Catholics, culture and politics at the CCEE meeting in Edinburgh
Faith witness in politics, culture, law and public opinion: this was the leitmotif of the second day of the 40th Meeting of the General Secretaries of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE) in Edinburgh, Scotland, from June 29 to July 2. The reflection at national level was entrusted to Professor John Haldane, Director of the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs of the University of St Andrews (Scotland); at European level to Msgr Piotr Marzurkiewicz, General Secretary of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community) and to Msgr Aldo Giordano, the Holy See’s Permanent Observer at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.
Intellectual excellence. In his address Haldane provided an overview of the Scottish contribution to Europe’s cultural and intellectual life, identifying the urgent need for a “Catholic renaissance” that could also start from Scotland, which has four of the most ancient universities of the English-speaking world. These are: St. Andrews (1413), Glasgow (1451), Aberdeen (1495) and Edinburgh (1582), three of which were founded by the Catholic Church. The latter, the philosopher said, “is currently under attack in Scotland owing to opposition to homosexual marriage and for funding received by Catholic schools”. “The place of religion in the field of education – he added – is a controversial issue in the Country which is fomented by accusations that Catholic schools indoctrinate instead of educating”. Delving into the threats of secularism and on the dramatic waning of religious and moral values Haldane said: “Catholics’ response consists in being formed, competent and at the service of the truth. This requires intellectual excellence and moral courage”. The philosopher added that “while we worry about Catholics’ quantitative decline we are worrying less of the qualitative drop connected to religious life. It should be remembered that the new evangelization depends on the excellence of religious life, which encompasses all areas of life”.
Catholics and politics. The witness and presence of Catholics in politics was the theme addressed by Msgr. Piotr Marzurkiewicz, COMECE General Secretary. “In Europe – he said – there are remarkable differences as relates to the role of religion in politics. Some see religion in public life as a hazard while others think that religion is a synonym of freedom. Differences regard the Protestant Northern Countries and the Catholic Southern European Countries, as well as the East and the West. In Eastern Europe we are accustomed to speaking in public of what characterises us at religious level, which is unlikely to happen in Western countries”. The COMECE Secretary said that politics “is a secular art meaning that it is practised by lay people”. He added that the Gaudium et Spes shows us that “in the development of the kingdom of God the development of man’s kingdom should not be neglected”. In her service, the Church naturally “doesn’t identify with any political party”. “Nonetheless I am sure – said Msgr. Mazurkiewicz – that even if they belong to different political groups, Christians and Catholics can jointly take part in a study group to define common guidelines on major ethical and social issues”. “In politics there are well-formed Catholics – he concluded -. What is missing is the space dedicated to them in the political arena, even within their own political parties”.
Networking. The concern that God is included in the public realm is the basis of all the initiatives linked to the freedom of religion, to the public display of religious symbols, to the teaching of religion, to the family, to the life in Strasbourg. The permanent observer to the Holy See Msgr. Aldo Giordano shared with the CCEE General Secretaries the experience of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. “Questions like the defence of the family and of life, euthanasia, the cases of surrogate mothers or host wombs – he said – require everyone’s commitment and cooperation, as well as competence and networking with political leaders. With a view to the promotion of human rights and freedoms, the presence of MPs and politicians marked by strong religious and civil commitment is a resource that must be cultivated in the full respect of the laicity of public institutions”. Finally, given the growing cultural, social and political fragmentation, Msgr. Giordano said he believes that in the Church “giving a primary role to communion represents a great witness of faith for everyone. It also is a visible and credible form of support to the new evangelization”.