The Pope's speech in Strasbourg marks a huge shift in the Church's stance on the EU
I can see the Catholic Church is becoming more pro-Ukip because when Pope Francis came to visit the European Parliament even the archbishops were wearing purple. My Catholic colleagues tell me I am not reading that signal quite right. Still, I say the Pope showed he wanted to remain politically neutral because he wore white.
Jest aside, I found the Pope’s speech remarkable and personally very encouraging, for he implied that the modern European Union had gone badly wrong and the idea of a united European state wasn’t even desirable, never mind necessary.
He is a with-it, up-to-date pope who knows what is going on. He made it clear that getting countries together in the 1950s that had previously been busy fighting each other was a good and a Christian thing, and that behind the project there were some high-minded ideas and individuals.
But equally he made it clear that this European project today has gone badly wrong. Whereas St John Paul II, 25 years ago, described the European project as a beacon of civilisation, in 2014 Pope Francis described the modern-day European Union as “old, weary and infertile”, and aloof from the concerns and needs of ordinary people. Events have moved on in the past quarter of a century and his analysis of the EU is strikingly different from his predecessor’s. As the non-European Francis said, “much has changed throughout Europe and the world as a whole”, the world has become “less and less Eurocentric”.
I believe this important speech shows a significant shift in the attitude of the Catholic Church towards the EU. Pope Francis said that Europe is about different families of “peoples” – note the plural not singular – making it clear that the idea of a unified European state wasn’t even desirable. For those of us who have been saying you can be pro-European without being pro-European Union, the speech was enormously encouraging.
The Pope said that peoples who are diverse can work together but don’t have to have uniformity. He made it clear that he thought uniformity in Europe was a very bad idea. That the perception of the EU had changed over time is very evident. “In recent years,” he said, “as the European Union has expanded, there has been growing mistrust on the part of citizens towards institutions considered to be aloof, engaged in laying down rules perceived as insensitive to individual peoples, if not downright harmful.”
That was certainly not the sort of language that Martin Schulz, the German Socialist president of the European Parliament, likes to hear.
On immigration, the Pope made it very clear that we should also be addressing the causes of why so many people wish to cross the Mediterranean. He is absolutely right about that. (Of course, one of the primary reasons for that was our absolute stupidity in bombing Libya a few years ago, because most of the vessels that come across to Lampedusa and elsewhere are coming from Libya.)
Francis also talked about human dignity and the need for transcendence. He spoke about family and the need for both hope and jobs for our youth. He talked about people needing to have a sense of self-worth and there was powerful applause when he raised the persecution of religious minorities “and Christians in particular, in various parts of our world”. All decent people with a conscience are revolted by the barbaric mistreatment of Christians in Iraq, Syria and many parts of Africa for example.
At one point in his speech, the Pope talked about Europe asserting its own cultural identity. “Awareness of one’s own identity is also indispensable for relations with other neighbouring countries,” he said.
This is where we come to the Christian virtue of patriotism. I have spoken many times before about British people standing up in the world and at home for our Christian culture and values. We should not be browbeaten into silence to please those who come to us from other cultures.
Just as our mother gives us birth, so too our country – our patria, a word that derives from the Latin for “father” – also forms, in part, who we are. In a way, the nation – deriving from natus or “birth” – also forms us in our cultural identity. I sometimes wonder why some Catholic bishops have become so quiet about teaching the Christian value of patriotism.
Thomas Aquinas wrote that charity requires action for the good of one’s fellow man. One of my Catholic Ukip friends is fond of this line and sometimes quotes it to me: “The very act of loving someone because he is akin or connected with us, or because he is a fellow countryman or for any like reason that is referable to the end of charity, can be commanded by charity”.
I am aware that John Paul II put it very succinctly when he said: “Patriotism is a love for everything to do with our native land: its history, its traditions, its language, its natural features. It is a love which extends also to the works of our compatriots and the fruits of their genius. Every danger that threatens the overall good of our native land becomes an occasion to demonstrate this love… I believe that the same could be said of every country and every nation in Europe and throughout the world.”
Have some bishops become silent about the virtue of patriotism, because they wish to be seen as more PC? Who knows? But there is no need to go quiet on this. Personally, I am a patriot, but not a nationalist. Let me try to explain the difference. I love my family. But just because I love my family, that doesn’t mean that I have to hate your family.
It is the same for love of country. Just because I love the United Kingdom, that does not mean that I have to hate another country. Patriotism and a sure sense of cultural identity can also lead a person to respect the culture, identity and distinctiveness of other countries and other cultures.
I hold that love of country is good, but support for the state has its clear limits: I am a small state supporter. Who could sum this up better that Mark Twain, who famously quipped: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Well, as a patriot, I support the current government very little indeed.
This article is also published in the final broadsheet edition of the Catholic Herald, out on Friday. From next week, the Herald will become a magazine
Do you agree with Nigel Farage’s comments about Pope Francis and the EU? Have your say below