Simon Heans questions the EU Constitution on its support for life issues

By the time you read this, France will have voted in its referendum on the European Constitution, and we will know whether the way to a Frenchman’s vote is through his stomach. I am referring, of course, to President Chirac’s decision to exempt restaurants from that much resented Euro-impost, VAT.

In the last few weeks Westminster Cathedral has been playing host to a lecture series entitled Faith in Europe. Hilaire Belloc is not much quoted in Catholic circles these days, but he it was who proclaimed ‘the Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith.’ By that he meant that the Catholic Church had made Europe what it was, that the boundaries of Europe were coterminous with those of the Church, indeed that its very existence was bound up with the Church.

Christendom and Europe

Belloc was offering an historical opinion, although he claimed that it remained substantially true in the early twentieth century when he was writing. One of his 135 books is called The Great Heresies. In it he maintains that the non-Catholic bits of European cultural history (including Islam) were simply departures (heresies) from the main line of Catholic development. It is a persuasively argued thesis.

It has certainly not been accepted by the EU’s Constitution makers. Far from being the main line, it does not even merit a mention as one of the branch lines. The Constitution’s Charter speaks of the Greek and Roman contribution to European culture, which it tells us were added to by ‘the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment.’ Search in vain for God or the Church.

We learned from ND last month that the European flag was inspired by the apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at Rue du Bac. Given the absence of Our Lord from the Constitution, it is strange that the EU should honour Our Lady, even if unconsciously. But there is consistency at least in the sense that these were French apparitions. For the provenance of the Constitution is French political culture. And that means the Revolution. No prizes for spotting the Revolution’s influence in the following extract from the Constitution: ‘Conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage, the Union is founded on the indivisible values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity.’

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

The strong ideological associations of the Constitution document with the French Revolution has been enough for some Catholics to take an extreme eurosceptic position. I once attended a lecture organised by Pro Ecclesia whose theme was the contrast beloved of Whig historians between Anglo-Saxon liberty (which he thought really was that old) and continental despotism. The speaker was angry that the official spokesmen of the Catholic Church were so favourable to the EU, and there were dark mutterings amongst his audience about a europhile conspiracy to hijack the Church for the cause of European integration.

Where should an Anglican situate herself in the debate over Europe? I was tempted by the UKIP candidate in Beckenham after his reply to my question at the election meeting, organized by Churches Together here, showed that he was the only candidate who understood the pro-life position. And on that issue of pressing concern to all Catholic Christians, the EU Constitution seems at first sight to be helpful.

Article 3 of the Charter includes ‘the prohibition of the reproductive cloning of human beings.’ However, it is apparent that does not preclude cloning for research purposes, which is even now beginning in this country. Article 3 also demands ‘the prohibition of eugenic practices, in particular those aiming at the selection of persons’.

Rights to life

That there is no intention to outlaw abortion is made plain by Guy Brabant, the French vice-president of the Commission which drew up the Constitution in his commentary on the document. ‘Such a formula should not be interpreted too rigorously,’ he reassures; ‘it is not against voluntary terminations of pregnancy which are aimed at preventing the birth of beings who, for genetic reasons, are doomed to spend their lives enduring unbearable handicaps.’ Like the baby with the cleft palate whose case has been so courageously championed by the Revd Joanna Jepson?

None of the lecturers in the Westminster Cathedral series so far has mentioned the right to life and the European Constitution. However, in other ways, their contributions do fulfil their brief to provide a moral and spiritual context for the debate. Bob Geldof, for example, produces an eloquent plea for Europe to rediscover its ‘solidarity’ (instead of being ‘an amity of self-interest’) in the service of Africa. ‘Europe will never find itself unless it looks beyond itself.’ He outlines the criticisms of the EU tariffs and subsidies made by the Africa Commission, of which he was a member.

Timothy Radcliffe’s lecture addresses the presence of Islam in Europe and argues that ‘Christians can make peace in multi-religious Europe, because we are able to understand the role of faith in the lives of other believers better than atheists.’ Citing the controversy over Muslim girls wearing headscarves in French schools, he suggests that Christians should make common cause with Muslims, ‘After all, if they could not wear their foulards, then why should nuns be allowed to wear their veils in school?’

He concludes by offering a vision of Christian morality based on Thomas Aquinas as not ‘all about commandments’ but as ‘making a journey to God and happiness.’ Central to this vision are the virtues: ‘courage, prudence, temperance and justice form one to be strong for the journey’ while the theological virtues of faith, hope and love ‘give us a glimpse of what lies at the end of the journey, life with God.’

Jean Vanier, who spoke first in the series, has of course spent his life living with the disabled. In the final paragraph of his lecture he makes the following connection between his life in L’Arche communities and life with God: ‘it is often the poor and the weak and minority groups who inspire us to become more human; who call forth what is deepest in us, goodness and compassion, and who help us to discover what it means to be truly human and a friend of God.’ But that of course is the Europe of the Faith, not the European Union.

The texts of the four lectures so far delivered can be read on the Westminster Cathedral website: