From the time of the French revolution, the Catholic Church has always encouraged relationships between nations that draw them together rather than divide them. It is for this reason that the Church has always been broadly supportive of the European Union, although with reservations.
There will be many Catholics on both sides of the coming referendum. Many of us have concerns about recent developments in the EU, such as the official removal of the reference to the continent’s Christian history from the European Constitution a few years ago. The more general push towards secularisation troubles us, too.
Recent popes have questioned the tendency to regard the goal of the EU as the optimisation of market forces. They have challenged Europe to rediscover its roots and to renew itself and reconnect with its citizens, and to realise that a narrow EU will eventually atrophy and die.
It is instructive to read what Pope-emeritus Benedict says about Europe. He argues that the approach of Europe’s founding fathers — which spoke to the moral heritage of the continent — is absent from the debate about its future. Europe’s founding fathers, he says, ‘were seeking a European identity that would not dissolve or deny the national identities but rather unite them at a higher level of unity into one community of peoples’.
He argues that, without reference to the values and common traditions that made Europe in the past, the future of Europe is at risk. Europe ‘must not give up on itself’, he says. He further warns of a Europe that has come about through the rupture of faith and reason that began during the Enlightenment and developed in the centuries since then. It is a Europe cut adrift from its roots and history, a Europe that separates itself from ethical traditions and relies solely on technological reasoning and its possibilities.