Disappointed but not resigned” “

A Europe deprived of its Christian roots also betrays the original idea of the founding fathers: that's the view of many exponents of the European Churches" "

The absence of any reference to God and to the Christian roots of Europe in the draft constitutional Treaty for Europe, presented in Brussels in recent days, has provoked many reactions. Some reactions below. Up till 17 February it’s possible to lodge amendments to the draft text of articles 1-16 of the treaty that establishes a Constitution for Europe, published by the Presidium of the European Convention in Brussels on 6 February. The Commission of the Episcopates of the European Community (COMECE), in view of this deadline, issued a comment on the draft text on 7 February. “In its contributions to the Convention – says the statement – the secretariat of COMECE has always affirmed and defended such values as respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, justice and solidarity, and objectives aimed at promoting peace and the common good. We therefore welcome the presence, in the draft text, of these elements that are founded on the religious, cultural and philosophic heritage of Europe”. With regard to article 2 of the same text in which a brief list of the fundamental values of the Union appears, without any mention of religious and spiritual values, COMECE recalls the explanatory note annexed to the draft text in which it is affirmed, again with reference to art. 2: “This, clearly, does not prevent the Constitution from mentioning supplementary or more detailed elements that fall under the ‘ethics’ of the Union in various other points, for example in the preamble, in article 3 regarding the Union’s general objectives, in the Charter of fundamental rights (which, however, is not applicable to the autonomous action of the member states, in contrast to the present article), in title VI relating to ‘Democratic Life’ and in the provisions sanctioning the specific objectives of the various policies”. Consequently, write the bishops of COMECE: “We hope that the role of religious faith, as the source and foundation of our common European values, will be recognized in the final version of the constitutional Treaty. We also hope that the legislative proposals jointly advanced by COMECE and the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of the European Churches on the specific role of the Churches and religious communities in European society, including the status granted to them in national legislation, will be inserted in the final text of the Treaty”. Bishop Josef Homeyer of Hildesheim, president of COMECE, has also declared: “The draft of articles 1-16 of the future Constitution of the European Union, presented in recent days, is to be intended as a proposal for discussion”. The question of a possible reference to God or to the Christian tradition remains open. “I firmly hope – concluded the bishop – that the final version of the Constitution will contain a reference to the Christian tradition, as well as a declaration on the status of the Churches and religious communities”. In an official declaration, the Conference of the European Churches, while favourably welcoming the draft of the first 16 articles of the Constitution and in particular the reference to the solidarity between generations and between countries, considers that “solidarity ought to figure in the text as a general objective and also be extended to solidarity between individuals”. In the view of the European Churches, it is better to repeat several times the fundamental task of the European Union, namely the eradication of poverty and the campaign against social exclusion. The CEC, finally, repeats its hope that “the specific roles of the Churches and of the religious communities, including their status in conformity with national legislations, may be included in the final text of the Treaty”. Astonishment, disappointment, but also a dash of bitterness. The news that the draft of the first articles of the future constitutional Treaty for Europe does not contain any reference to God and to the Christian roots of Europe was greeted with dismay by the European episcopates. The first partial draft of the future Constitution, presented by Valery Giscard d’Estaing in Brussels on 6 February, as pointed out by Msgr. Aldo Giordano, general secretary of the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) “leaves us disappointed, not because of what it written in the text, but what is left out of it”. Giordano’s voice is not isolated. Expressions of dissent about this draft have been voiced on various sides, and by various local Churches, in the hope that it may be emended. It seems more than ever probable to this end that the various European episcopates will exert pressure on their respective governments and on the European Convention in Brussels. Bosnia-Herzegovina “Msgr. Giordano is right – says the general secretary of the Episcopal Conference of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Msgr. Jozo Tomic – it’s not possible to construct Europe without considering its undeniable Christian roots. It’s essential that thought be immediately given to an improvement of this first partial draft. It’s not only the Catholic Church, but all the Christian Churches – Protestant and Orthodox – that are urging it. If we pursue the idea of an enlarged Europe, without taking into account its spiritual dimension, if we want a Europe without faith, we are constructing a colossus with feet of clay. A world without God is impossible”. Greece “A Europe without God and without Christianity is no longer Europe”, says Msgr. Nikolaos Foskolos, president of the Episcopal Conference of Greece. “It cannot be denied – he continues – that European history is inextricably linked with Christianity. Denying any reference to God and to religion is inconceivable. If it continues in this way, Europe risks disintegrating”. “The values enunciated in the first articles of the draft Treaty , liberty, human dignity, democracy, tolerance, solidarity, are values – insists Foskolos – that have their foundation in the Gospel. It’s not enough to enunciate them: they need to placed in the context of the Christianity that is integral to Europe. Let’s not forget that, with the recent enlargement, the nine new member countries have either a Catholic or an Orthodox majority. The Europe conceived by the founding fathers was mainly Christian, based on the spirit. Today, however, it is the economy and finance that are in command. They don’t seem to me the most suitable ideals for the new Europe. We want to believe that a revision of these articles will be set in hand, even if the time available for any amendments is, it seems to me, rather limited”. Slovenia “The absence of any reference to God and to the Christian roots in the future constitutional Treaty is a serious shortcoming – declares Janez Grill, spokesman of the Episcopal Conference of Slovenia –. That’s why we bishops will strive to ensure that such an error be avoided. The values enunciated in the various articles of the draft are the legacy of Christianity. I believe there are political groups of various extraction that don’t want to see a link between these values and Christianity. So a political and cultural debate needs to be promoted straight away. The fear is that there are those in the EU who wish to forget or repudiate the value and role of social, cultural and religious aggregation that Christianity has had in European history. We cannot permit that”. Turkey “I’m convinced that the future “Constitutional Treaty of the European Union” must contain references to God, whatever Church or religious group one belongs to”. So maintains Bishop Ruggero Franceschini, Vicar Apostolic of Anatolia and president of the Episcopal Conference of Turkey. “The roots of European culture and the continuous experience in relations with other states – says Franceschini – cannot fail to urge the recognition of fundamental rights, including religious freedom, the search for the common good, the recognition of human dignity and the recognition of the family as the basic element of society”. “I think – adds the bishop – that religions have the capacity to inspire the renewal of society and make a contribution to the safeguard of the fundamental spiritual and religious aspects that are at the basis of the construction of Europe. Due to this specific contribution the Churches and the religious communities ought to be recognized in a future constitutional treaty of the EU”. Slovakia “Excluding the religious and spiritual dimension of the European architecture means threatening man in his essence and building Europe on foundations of sand”. Through its spokesman Marian Gavenda, the Episcopal Conference of Slovakia expresses its total dissent from the absence of any reference to the Christian identity of Europe in the draft constitutional treaty. Already in September 2002 the Slovakian bishops, in a document, had recalled the need to construct Europe on Christian roots. “The bishops – notes Gavenda – have always stressed that what’s at stake here is not just to guarantee continuity with our historic roots but to recognize that man is also a spiritual being and that he possesses a religious dimension. Excluding it means threatening him in his essence and building Europe on foundations of sand”. Albania “For the last three years I have been taking part, as president of the Episcopal Conference of Albania, in the meetings of the CCEE that periodically bring together the presidents of the episcopal conferences to tackle questions of continental relevance. In various cases and in various documents, the CCEE has stressed the importance of Christianity in European life, and today too, in response to the draft European Constitution, we need to be clear and convinced on this point”: so says Bishop Angelo Massafra of Scutari, president of the Albanian Episcopal Conference. “If we study European history with scientific objectivity and without prejudices, whether of religious, political or of other type – he continues – we would have to recognize that the role of Christianity in our continent has been wide-ranging, complex and of great significance”. “Failing to recognize this contribution at the historical and cultural level would be a grave sin of omission. Europe, in fact, arose also thanks to a strong contribution of the Christian faith, embodied by statesmen and men of culture, as well as those of other faiths who should not be forgotten. If we want to construct a Europe without God, it will disappear, whether