a culture of the Christian people owing to which faith may become present in the society and play a missionary role.
- What are the "reference points" that a Catholic deputy can have in the Parliament and in the Union institutions?
- First and foremost, this is other Christians MEPs who constitute these reference points. I think that also the Apostolic Nuncio's Office may facilitate their dialogue and cooperation. This is only due to a solidary cooperation of the Christian deputies that it will be possible to present the Christian vision of the world in the Parliament. Without this vision, the 2000 years of history are not to be understood, and man could miss a chance to know the truth about himself.
- Thank you for taking part in this conversation. I wish your mission a lot of fruit, and I wish you a good cooperation also with the Polish deputies.