Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address at the Institute of International and European Affairs

03 Mar 2009

3 March 2009

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin’s address at the Institute of International and European Affairs

Christian values and Irish membership of the EU
The personal view of an Archbishop

Speaking Notes of Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin, Primate of Ireland

Institute of International and European Affairs, 3 March 2009

I should tell you about two aspects of my life style that are not reflected in my CV.  The first is that I am not an early morning person; I do rise early, but it takes me a long time each morning from wakening up until I am fit to encounter anyone.  The second is that I have an addiction to news bulletins and am well equipped with satellite communications to receive news bulletins from numerous European and America channels and indeed from farther afield.

So I spend part of the early hours of each day watching television news bulletins.  I suppose I could and should dedicate the time to prayer, but the attraction of the news bulletins is sometimes too much.

I make this public confession because of the coverage in the international media of the recent scandal about Irish pork.  It might come as a surprise to many of you, that this story was the second item on Italian television news broadcasts for almost a week and that an entire evening talk show on Italian television was dedicated lock, stock and barrel to “dioxin”.

Each morning an Italian agriculture minister or senior official would reassure viewers that the measures being taken in Ireland were purely precautionary, that the matter was in hand and that the dangers were minimal.

Curiously by the third morning the discussion had moved away from pork to the possibility that perhaps Irish beef could also be a problem and we were told that Irish beef accounts for about 8% of the beef market in Italy.  The message however was still reassuring; the need to worry about Irish beef was fundamentally, we were told, minimal.  But then came the punch line: “the risk from Irish beef is minimal, but if you do want to be absolutely safe then eat Italian meat”.

When I told people here in Dublin about this final punch line the first comment was usually about a nasty Italian campaign to denigrate Irish meat products and to turn consumers definitively away from it in favour of Italian meat.  My reaction was different. 8% of the Italian market meant that sales of Irish beef to Italy are larger than sales of Irish beef in Ireland. This success story of Irish beef, despite the protestation of many in the farming community, is in a large part thanks to our membership of the European Union. 

There are many things to criticise about the European Union, but it would be hard to underplay the positive effect that it has had on Ireland and the positive potential that is there to exploit.

On the other hand, I have to register the fact that there are some commentators who say that I am among the most pro-European of Irish bishops and that therefore my comments have to be taken with caution.  I am not so sure. I speak of the success of the EU, but I have many caveats when I speak of the successes of the EU.

Take the affirmation that the EU has been responsible for generations of peace in Europe.  I agree.   The European vision is a vision of peace. European nationalism had given rise in the twentieth century to the two most disastrous wars of human history.  I still shudder at the horrors of the fighting in the trenches of the First World War, and the stories of children falsifying their age to be enrolled.   Europe – with the exclusion of the Balkans – has not seen an on-going war for over sixty years.  That is an enormous achievement and we thank God for it, but we cannot attribute that entirely to the EU.

NATO was also built on the principle of integration.  It aimed at keeping the military powers of Europe integrated and not allowing any one of them to remilitarise to the detriment of others.  After the fall of the communist systems, the desire of the Central and Eastern European governments to integrate into a new Europe meant joining NATO just as much as joining the European Union.  They knew that at a perilous moment for their security, that security would only be defended through their participation in an alliance which included the United States.  This realisation of how their security was linked with a North Atlantic alliance might also explain to some degree the greater willingness of the Central and Eastern European countries to support the United States on other occasions.

The culture of human rights in the new Europe owes as much if not even more to the Council of Europe that to the EU.  And indeed there is a sense in which the cold-war and the doctrines of containment and deterrence also contributed if not to peace but at least to the absence of war.   The EU has contributed to years of peace, but not on its own.

Others will say that my positions on Europe have led me to downplay the fact that it is precisely the style of prosperity created within the EU that has brought about a climate of materialism and rejection of Christian values.  My first response is that taking huge sectors of the European population out of poverty and precariousness is an achievement about which the Christian must only rejoice. If such prosperity has been accompanied by a change in belief patterns within the EU then this may be due to a lack of dynamism in the Churches’ own pastoral structures for evangelisation in a cultural climate that is changing, just as much as to the European Union.

Our estimation of where religious values are going within the current EU should be determined by proper research rather than by the ideologies of either side.   The European Values Study urges a certain caution in presuming that we have gone “all secularist”.  The Values Atlas sums it up:  “one thing is certain, the old continent is not as secularised as it seems”.  The level of religious practice in some highly secularised EU countries is higher in some instances that the level of practice in Dublin.  The same Values Study points out that Europeans do not find marriage and faithfulness as outdated institutions or values.