in 10, 100 or 1000 years; vice versa, if we want to found it on God, united Europe will endure”. Poland The bishops of Poland “deplore the fact that all direct references to religion, and hence to Christianity, have been eliminated from the European Constitution”: so says Father Adam Schultz, Jesuit, spokesman of the Polish Episcopal Conference. “The Polish Episcopal Conference – he continues – has always clearly expressed the thinking of the Church on the process of European integration. Europe is not exclusively an economic and political structure, but above all a community of history, culture, ideas and traditions based on perennial Judeo-Christian values, on Roman law and on Greek philosophy”. “That’s why Poland wants to continue to exist in Europe – continues Father Schultz – ‘as a State that has its own spiritual and cultural identity, and its own inalienable historical tradition linked to Christianity ever since the dawn of our history. Poland cannot be deprived of this tradition, of this national identity”. According to the Rev. Rudiger Noll, head of the Church and Society Commission of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), “the Preamble [to the European Constitution] would be the best place for the reference to God and to the Christian heritage. Article 2 lists the values that, if violated, may give rise to the exclusion of a member”. “In spite of this – continues Noll – this article reflects many Christian values, and if one compares it with the first draft constitution of last November, it’s already a step forward. The fact, however, that the churches and the religious communities have been excluded from this part of the draft is lamentable”. “We hope – concludes Noll – that the specific roles of the churches and religious communities, including their status in conformity with national legislations, will be incorporated in the final text of the Treaty”. The opinion of the sociologist Jan Begouin, member of the European Academy of Sciences, is that “the European Constitution cannot be reduced to a mere legal text. It is not a law like so many others. It is arbitrary in itself to define, with the pretext of exclusivity, the values on which a community is based. Ignoring the fundamental value of religion to endorse the lay values that regulate the relation between State and citizen represents an even more arbitrary act. According to this logic – adds Begouin – if the value of God is not to be recognized because it would offend atheists or because the spectre of the superimposition of powers between Church and State still exists, by the same token “respect for human dignity” ought not to be cited as a founding value, since not everyone respects it. It is, in short, an absurd logic”. Begouin concludes with a note of optimism: “I am confident, however, that, at the end of the process of the reform of the Treaties, the religious and spiritual values will find their rightful place in the European Constitution, as well as in the provisions of the Charter of fundamental rights”. Not only “roots”… There are various gaps that need to be filled in the draft of the first 16 articles of the constitutional treaty presented by Valery Giscard d’Estaing to the Convention on the future of Europe in recent days, points out the jurist Cesare Mirabelli, former president of Italy’s Constitutional Court and now president of the National Consumers’ Council. “One of the shortcomings of the text to be immediately pointed out is the lack of any reference to the Christian roots of Europe, understood not as a formal act of homage to a tradition, but as the recognition of an historical reality. However, attention also needs to be paid to other aspects: for example, the shortcomings of the draft in terms of subsidiarity and solidarity”. Mirabelli hopes for “a more explicit reference in the Constitution to the theme of horizontal subsidiarity and the relation with the community and with society”. The problem of solidarity, he says, “is a problem that concerns both relations in society and relations between states”. Mirabelli’s hope is that “on this text, as on others still to be prepared, a wider debate may be opened, understood as participation in a sense of community in the process of being formed”. With regard to the Christian roots of Europe, Mirabelli recognizes that there are “different sensibilities and interests in the various countries. In some nations, for example, there’s a strongly secular tradition , and therefore people look with some misgiving at the eventuality of a document intended to be political containing a reference to the Christian roots. This problem also emerged on the occasion of the discussion on the Charter of Nice”. The jurist also points out that “a tradition has gradually been formed at the European level in the dialogue of the Churches with the States and in the solution of problems of concern to the Churches that needs to be borne in mind”. A proof of this is, for example, the enunciation on “religious freedom” made at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE, now become the OSCE), held in Vienna in 1986: an enunciation that met with the consensus of a higher number of European states that the fifteen of the Union, points out Mirabelli.

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