Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Europe's disappearing backbone

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 03, 2011

Does Europe still have a heart? Does Europe still have a backbone?

The failure of EU legislators to pass a resolution condemning the persecution of Christians suggests that the political leaders of the continent have lost any sense of common purpose: any guiding ideal that could constitute an enduring basis for their alliance.

You can’t say that they weren’t warned. A decade ago, Pope John Paul II began warning the leaders of the EU that their union would have no cohesion if it was based simply on political alliance and economic convenience. Alliances shift and economic circumstances change. To form a lasting union, the Pontiff said, Europe must base it on some deeper shared principles.

And what would those principles be? Pope John Paul had an answer. The European community is based on a common cultural heritage, and that culture is undeniably based on the Christian faith. Pope John Paul pleaded with European politicians to acknowledge what is obvious, and after his death Pope Benedict XVI took up the same cause. The constitution of the new European Union, they insisted, must explicitly recognize the pivotal role that Christian faith had in forming a common cultural experience.

The EU ignored the two Pontiffs, and crafted a constitution that makes only a vague, passing reference to the importance of religious faith; no specific faith is mentioned. The European community, once commonly known as “Christendom,” is now fearful of invoking the Christian faith, even in the most innocuous context.

So it was that when Italy put forward a resolution condemning the persecution of Christians—with an eye to the killings in Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, and elsewhere—the EU could not reach agreement without first bowdlerizing the text, again removing any specific reference to Christianity. When a compromise emerged, broadly decrying any attacks on places of worship, Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini balked. Better to say nothing, he reasoned, than to pass a resolution that delivers such a vapid message. Better to be quiet on matters of principle than to show the world that one has no principles at all.

The people of Europe are frightened. Their fear is evident in their failure to beget children, since the birth of a child is the ultimate expression of the parents’ hopes and aspirations for the future. Their fear is evident in their hostility toward immigrants, since a confident society has no questions about its ability to welcome and absorb new arrivals.

What is it that Europe fears? Is it the continent’s unmentionable past? Are today’s Europeans afraid that they may be forced to acknowledge the faith that fueled their ancestors’ accomplishments? A society without guiding principles is like a building founded on sand: inherently unstable, easily toppled. Have the people of Europe begun to realize how fragile their union really is?

There is a solution, ready at hand. But it involves doing the one thing that European leaders seem incapable of doing: taking a stand. If the EU cannot affirm a simple, clear statement condemning the persecution of Christians, what can the EU affirm?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: polish.pinecone4371 - Feb. 07, 2011 7:34 AM ET USA

    Backbone? You expect Europe to have a backbone? They haven't had one since the end of World War II. Secularism is values-free and a values-free existence necessarily lacks any kind of skeletal system. It's not even like a cephalopod (octopus or squid), but much more like the waters of The Flood, drowning everything in its sinful path.

  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Feb. 06, 2011 1:08 AM ET USA

    If you consider the rich patrimony of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, Abbot Benedict and many many more who spent their lives bearing witness to Christ and who helped shape the moral and social fabric of Europe it is remarkable to learn that the present EU has lost its Christian voice. Unlike their forbears who embraced their Christian identity, evangelized the immigrant peoples and built Europe's prosperous Christian culture the present EU has lost its identity.

  • Posted by: Eagle - Feb. 04, 2011 8:15 AM ET USA

    Europe is at point of the waning Roman Empire. Immigraton of,and high birthrates among, Moslem migrants, is comparable to the sweep of the Hun and Visigoth migrations during the 5th & 6th centuries, while the surviving Roman patricians lived in the "now", unable to stem the flow, or revivify their own culture. The Church's response was the evangelization of Europe, which included its own martyrs. When Europe is Islamic by c. 2040, we will again evangelize, have martyrs, and think in centuries.