We all know, do we not, that the EU is a fundamentally secularist body, which refused any mention in its constitution of Europe’s Christian origins. Relations between the rulers of the EU and the Holy See became distinctly frigid as a result.
They were not improved when the devout Italian Catholic politician Rocco Buttiglione (a good egg) was nominated as a European Commissioner and the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs voted against his appointment, because as a Catholic he was personally opposed to the practice of homosexuality.
Then there was the affair of the Sandbæk Report, which led to a European Union regulation requiring all EU member states to fund abortion services through their foreign aid budgets. This was followed by EU funding of embryonic stem cell research and a European Parliament motion calling for the compulsory recognition of same-sex unions across the whole of the European Union.
So maybe, things might improve a bit now, after a cordial meeting of the president of the European Parliament with Pope Benedict, after which, on the website of the European Parliament, he expressed the view that his “meeting with the Holy Father was very moving”? He went on to say that “At a time of such dramatic changes, a man of faith and intellect like Benedict XVI gives guidance and stability to hundreds of million of people across the world.”
Has there been an improvement of EU-Vatican relations? Not really. Here’s the opening of the Zenit report of the meeting. The first sentence explains its warmth:
BENEDICT XVI GREETS EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESIDENT
VATICAN CITY, FEB. 28, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI received in audience today Jerzey Buzek, president of the European Parliament.
A Vatican communique issued after the meeting noted that the talks, which took place in a “cordial” atmosphere, “provided an opportunity for a fruitful exchange of opinions concerning relations between the Catholic Church, the European Parliament and other European institutions, as well as the contribution the Church can make to the union.”
The note stated that the two also spoke of other current topics of international affairs, “such as commitment to promoting religious freedom and the protection of Christian minorities in the world”.
You spotted it? Of course you did. Jerzey Buzek is a Polish name, and its holder is a former prime minister of Poland. So of course he’s a Catholic as well as being Polish, and you would expect him to be quite keen on the Pope. But hold on: doesn’t the fact that the president of the European Parliament is now a Polish Catholic mean that there must have been a shift within the EU in a Catholic direction? Well, no. The president of the European Parliament just presides over the debates and activities of the European Parliament. He also represents the Parliament within the EU and internationally as a sort of good will ambassador. The post circulates between the European parties every two and a half years and is wholly without any kind of influence. So: the EU remains as hard-line a secularist entity as any on earth.
You might be tempted at this point to say that if that’s the case, maybe a British Catholic ought to be in favour of Britain leaving the EU. As it happens, it wouldn’t break my heart if we did. But that couldn’t be the reason for such a departure, since we have now become, officially, as secularist a nation as any in Europe. Our High Court has declared us to be such, with its ruling earlier this week, that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation “should take precedence” over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.
The Court pronounced, according to the BBC, that “if children were placed with carers who objected to homosexuality and same-sex relationships, ‘there may well be a conflict with the local authority’s duty to “safeguard and promote the welfare” of looked-after children’”.
The circumstances were these. Eunice and Owen Johns, who are Pentecostal Christians, had applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers. They decided to withdraw their application after a social worker expressed “concerns” when they said they could not tell a child that a homosexual lifestyle was acceptable. They asked the High Court to rule that their faith should not be a bar to their becoming carers. Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson – in my opinion to their eternal shame – ruled against them.
One of the most sickening features of this judgment is its hypocrisy. The Court rejected suggestions that the case involved “a threat to religious liberty”, and had the gall to say that “No one is asserting that Christians – or, for that matter, Jews or Muslims – are not fit and proper persons to foster or adopt. No one is contending for a blanket ban.”
But that’s just what they’re doing: as Robert Pigott, the BBC’s religious affairs correspondent, pointed out, the “court discriminated between kinds of Christianity, saying that Christians in general might well make good foster parents, while people with traditionalist Christian views like Mr and Mrs Johns might well not”. For “traditionalist”, of course, we should read “faithful” or “authentic”: by “Christians in general” we are to understand Christians whose views have been sufficiently secularised to meet the High Court’s requirements.
As Eunice Johns said afterwards: “All we were not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing.” That’s simply what any mainstream Catholic parent would say, isn’t it? So where are we now? If a Catholic parent did make any such declaration before witnesses, might there, one day, be a knock on the door, and a social worker standing there asking impertinent questions? Might such a declaration become a reason for taking a Catholic child into care? It ought to be a ludicrous suggestion. But now, one has to ask, is it? Really?