Catholics for and against
Few matters have divided British Catholics in such complex and interesting ways as the EU referendum. It is not surprising, of course, that the faithful should feel a special connection to the post-war European project. Catholics, after all, led efforts to promote unity as Berlin, Warsaw and London lay in ruins.
The EU’s founding fathers – Konrad Adenauer, Alcide De Gasperi and Robert Schuman – were men of profound faith who strove to build a new European order based on the principles of Catholic social teaching.
But a sizeable number of Catholics today believe that the EU long ago tore up what remained of its Catholic roots. They regard it as an aggressively secular force that seeks to undermine Catholic values from Lisbon to Lublin.
Yet it’s simplistic to suggest that Catholics are merely divided over whether the EU is today a vehicle for Catholic social teaching or secular imperialism. There is another, seldom acknowledged element that makes the
Catholic Brexit debate so highly charged: history. British Catholics retain the memory of horrific persecution, of accusations of loyalty to a “foreign power” (the pope) and of exclusion from the Establishment. These memories are present, in subtle ways, whenever Britain’s Catholics discuss the referendum.
Alongside these distinctively Catholic issues, the faithful naturally share the concerns of fellow Britons about health-
Alongside Catholic issues, the faithful share the concerns of fellow Britons care, education, the economy, security and democracy.
The stakes are exceedingly high: the outcome will shape the future for generations of Britons as yet unborn. That is why we have devoted this week’s issue (as well as two other cover stories this year) to the vote on June 23.
We recognise that, while it is not our place to advise readers how to vote, we have a responsibility to ensure that Catholics are as well informed as possible. We have therefore sought out the most prominent and eloquent Catholic proponents of both leaving and remaining.
On the leave side, we have Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir William Cash and Iain Duncan Smith. On the remain side are Lord Deben, Fr Ashley Beck and Thérèse Coffey. For good measure, the economist Philip Booth discusses the Catholic case for sitting on the fence. We understand that many readers will, by now, be suffering from referendum fatigue. Some will feel that neither side has conducted the debate in an especially high-minded way. They may object to the sly use of statistics, scaremongering and dog whistles. We hope this edition will serve as an antidote to these poisons, offering a serious, passionate and, above all, Catholic discussion of the most important political decision Britons have faced for decades.
Islam’s necessary journey
Once again, the world is in mourning. This time the cause is the murder of around 50 people, gunned down in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At the time of writing, the motives of the shooter are still emerging, but it seems that this shooting has more in common with the recent attacks in Paris and Brussels than it does with, for example, the Columbine massacre or the Virginia Tech killings. Once more, we can expect some examination of the topic of religion and its relationship to violence.
Indeed, we should welcome such scrutiny, and hope that it is penetrating rather than, as too often heretofore, cursory. It is simply not good enough to repeat the mantra that “this has nothing to do with Islam”. To do so is to miss the opportunity for an important conversation that we all need to have, Muslims included.
The Catholic Church teaches that all life is sacred. St John Paul II was a particularly eloquent exponent of this doctrine, which, he said, was the basis of all civilised living. Religious and secular people urgently need to return to this basic teaching, and once more affirm that no one has the right to take human life.
This may be hard for Muslims to do, given that Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan, Mauritania, several Nigerian states and Somalia allow the death penalty for homosexual acts, and Iran in particular regularly carries out such sentences. Indeed, Sharia law mandates the death penalty for many practices that in a country like America are not even illegal, such as adultery, apostasy and sorcery.
Secularists believe that Muslims may come to abandon their allegiance to certain traditions, in the same way Christians have. There is little sign of this happening yet. Far more profitable would be an approach by which Muslims are challenged to return to their concept of God and find a deeper understanding of the relationship between God and reason.
For Catholics, it is heresy to believe that God can will that which is unreasonable. We arrived at this belief after many centuries of reflection. Muslims need to make the same journey, for their own sake, and for the sake of the rest of us, too.
CATHOLIC HERALD, JUNE 17 2016 3