Catholic World Report carried an interview on 4 November with Timo Soini, leader of the Finns Party in Finland since 1997, which campaigns on the platform of each individual’s “right to a life of human dignity.”
Soini is a Catholic convert and I was struck both by how popular his party is becoming (in the last general elections in 2011 it captured nearly a fifth of the vote) in what I had assumed to be a godless Nordic socialist paradise, and how straightforward and unembarrassed he is about his faith. We have Catholic politicians in this country – though not as leaders of a party – yet they do not seem to hit the headlines very often with an uncompromising Christian viewpoint. Of course, Finland has a much smaller population, is not so diverse and multicultural and is probably a more conformist society; these may be reasons why Soini stands out.
Yet he sounds a brave man to speak publicly as he does with statements such as “marriage should only be between a man and a woman.” He comments that there are the “usual tirades and clichés” in the Finnish media about the Church being old-fashioned, anti-abortion, anti-homosexual, paedophilia-tainted and the like. He is not fazed by this; abortion is a sin, he has nothing against homosexuals – “all people are in a way sacred because of the sacredness of life” – and the sex abuse scandals just involve a “few rotten tomatoes” among the majority of decent, good priests and religious.
Soini has no truck with the line that goes: “I am a Catholic – but”; he states firmly, “I am a practising Catholic” which means “I am following Church teachings; it’s as simple as that.” His conversion took place in 1987 in Ireland, in St Mary’s Cathedral, Killarney. He hints mysteriously that “something happened while I was in the cathedral which prompted me into converting…” but does not explain further in the interview. Could it be that he was suddenly aware of the presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, as many other converts have experienced? He has written a book about his life – in Finnish naturally – which I shall certainly read when someone has kindly translated it into English.
It seems that Finns think “that if you are a member of a Church you can still have whatever opinion you like” – rather like the Anglican “broad Church” in this country. Soini is very black and white about it: “This is not Christianity; that is your own religion.” He is also totally opposed to the kind of strategy espoused by the late President Kennedy and others – that insists on keeping one’s political views and one’s religious beliefs in separate compartments. “But how can you separate abortion, marriage and the like?” he asks with genuine puzzlement.
Yet there is something that resonates among the Finns about a personality like Soini. When he stood for president in the January 2012 elections he received the third most votes, almost 10% of the total. This was unprecedented; it makes Nigel Farage look a very timid political force by comparison. Farage talks vaguely of wanting to keep our country’s Christian heritage – but what does that mean in practice? Soini presents the Finns with a clear, consistent and serious alternative to the safely secular programmes of other Scandinavian political parties. Perhaps he is popular because he dares to voice what ordinary people think but dare not say?