THE INTERNATIONAL CATHOLIC WEEKLY FOUNDED IN 1840
EUROPE AND THE FAR RIGHT
PLANS ARE NOT WANTED
Steve Bannon, the man even Donald Trump found too extreme, has waded into European politics with a mission – he says – to defend the continent’s Judaeo-Christian civilisation. His particular battlefield is the forthcoming election for a new European Parliament. He is putting his weight, financial support and organising ability behind the cause of nationalist populism, which has reared its head in numerous ways across the continent (most recently with the surge in support for the far-right Vox party in Spain) with one singular characteristic: opposition to the flow of refugees, mostly Muslims, from north Africa and the Middle East.
Europe should tell Mr Bannon his help is not wanted. It can take care of itself. Among the more pernicious aspects of Mr Bannon’s campaign is his opposition to, and enmity towards, Pope Francis. The Pope has repeatedly called upon Europeans to be generous towards those fleeing persecution and conflict, and warned against simplistic populist campaigns which aim to build walls and close frontiers. Whatever Judaeo-Christian values are exactly – and the term is contentious – the Pope is manifestly on their side. Among the core values shared by Christians and Jews are hospitality to the stranger, and compassionate aid to those in need, whoever they may be.
Another value, of course, is the appreciation of a common culture and the cherishing of the family, which can show itself as a preference for the local and familiar against the anonymous and universal. Refugees and migrants, as a group, can easily be depicted as belonging in the latter category. It is a general rule, however, that personal contact with strangers can quickly turn them into friends and neighbours. In the United Kingdom, as elsewhere, it is areas with the highest concentration of those born abroad which are most comfortable with the resulting ethnic and racial mix. They are the areas most resistant to anti-immigrant populism. Familiarity breeds respect. On the other hand segregation, where assimilation and cross-community cohesion has been resisted by one side or the other, is a source of tension. So is aggressive representation of minorities in the media as a vague but menacing threat. Europe has seen this before, and vowed – never again.
This is the danger implicit in Mr Bannon’s rabblerousing strategy as the European elections approach. This American ideologue is no friend of Christianity or Judaism, nor of Europe, and his values are alien to the Catholic Church he claims to belong to. There is a grain of fascism in his support for authoritarian monocultural regimes, which suppress democracy and human rights, and he has correctly detected that the most conservative forms of Catholicism are sometimes receptive to those ideas. Catholics must not be taken in. The Church must show leadership by standing up to him. Political neutrality is not an option.
The tide of events is not with Mr Bannon. Rightwing populism in Europe rose under the pressure of mass migration, as people fled in their millions from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. These conflicts have abated, even if they are not yet fully resolved. Admirable efforts supported generously by the British Government and others to make life in the refugee camps more civilised, including education for children and the provision of healthcare, have eased the pressure to embark on a desperate and dangerous journey to the West. That is what European values really look like.
A VATICAN GUIDE FOR PRIESTLY PARENTS
WHEN FATHERS BECOME
What if she was pregnant? The priest, the love interest in the comedy drama Fleabag which held the nation in its emotional grip last month, and the eponymous heroine have a brief affair. But he decides, in the final scene, that he belongs after all to God, not to her. She walks away, her heart broken. The script by the actor/writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge does not take it any further. But the Vatican has coincidentally provided material for a sequel, in a document whose existence has recently been disclosed. It advises bishops what to do when a priest becomes a father in the other sense of the word.
Entirely laudably, the advice centres on the rights and interests of the child, and by extension, of the mother. The child is entitled to a proper family life, with, ideally, two married parents, an outcome only possible under existing canon law if the priest gives up his ministry and is laicised. But that assumes that the vocation of priesthood and the vocation of marriage and fatherhood are irreconcilable – but perhaps ought not to be. The man-made law of celibacy would – in the case where the couple decide to marry and bring up the child together – deprive the community of its priest and the priest of his calling. To support a family he must seek work, for which he may have little or no training.
Some would argue that a priest who falls in love and has a sexual relationship is unfit for the office. That would be too harsh. Men and women sometimes fall in love. The Church condemns sins of the flesh before they happen; it is surprisingly forgiving when they do. For men, anyway. If the couple decides not to marry, the adoption of the child is an option, as is abortion, though obviously not one the Vatican envisages. The mother may favour neither course. If she chooses to raise the child as a single parent she deserves all the acceptance and support the community can give her. But will it? Should the father, if still a priest, be encouraged to stay in touch? The document apparently allows for that possibility.
Priests with close female friends with whom they are romantically involved are not so rare, human nature being what it is. But women who fall in love with a priest and who are later abandoned by him – perhaps because that is what Church authorities have insisted on – are sadly not so rare either. In such cases, the priest has the Church’s continued support; the woman may feel cheated and, above all, she may be left to raise a child alone. The document should be published so that it is clear what guidelines bishops are given to deal with these complex human issues. The care of everyone involved, in particular the child and the mother, are the responsibility of the whole community, not just of the bishops.
2 | THE TABLET | 4 MAY 2019