Friday, June 25, 2004

Holy Father speaks out on "Europe's Religion Problem"

John Allen Jr. writes on Europe's increasing phobia towards religion, as recently illustrated in their deliberate ommission of any reference to God in the adoption of the European Constitution -- and about which Pope John Paul II had harsh words to say in his visit to Poland:

"I want to thank Poland for faithfully defending in European institutions the Christian roots of our continent, from which have grown our culture and the civil progress of our time," he said in his native Polish.

Poland was among the handful of European nations -- Italy, Portugal, Malta, and the Czech Republic -- that persevered until the end in requesting a reference to Christianity, but in the end they were blocked by more powerful nations, especially France. (Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing headed the drafting commission).

Thus the papal barb: "One does not cut off the roots from which one is born."

Other Vatican sources reflected the pope's displeasure.

On Friday, spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls charged that governments that had blocked the reference to Christianity "failed to understand the historical evidence and the Christian identity of the peoples of Europe." On Saturday, L'Osservatore Romano said that Europe "seems to want to deprive itself of the solid foundation of its historical memory.

Mr. Allen offered three interesting predictions on the potential implications of Europe's aversion to religion:

  1. First, it strengthens the case that the next pope must have some sort of vision for Europe. . . . Although the center of gravity of global Christianity will increasingly be in the south, Europe is still the cradle of Christianity, and it is where much of the intellectual (and financial) capital originates. A damaged church in Europe is bad news everywhere. Hence, papal candidates will increasingly be evaluated by what they have to say about Europe.

  2. Second, the outcome will probably push a few more European bishops to open their doors to new ecclesial realities such as Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenate, and the Legionaries of Christ. In a culture that often seems not just indifferent, but positively hostile, to organized religion, it may be that only disciplined, highly motivated groups operating outside traditional ecclesiastical structures will have the capacity to evangelize and catechize.

  3. Finally, I suspect the outcome will to some extent embolden the pro-American faction within the Vatican and the College of Cardinals. Broadly speaking, church leaders have long been divided between those who want Europe to emerge as a third pole in global affairs with a more Catholic vision of society, and those who think the church ought to cast its lot with the Americans because they're the only game in town. This second group would include figures such as Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the pope's vicar for the diocese of Rome, and Bishop Rino Fisichella, rector of the Lateran University. The failure of European leaders to even use the word "Christian," let alone articulate a Christian social vision, in their new constitution makes the pro-American argument that much more convincing.