The condition of faith in Europe

Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State, who participated in the 8th Gniezno Congress.

WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - Some political powers regard the presence of the Church as a threat to the secular character of the state...

CARDINAL TARCISIO BERTONE: - One should not mix secular character and laicism. A healthy laicism means the autonomy of the political sphere in relation to the religious sphere but not to morality. Faith is not a private act. Therefore, I am sad to see that some countries, for example France, strongly opposed the idea of including 'Christian roots' of the continent into the project of the European constitution.

- We can see an increasing tendency to regard Catholics who want to be faithful to their values and principles in their political activities as enemies of democracy, the fifth column of the Vatican, homophobes, etc. (the example of Prof. Rocco Buttiglione is symbolic: he was not allowed to assume an important office in the EU since he was too Catholic); Catholics are tolerated if religion does not have any influence on their political activities. Then they are praised as open-minded and democratic (they themselves often stress that they only follow their conscience). What should be the role of Catholics in politics?

- It is good that politically involved Catholics follow their conscience, but conscience is not something absolute, it cannot stand above the truth and good. On the contrary, the nature of conscience itself requires respecting these values, which cannot be negotiated since they correspond to the objective, universal truths, which are the same for all people. Therefore, a deep sense of ethics should be a fundamental and inseparable feature of Christians. Thanks to that social activities will develop, respecting human person and his/her fundamental rights and one will avoid instrumentalisation 'that most assuredly reduce the individual to a slavery to those who are stronger. "Those who are stronger" can take a variety of names: an ideology; economic power, political and inhumane systems, scientific technocracy or the intrusiveness of the mass media' (cf. John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 5). Only by fulfilling these concrete conditions the desire for justice and peace, which are in the heart of every human being, will become real and people will be transformed from slaves to true citizens. We cannot forget the warning of Charles PĆ©guy, 'Democracy will be moral or will stop being democracy'.

- Unfortunately, many people are disillusioned by politics and its distortions: populism, new forms of plutocracy, the fact that the political class departs from the real needs of citizens, the activities of the parliaments, including the EU Parliament, occupied by various anti-clerical groups, headed by a homosexualists' lobby...

-When we can see that people are disillusioned by politics, and it seems that we are experiencing a social-political fall, we should give personal testimonies and be involved in community activities aiming at rebuilding customs, characterised by respect for the law. I do not only mean suppressing bad behaviour but supporting honesty, working out and promoting honest rules of co-existence as well as adopting them as models accepted by all people not out of fear of punishment but because of their positive values.

- The Pope and bishops often speak about values that cannot be subject to compromises for Catholics. What values do they mean?

- When we speak about matters that cannot be subjects for compromise we mean the protection of human life from conception to natural death and supporting the natural structure of family, understood as a marriage relationship between woman and man. Such a family should be especially supported because of its specific and irreplaceable social role as differentiated from other forms of relationships, radically different and destabilizing the society. I want to mention the human and evangelical values such as liberty, justice, support for social peace and sensitivity to the problems of the poor. The political activity that will not respect these values would be good for no one. Therefore, one cannot justified such politics in the name of one's own conscience or in the name of the secular character of the state, in a way indicating that this kind of behaviour in politics is a proof of citizen's maturity and even deserves acknowledgement. I do realise that in politics one must choose these solutions that can be realised. On the other hand, one needs courage not to accept every theoretically possible solution. Otherwise the above-mentioned values are dimmed and stopped being the yeast of our complex societies. It is from this perspective that the Church through the word of God and the teaching of her shepherds enlightens conscience within the framework of public discussion. A believer does not regard it as illegal interference but help to form and shape conscience and consequently, to make conscience more free. In this perspective Catholics who are involved in politics and all people of good will can go beyond the logic of profit and current affairs, overcome their inclinations to multiply their interests and follow pragmatism, which is being spread today and which justifies compromises concerning the fundamental human values as some inevitable acceptance of an apparently smaller evil.

- Why does Europe need faith?

- I will begin by quoting the brief statement of Alexis de Tocqueville (the French historian, politician and specialist in American democracy, who lived in the years 1805-1859), 'Despotism can do without faith, but freedom cannot.' In order to be active subjects able to build democracy and common good people must be open to the fundamental values of human person and society. In the Christian vision these values come from God. This does not mean that an unbeliever cannot follow the fundamental values. But without referring to God these values are considerably weaker, which is what the Pope has told to the Latin American bishops recently.

- All the fathers of the united Europe: Aleide de Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer, Robert Schuman were practising Christians and wanted free and peaceful Europe the foundation of which would be Christian humanism. Whereas today most European politicians cut themselves from the Christian heritage of the continent and want to impose atheistic humanism on all nations. Will they succeed?

- History has proved that messianisms without the messiah failed. They tried to separate values from Christianity and pushed faith to the private sphere and made morality independent from religion. People deluded themselves that they would build authentically free and worthy humanity. It was the context, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Roman Treaty, in which Benedict XVI spoke about Europe's apostasy, not only from God but also from herself, and about the paradox that Europe, wanting to be a community of values, defies the existence of the universal values. Closing itself to the universal values secularisation closes itself to the truth and replaces it with ideology, scepticism and nihilism. All these things, in contrast to the truth, do not nourish the intellect but poison it; they do not enlighten it but lead it astray; do not enrich inner life but make it complicated and even suppress it; they do not strengthen values but make them uncertain or meaningless.

- All the powers that want laicised Europe, Europe without religion, try to show the Church as some relic and try to drive Christians into the inferiority complex...

- Christians should not feel that they are the remains, leftovers of Europe, which are going to vanish, but they should feel as the avant-garde of new Europe, which, as Benedict XVI has stressed recently, can be realistic but never cynical, rich in ideals and free from naive illusions, inspired by the eternal and reviving truth of the Good News.

"Niedziela" 24/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: