“The Vatican wants Britain to stay in the European Union, the Pope’s foreign secretary has declared.” So writes the Telegraph, noting that Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Secretary for Relations with States within the Holy See, suggested Brexit could weaken Europe. “We would see it as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe,” he said.
So, for the Church of Rome, staying in the EU is the lesser evil, or (as the Archbishop prefers) staying in the EU is the better good, which is pretty much the position of the Church of England, though no Anglican archbishop has stated it quite so baldly.
“The Holy See respects the ultimate decision of the British people – that’s for the British electorate to decide,” said the Vatican’s Foreign Secretary, which is kind of him, but when the Barque of St Peter decrees that UK membership of the EU is the greater virtue, it is not unreasonable to observe the subtle inculcation of the faithful to vote ‘Stay’: the ‘Leave’ campaign is clearly supping with the Devil.
With the “substantial six-figure sum” donated by Goldman Sachs to the ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign (which is chaired by the former Marks & Spencer boss Lord Rose), we see corporatism and Catholicism bolstering the British Establishment against democracy, transparency and accountability. The people’s heretical fivers and tenners will be hard-pressed to compete with the orthodox multi-millions gifted by corporates, apportioned by Brussels or appropriated by the Government for propaganda to persuade us to stay. Our trade, jobs, wealth, borders, welfare and national security all depend upon our membership of the EU, don’t you know.
In what sense is the UK “better in than out”? If it’s along the lines of Lord Deben’s sketchy analysis – “So we stop working with our neighbours; finding common ground; influencing for good – not my idea of Christian” – it is a crass caricature of a post-Brexit Britain and a post-EU Europe. One does not need to be subject to an anti-democratic, unaccountable, unintelligible, bureaucratic oligarchy in order to work with our neighbours, find common ground or influence for good. The Vatican seems to manage all three perfectly well without itself being a member a member of the EU.
While there are those who insist that the Holy Roman Empire can help inspire a different European Union, we can do better than look to the example of Charlemagne. “Power was always multiple and plural. The management of daily life was devolved to more local powers,” writes Oxford historian Professor Peter Wilson, as though the Empire were the epitome of subsidiarity, unforced brotherhood and elective fraternity. Try selling that notion to the 4,500 Saxons who were massacred in Verden, Lower Saxony, in the year 782. Charlemagne’s Reich was built on bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and horrific war crimes. He was the Hitler of his day, but history is marvellous eraser of wrongs and redactor of truth.
The bishops of the Roman Catholic Church customarily issue guidance at election time, but one wishes they would respect the democratic intellect of British Roman Catholics. Man-made government is a necessary evil for the ordering of society, and, in the absence of the reigning King of Kings, it is for each Christian to discern the lesser evil. “How we vote is ultimately a matter of personal conscience,” said Bishop Noel Treanor, Bishop of Down & Connor, in his 2014 ‘Pastoral Reflection‘ on the run-up to elections to the European Parliament. The Christian task, he says, is “to influence the values that will shape future public policy”, observing that we are “called to inform our conscience”, which means “weighing up the position of each candidate and political party in the forthcoming elections and deciding how, in exercising our Christian responsibility to vote, we can maximise the common good”.
Of course, in issuing his guidance, Bishop Noel is mindful of Roman Catholic Social Teaching, centred around the right to life; the uniqueness of marriage between a woman and man; the promotion of justice, social inclusion and concern for the poor; and the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. Archbishop Paul Gallagher will have the same ‘goods’ in mind.
And therein lies the tension, for the political entity that is the European Union may promote peace, mutual understanding and reconciliation, and yet, in the pursuit of justice and equality, it negates the right to life and nullifies the God-ordained institution of marriage.
Bishop Noel is of the view that the European Union “is a noble and historic project”. “It is vital,” he says, “that we participate in the European elections to ensure the EU and its institutions continue to evolve democratically in the face of the massive political, social, economic and ethical challenges it is now facing.”
And therein lies the starkest ignorance of the EU project, for a community which was designed to subvert sovereignty and supersede suffrage cannot “evolve democratically”. As Bishop Noel Treanor and Archbishop Paul Gallagher unite against secessionists, the Vatican sets its face against the nation state, for therein lies the malevolence of nationalism. If you scratch most elites in Europe, you would find beneath their skin the terror of descent back into war. The EU is seen as a means, perhaps the means, to secure peace among the nations by deliberately submerging (‘pooling’) sovereignty. The world, they aver, must move beyond the myopic insularity of nations to progress.
And so, for the princes of the Roman Catholic Church, the EU is a profoundly Catholic construct which true Christians must support. Those who want to leave lack discernment. For the nonconformist dissenter and heretic, the EU is intrinsically anti-Christian (a debate which has been been had time and again). The Bishop ends his reflection:
As Christians, who by our national citizenship are also citizens of the European Union, we enjoy both the great freedom and the great responsibility of participating conscientiously in the democratic process and voting in the forthcoming elections. We have the freedom and responsibility to make the decision about who to vote for in accordance with a well-formed conscience, before God. It is also important that we commend and encourage all those who take up the noble vocation of politics and who, with a true spirit of public service, work with integrity and commitment for the common good.
It follows that, with a well-formed conscience, before God, Christians ought not to vote for Eurosceptics or to leave the EU. Or, rather, Roman Catholics ought not to vote Ukip, for these bishops are not presuming to issue guidance to Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists or Christadelphians (who tend not to vote for anybody). And in this anti-Ukip, anti-Eurosceptic, anti-Leave.EU exhortation, the Bishop and Archbishop join with their fraternal Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, which also cautions against voting for anti-EU forces.
In consideration of Christian citizenship – which is, of course, in heaven – we are exhorted to eagerly await our Saviour, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body (Phil 3:20f). In the meantime, those lowly bodies have to get on with the tedious process of being citizens in a foreign land, and that entails engagement with (and praying for) those foreign princes and potentates who rule over us, for they are authorities instituted by God (Rom 13: 1-7).
But it is curious, is it not, that the political objectives of the party which talks most openly of Christian values and of our Christian heritage; and which seeks to defend the synonymy of the institution of marriage with the sacrament of Holy Matrimony; and which happens to believe that the EU is far more likely to foment civil unrest with its oligarchical imposition of economic governance and the negation of democracy, should be singled out by the oligarchical Roman Catholic bishops as the one to abjure. The EU is a Godless, atheistic and fundamentally anti-Christian institution masquerading as an enlightened and inclusive commonwealth: it owes more to Robespierre than to Rome. Perhaps, instead of preaching that the UK is “better in than out” of the EU, the Vatican would be better out of than in our referendum.