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BY EDWARD PENTINRegister Correspondent
ROME — Sen. Marcello Pera, the former president of the Italian Senate, isn’t
Catholic — in fact, he’s not even a Christian believer.
But he is a deep admirer of the
ideas of Pope Benedict XVI, with whom he collaborated on the 2004 book, Without Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam (2006,
Basic Books). Sen. Pera spoke recently with Register
correspondent Edward Pentin about the themes he and the Pope addressed in their
How did you come to co-author the book Without
Roots: Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam with Pope Benedict XVI?
I had been an admirer for some
time of the writings of Cardinal Ratzinger. I
considered him a profound theologian and an original thinker.
One day I went to visit him and
proposed that he give a lecture in the Senate on the critical situation of
being in Europe and in the West. We discovered
that we held many of the same views, and since in the meantime, while I had
given a lecture at the Pontifical
we talked about how we could spread our ideas.
This is how the book was born: We
both reviewed our theses and decided to include additional comments.
In the book, you issued a strong indictment of relativism and focused upon
the loss of Christian values in Europe. Since
the book was published, do you see signs of hope that the universal principles
and values you espouse are overcoming relativism?
No, I see signs going in the
opposite direction. The de-Christianization process underway in Europe is
moving forward at high speed, from Spain
to Holland to Italy. On issues like bioethics,
life, the family, procreation, not only is the sense of the sacred, of sin, of
limits being lost, but the idea is spreading that Parliaments are so sovereign
that they can modify the fundamental principle of our tradition.
What John Paul II most feared and
denounced is underway: the perverse alliance between relativism, as the
equivalence of all substantive values, and democracy, as a mere formal process.
And the opinion of Benedict XVI, according to whom Europe
no longer loves itself, is becoming ever more true.
I believe that the situation is
becoming increasingly serious because Catholics themselves are not reacting as
You oppose multiculturalism on the grounds that it is the result of
relativism. What do you propose as an alternative in which a society of
different cultures can exist harmoniously?
Multiculturalism can be taken both
as a doctrine and as policy. As a doctrine it gives rise to insurmountable
contradictions. It affirms that all communities have an equal right to exist
because outside these communities, individuals would lose their own specific
So, what are you supposed to do
when a community does not respect certain rights, for example, the equality
between men and women? If you leave the community freedom of action then you
might violate certain fundamental rights — if you force them to respect these
rights then you violate the principle whereby all communities possess equal
dignity in the ethical sense.
As policy, the effects of
multiculturalism are exactly the opposite of integration, because it gives rise
to separate communities that are then reduced to a ghetto-like status and enter
into conflict among themselves. The examples offered
by the UK and by Holland speak eloquently.
The alternative is an integration that respects the fundamental independent
principals of individual communities.
As you know, there is still deadlock over the European Constitution. What
solution to this crisis would be favorable to you?
I do not see any realistic
solution — and nobody is proposing one. I think that the European states can
unite through treaties, not through an actual constitution. A constitution
presupposes that a “people” exists, with a specific identity, but at the moment
there is no European people with a European identity.
Identity is not like a common
currency that can be negotiated around a table. An identity presumes a sense of
belonging, and therefore a common spirit. Today, Europe
does not acknowledge this spirit — not even in its tradition as the “Christian
Pope Benedict XVI is sympathetic to the idea of an ethic
for globalization — universal principles on which all cultures agree and
can unite around. What is your opinion of this idea?
From an intellectual point of view
it is an arduous endeavor, because universal ethics presumes either natural rights
or recognized rational rights, and everyone knows that both rationalism and
[natural law] are attractive, but difficult-to-justify doctrines. Nonetheless,
I believe that we should work towards universal ethics. I do not believe that
we will ever achieve this, but the very search would make us more aware of the
possibilities ahead of us, would further unite us and would constitute a step
forward for humanity.
How do you see the future of relativism and multiculturalism in Europe?
My diagnosis on Europe’s
future is not a happy one. It is analogous to Bernard Lewis’ and to other
scholars’. If Europe goes forward with its relativist culture, with the refusal
of its own tradition, with its low birth rates, with indiscriminate
immigration, then Europe is going to end up
Maybe we have already been dealt a
blow to the heart and did not notice it. What Pope Ratzinger
says in Without Roots comes to mind:
The impression today is that Europe resembles the Roman
Empire at its fall.
Some say that Pope Benedict XVI hasn’t spoken out against relativism and
in defense of Europe’s Christian values and
heritage as much as was expected. How true is this in your view?
No, Cardinal Ratzinger
spoke clearly and Pope Ratzinger uses the same
language. I think that he is very firm on principles and I do not understand
Do you have plans to write any more books on this subject, and any more to
be co-authored with Pope Benedict?
Naturally, another book with
Benedict XVI would please me immensely, and especially the opportunity to
converse with him, but this is not likely. In Without Roots, he makes an appeal to the “creative minorities.”
Personally, I consider myself a modest member of these minorities, and will
continue to work in the direction that he indicated.
writes from Rome.