Former Irish Prime Minister Discusses Views on Europe's Future

As delegates have worked to frame a constitution for the European Union, Pope John Paul II has called on Europe to return to its Christian roots.

At his Sunday Angelus message Aug. 31, he concluded a series of eight reflections on his apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa (The Church in Europe), published in June. The Pope, speaking at Castel Gandolfo, said he hopes Europe will become a symphony of nations working to build together a civilization of love and peace.

John Bruton, former prime minister of Ireland, was until recently a representative of the national parliaments on the presidium of the European Convention. In a conversation with Register correspondent Edward Pentin, Bruton, a Catholic, shared his own reflections on the future of Europe.

Pope John Paul II has sought to encourage European leaders and governments to be inspired by the Gospel as they examine the new European Constitution. Do you believe there is any chance of a reference to the historical role of Christianity being included in the constitution?

I was one of those who advocated that there should be an explicit reference to belief in God in the constitution as being one of the sources from which Europeans draw their values. There wasn't much support for that. There was support from basically the Christian Democratic parties but not from the rest, who constituted a majority there.

There is, however, in the draft constitution produced by the convention, two important developments: First of all, a recognition of Europe's religious heritage, something that was not included in the earlier charter of fundamental rights; and also a specific recognition of the role of religious organizations in the life of Europe and in the life of its member states.

This status for religious organizations will be very important for the Church in playing its important role in European development.

Obviously a large part of the Pope's concerns is derived from the continent's drift into secularism and widespread relativism. And many Catholics are concerned the EU and many of the values it puts across are opposed to Catholic teaching, e.g., its emphasis on rights to euthanasia and abortion. Do you think the Church and the EU as it currently stands are incompatible or, as some say, even heading on a collision course?

No, I don't agree with that at all.

In fact, if you look at the charter of fundamental rights that is now Part 2 of the European Constitution, it says in its very first article that human dignity is inviolable and in the second article that everyone has a right to life, and it bans research on human cloning. All of these are expressions of the fundamental Christian thinking of the dignity of each person created by God.

And I believe the European Union is an instrument whereby those timeless values can be advanced in society in the present time and in the future. I believe the building of a united Europe is God's work in politics — it is a way whereby we can turn against the evil we saw for most of the first half of the 20th century and replace it in Europe with something much more in accord with Christ's teaching than we experienced during the 19th and early 20th century, when Europeans may have been more pious, but they were less Christian in the way they lived their political and national life.

But do you think there is a way of tackling the problems of euthanasia and abortion that will suit Christian teaching, or will it simply become more widely accepted in the EU?

I think Articles 1 and 2 in Part 2 of the constitution — about human dignity being inviolable and everyone having a right to life — provide a very solid constitutional basis for opposing euthanasia and abortion, and any scientific development that is an affront to human dignity or uses a human life for purposes that are not appropriate.

Would you personally admit there is a worrying growth of secularism in Europe and that this hasn't really been fully addressed by the European institutions?

I would agree with that. I am very concerned about secularism and amoralism in our education system vis-À-vis our education of children with regard to sexuality, in our public life and in our public discourse, where the advocacy of strong Christian belief is treated frequently with derision or considered unfashionable.

And I think it is very important that in our public debate we should raise our eyes to God and realize he is greater than any of us. I think that is necessary for us in this time, but I do not believe the EU is in any way responsible for this — this is a product of materialism, and we would have had materialism anyway whether we had a European Union or not.

The important thing we must do at this stage in our history is to harness the fact that the EU is soon to have a constitution based on fundamental rights and to ensure that those fundamental rights are interpreted in such a way as to make Europe a more spiritual place, a place that understands that fundamental rights are ultimately based on respect for others and respect for community.

Do you think without a reference to Christianity or God the EU will just slip further into secularism?

No, I don't. In fact, I think whether this reference is contained in the constitution or not is of secondary importance. It is of symbolic importance rather than substantial importance. The important thing is that Europe should live its political and economic life in accordance with the values that are inherent in Christian thinking and indeed in the thinking of other great religions. That is an ongoing work we must continue with all the time, and Christians in politics should fight for that whether there's a reference to a God or Christianity or not.

There are extensive references to God in the constitutions of other countries — including my own country, Ireland — but that doesn't mean and hasn't meant the Irish government always did God's work in accordance with that constitution. One must recognize the limitations of the effectiveness of references in preambles to constitutions. They are symbolic rather than substantial value. I think the substantial work is the day-to-day job we all must do in our national parliaments, in the European Parliament, in the commission and in the other institutions, including the Courts of the Union.

Edward Pentin writes from Rome.