Broad Approval for Pope Francis' Strasbourg Visit

According to a Catholic who works closely with pan-European institutions, most members of the European Parliament endorse tomorrow’s papal address.

Catherine Vierling is an internationally recognized specialist on bioethics, human rights and the family.
Catherine Vierling is an internationally recognized specialist on bioethics, human rights and the family. (photo: Facebook)

On Tuesday, Pope Francis becomes the first pope since St. John Paul II in 1988 to address the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. What is the significance of the visit, and how could the Holy Father address pressing issues in a region often regarded as having rejected God?

To find out, the Register spoke with Catherine Vierling, an internationally recognized specialist on bioethics, human rights and the family, who has for many years worked with the European Union and Council of Europe. Vierling explains that although a secularist agenda is strongly represented in the EU, their voice has been practically silenced on this occasion by sentiments of welcome for the Pope across all parties.  


What are the benefits of Pope Francis addressing the European Parliament?

For the last 25 years, since John Paul II, almost every president of the European Parliament intended to welcome a pope. None responded positively up to now, despite an open invitation for a very long time. Since 1988, when the European Union comprised only 12 member states and the Berlin Wall had not yet fallen, Europe has changed a lot. It is now composed by 508 million people from 28 member states.

This visit is most timely, in the context of various crises exposing weaknesses of the European project. On the 25th of November, Pope Francis’ speech regarding fundamental values will confirm what Pope John Paul II said in Gniezno (1979) during Mass: that Europe will never achieve authentic unity if its Christian roots are ignored.

It had been reflected by Germany’s then-President Roman Herzog: “What links us in Europe is the Christian roots, our common culture. This is why I see all the nations that want to join the community joining in.” As we know, because of France, Christian roots were ignored in the “EU Constitution”: the current Lisbon Treaty.  It is witnessed that this house remains unstable, built on sand and like a Babel Tower project, and it continues to fool itself regarding its perspective for a common future. Members are desperately seeking a common ground for values that hasn’t yet been achieved.

Regarding the Pope’s visit, an almost unanimous welcome prevails. “Wise people enjoy listening to wise people,” says P. Swoboda of the Christian Democrats. “The Pope’s presence is not only a religious event, but also an intellectual  exercise,” says A. Fotyga of the Conservatives. “We should recognize the Pope as somebody who has the authority and mission for promoting peace, justice and reconciliation,” says Ivo Vajgl of the Liberals. “He has also dedicated himself to the fight for protecting our wonderful globe and its climate. In this fight, we need all strong forces who have responsibility, compassion and solidarity with our grandchildren,” says M. Auken of the Greens, and several socialists express that “it would be very obtuse to come out against this head of state,” who “in the EP should be seen and respected as such.” If not, this would go “against all that the EU stands for: tolerance and unity,” according to M. Mizzi, a Socialist. “The point is not to believe or not, but to follow European principles: open-mindedness and tolerance,” says M. Tarabella, a Socialist.


What would you most like the Holy Father to say?

Well, let’s not forget that this is a state visit, not a pastoral one. In 1979, Pope John Paul II stressed at the United Nations that the Church concern is “man in his wholeness, in all the fullness and manifold riches of his spiritual and material existence,” as stated in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis. His speech had a real worldwide impact.

This week, [Nov. 21] at the FAO, Pope Francis stressed, “The Church, as you know, seeks always to be attentive and watchful regarding the spiritual and material welfare of the people, especially those who are marginalized or excluded, to ensure their safety and dignity.”

This is tackling the key point of what should be the core point of EU concern: '‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God'’ (Matthew 4:4).

Fulfilling God’s plan means that mankind is imago Dei. This is clear, since Genesis 1:27 states: “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

God’s new economy stems from this fundamental principle. I am afraid European institutions, although having greatly advanced peace and reconciliation agendas in the region, since WWII, are currently facing a crucial dilemma that will drive destiny: either inclusiveness based on respect of human dignity for each human being, no matter the state of wealth, age and economical productivity, and a clear focus on the common good; or barbarism rooted in selfish isolation and private interests for well-funded lobby groups, which will soon lead to the death of the European project.

This dilemma has a great interest to be confronted to the Pope’s provocative thinking: His challenging words may appropriately contribute to deepen reflections, in terms of European strategies and perspectives in the near future.


What harmful proposed EU legislation currently being considered should Catholics be aware of?

We are starting a new legislature: This means that no burning topic has already put the House on fire during voting sessions. Nevertheless, for Christians and good-willed MEPs, social justice topics remain at the front of preoccupations, as well as topics dealing with human dignity of the weakest, the poorest and the smallest.

For sure we will soon have confrontations regarding various notions of tolerance, free choice, pluralism, and relativism, and society as a whole. From the TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Area) project to Schengen (EU borders) reform, from Frontex reform (welcoming of migrants and Roma) to “LGBTIQ2SA” and the “reproductive health and rights” agendas, this Parliament will address all kind of issues.


The U.K. and other countries are seeing a growing rejection of the EU in its current form. What possibilities and likelihood is there of reform, especially in the area of subsidiarity? 

In one of his last famous interviews, former French President Sarkozy insisted that EU competences should be narrowed and limited to essential European topics.

Currently, Members of the European Parliament and civil servants should avoid at all costs to spend taxpayers money in ineffective policies established at EU level leading into strikes, violence and misery. Europe should focus on what has been expected since its foundation, rooted in essential human principles such as human dignity settled on imago Dei [image of God] and human common good, obviously stemming from Christian philosophy and ethos.

Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.