Pope Francis' Response to the Register's Question on Brexit

Pope Francis about to answer questions on the papal plane from Armenia, June 26, 2016.
Pope Francis about to answer questions on the papal plane from Armenia, June 26, 2016. (photo: Edward Pentin/CNA-NCRegister.com)

Does Pope Francis think the majority of UK voters were right in voting to leave the European Union?

I tried to find out when I asked him on the papal plane if he is concerned the EU might disintegrate and possibly war ensue following the “Brexit” vote, something the “Remain” campaign had warned could happen and were criticized for needless scaremongering.

The Holy Father didn’t directly answer the question: he spoke of a “climate of division” in Europe, and chose instead to distinguish between the need for a “healthy disunity” in the European Union, and “Balkanisation”, or secession, that is “not emancipation”.

He said he did not place Brexit in the latter category, but rather the push for independence by Scotland and Catalonia (he spoke last year about his fears about the Scottish referendum on independence). “These divisions, I don’t say that they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before taking steps towards a division, to speak well amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions,” he said.

Francis placed the EU in the context of “fraternity”, which he said is “better than animosity and distance” and that “bridges are better than walls. This must all make us reflect.”

But as Francis often does, he left his precise thinking on the issue open to interpretation. On the one hand, he appeared to show sympathy for the referendum result, acknowledging that the EU must regain the strength it derives from its Christian “roots” which, he said, would be a “step of creativity.” This includes devising “another form of Union”, one that offers “more independence, more liberty.”

But on the other hand, although he acknowledged that “something  is not working in this ‘solid’ Union,” he asserted that “we should not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us look to redeem things and to recreate.”

The Holy Father therefore carefully hedged his answer and in the end, those who supported the decision to leave the EU, and those who wanted to remain, could read his comments in a light favorable to their side.

Perhaps the ambiguity in his response could best be explained by his frank and humble admission he twice made in his answer: that he didn't know.

Here below is the full text of the exchange, translated by CNA:

Question: (National Catholic Register): Holy Father, as John Paul II, you seem to be a supporter of the European Union and you praised the European project when you recently won the Charlemagne prize. Are you worried that Brexit could bring about the disintegration of Europe and eventually war?

“There is already war in Europe. Moreover, there is a climate of division, not only in Europe, but in its own countries. If you remember Catalonia, last year Scotland. These divisions… I don’t say that they are dangerous, but we must study them well, and before taking steps towards a division, to speak well amongst ourselves, and seek out viable solutions… I honestly don’t know. I have not studied the reasons why the United Kingdom wanted to make this decision, but there are divisions. I believe I said this once, I don’t know where, but I said it: That independence will make for emancipation. For instance, all our Latin American countries, even the countries of Africa, have emancipated from the crown, from Madrid. Even in Africa from Paris, London, Amsterdam … And this is an emancipation, and is more understandable because behind it there is a culture, there is a way of thinking … rather, the seccession of a country -- I’m still not speaking of Brexit; we think of Scotland, all these ... It is a thing that has been given a name, and this I say without offending, it is a word which politicians use: Balkanization, without speaking ill of the Balkans. It is somewhat of a secession, it is not emancipation. And behind (it) there are histories, cultures, misunderstandings, even good will . . . this is clear. For me, unity is always better than conflict, but there are different ways of unity . . . and even fraternity, and here comes the European Union; fraternity is better than animosity and distance. Fraternity is better and bridges are better than walls. One must reflect on all of this. It is true: a country … I am in Europe, but … I want to have certain things that are mine from my culture and the step that … and here I come to the Charlemagne Prize, which is given by the European Union to discover the strength that it had from its roots. It is a step of creativity, and also of “healthy disunity,” to give more independence, more liberty to countries of the Union, to think of another form of Union, to be creative. And creative in places of work, in the economy. There is a liquid economy in Europe. For instance, in Italy 40% of young people aged 25 and younger do not have work. There is something that is not good in this massive Union, but we do not throw the baby in the bath water out the window, no? We look to redeem the things and recreate, because recreation of human things, also our personality, is a journey, which one must always take. A teenager is not like an adult, or an elderly person. It is the same and it is not the same. One recreates continuously. It is this that gives life, the desire to live, and gives fruitfulness. And this I underline: today, the word, the two key words for the European Union, are creativity and fruitfulness. This is the challenge. I don’t know, it’s what I think."