The Crib has been solemnly blessed in the European Parliament – that Brussels temple dedicated to the cause of ever closer secularity now has a discordant Nativity scene located in one of its large public spaces. And it’s not a very subtle crib either, adorned, as it is, by fir tress and fairy lights, all flanked by the symbolic flags of the European Union. The immutable Rights of Man meet the immanent Son of Man.
It is curious that, while France seeks to ban all representations of a child in a stable with a cow and a donkey, the European Parliament is trying to salvage what remains of its Christian inspiration. More curious still is the choice of the prelate they invited to give the blessing – not André-Joseph Léonard, Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium (who must have been busy), but Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of Society of St Pius X; a traditionalist Roman Catholic group which rejects the modernising reforms of the Second Vatican Council and for whom Pope Francis is the Antipope if not the Son of Perdition, heralding certain schism and the coming Apocalypse. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI decreed that the SSPX “does not have a canonical status in the Church (and) its ministers do not exercise legitimate ministries in the Church”.
So, has the EU Crib actually been blessed or not? May a sacramentally-unlicensed bishop who rejects the post-conciliar magisterium of the Popes bestow a true blessing upon a Nativity scene? Does it matter? And who cares?
The thing is, this blessing is not as innocuous as it might appear.
What confrontational anti-secular message is the Civitas Institute, which initiated the Crib, trying to send to the European Parliament? What Neo-fascist message is Italian MEP Mario Borghezio (Lega Nord), who extended the flattering invitation to Bishop Fellay, trying to send to the peoples of Europe? And what Jesuitical schismatic message of hermeneutic discontinuity is Bishop Fellay trying to send to the Successor of Peter? Or to the Successor Emeritus?
The (illicit) service was attended by MEPs from France, Greece, Portugal, Italy and the UK (as well as sundry parliamentary staff and EU officials). Have they all (unwittingly) participated in an extra-ecclesial Apostolic blessing? Surely, if a bishop who is forbidden or suspended from exercising his ministry presumes the authority to administer the sacraments and thereby deceive the flock, he is excommunicated latae sententiae?
In his speech, Civitas president Alain Escada quoted Pope St Pius X:
“The civilization does not need to be invented, it was and remains, it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic society. It merely requires them to restore and renew ceaselessly on their natural and divine principles. Civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City . It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants.”
And Bishop Fellay said in his speech:
“There in the manger is where it all started. So it is quite normal that Europe’s governments give God Himself glory, which comes among men to save them – He, the King of Kings. Let us remember what Cardinal Pie said: ‘If the moment for the lordship of Jesus Christ had not come, then the time has not come for governments to endure.’ By the blessing of this Crib, the Church is a connection between this place and the grace of the love of God. This little place is a Sacramental for the benefit of all who come here to meditate.”
None of this would matter very much if the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams of Oystermouth had not waded into the debate over Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union. He is of the view that withdrawal would be “deeply regressive”, not least because the UK would have almost nothing “distinctive” to offer the world outside it, other than becoming some sort of “offshore financial facility”. He also said that hostility towards the EU was being fuelled by an increasingly assertive sense of English identity:
“There is also – this is very nebulous but not unreal – a feeling that with the Scottish independence agitation and all the questions about a federal UK quite a lot of people feel we need to affirm now what we are, what we distinctively are as English even more than British and that imperceptibly I think strengthens some of this unease about that mysterious entity called Europe which is over there.”
And none of this would matter very much either if Lord Williams were speaking on his own behalf, but he articulates what are essentially also the views of his successor at Lambeth, and, indeed, of all bishops in the Church of England, for whom the case for UK membership of the EU is not only compelling but unarguable. To demur is to be nationalistic and xenophobic, if not racist and bigoted.
It is curious – is it not – that the Crib of Christ can be flanked by the flags of Euro-nationalism and blessed by a traditionalist Roman Catholic bishop, and that is progressive and enlightened, for Europe has a soul, and that is its religious and cultural heritage. But flank that same crib with the Union Flag or (worse) the Cross of St George, and have it blessed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali or (worse) a bishop of the Church of England (Continuing), and we are dealing with the sinister forces of nationalism and risking global isolation: all we will have to offer and all we will be is an “offshore financial facility” dedicated to the worship of Mammon.
In the pursuit of economic stability and political unity, the bishops of the churches of England and Rome are united in their belief that the answer to our narrow materialism and national inclination toward moral chaos is to be found in the humanity and goodness of the European Union, which is the effective agent of our reconciliation with each other. They seem to forget, or appear purposely to ignore, that the freedom to proclaim Christ and his gospel is being incrementally subsumed to the rights of those who choose to be offended by crosses and cribs and every symbol of Christian community. Why did the European Parliament not invite the Archbishop of Canterbury to bless its Nativity scene? Why did they not invite the Pope – since he was there only a few weeks ago – or even the local Ordinary?
Could it simply be that the EU is no longer in communion with the traditions which shaped its institutions and formed its values? Could it be that, starved of the word of truth and devoid of the bread of life – seemingly with the indifferent complicity of the reigning princes of the Church – only a schismatic bishop could enter the lion’s den to bless the symbol of the mystery of the incarnation and redemption?