We need to look at the facts and to interpret the facts.  Certainly in the debates around the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty certain moral and ethical questions will emerge once again as significant in the formation of the judgement of the Irish electorate. The Irish government is hopeful that a number of binding protocols can be negotiated which will guarantee respect for some specific ethical values as enshrined in the Irish Constitution. 

Will this be possible?  There are those who say such protocols are hardly worth the paper they are written on?  That is certainly one of the questions on which the electorate will have to form an opinion. One would be foolish to think that such protocols might not be challenged on the basis of other aspects of European law and philosophy, especially non–discrimination and equality norms.

In the Pastoral Message of the Irish Bishops before the first Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, it was noted how “in a climate of legal positivism attempts may well be made to use traditional language regarding human dignity in ways that are contrary to the traditional sense.  Court decisions on a national and an EU level tend today to interpret language.  Administrative decisions may well interpret norms in a particular way”.  

It would be foolish to ignore that possibility.  I believe that there is only one way to overcome that danger and that is for public representatives to engage actively with a broad coalition of other like-minded governments and organizations, as well as European public opinion, to avoid such over innovative interpretations and to curtail tendencies towards “competence creep” by European institutions. 

Legal positivism and constitutional innovation are not the unique possession of the European Law.  We should always remember that in Ireland abortion became legal in certain circumstances not through political pressure from Brussels but through an interpretation of the Irish constitution by an Irish Court.

Within European political culture there are certainly tendencies towards a more secularist, positivistic and relativist philosophy.  But these tendencies will not vanish by ignoring them or simply by criticizing them from the margins or from outside.  What is needed is a critical engagement from within.

Christians in Europe should assert their commitment to Europe and unashamedly bring their contribution within the democratic opportunities that are available. A truly pluralist Europe on its part should not feel threatened by the Christian message, which is a message about a God who loves, a message capable of enlightening and enriching the European project.

I would have clearly preferred to see a reference in the Lisbon Treaty to the Christian heritage of Europe.  I believe, to use the words of Paul-Henri Spaak, an atheist, that “for many of its founders the Christian imprint on the European factor has been an indisputable fact”.

But such a reference did not appear and I feel that, in the current situation, the best way to counteract those who would play down the significance of the Christian contribution to Europe in history is not through lamenting or crying over the absence of such a reference, but by witnessing to the significance for today’s EU of those perennial values which have always been at the root of that Christian contribution.  The Treaty offers new possibilities for channelling this contribution through forms of structured dialogue between the Commission and religious and philosophical bodies.

European Christians need a European strategy; Irish Christians need a European strategy: they need to be engaged in the debates, challenging, with all respect for those with differing views, any dominance of relativist tendencies, working for a Europe of internal solidarity and of solidarity with the poorest nations, witnessing to the basic values which a Christian vision can foster, and supporting European initiatives for peace in our continent and farther afield.   Our public servants and elected European representatives should be encouraged and sustained to bring to the European project, the values which have consolidated the best of our Irish experience.

Protocols on their own cannot guarantee that what is desired can be achieved.  It would be very naïve to think otherwise.  But without such protocols the task of defending the values in question would be even less secure.

Europe needs to examine its economic values. I would like here to quote myself, to quote something I said addressing the Forum on Europe over two years ago:   “Certainly I would not like the EU to be reduced just to a purely economic organization but it is important that its economy be based on sound economic values.  What is at stake here are the livelihood and prosperity of EU citizens, especially its weakest citizens.   Such economic values include fair competition practices, good corporate governance, sound fiscal policies, and the rejection of corruption, the avoidance of the exploitation of national interest or narrow particular interests to the detriment of the common good”.  I do not claim to be a prophet, but we can see today how sound economic policy and transparent systems of regulation are essential.

Once again, it is useful to remind ourselves that there are very few who would say that the malpractice which is at the root of much of the current economic crisis was Brussels driven, rather than home-grown.   In many ways Brussels is not the problem, but it is recognised more and more as an essential part of the solution.

Sound economic policy is essential.  Today we are however in doubt about what that policy should be.  As one who trades in infallibility I am happy to see the weakness of one group of my erstwhile competitors, those who spoke in almost dogmatic tones about their economic theory.  Economic activity is only one dimension of human activity and cannot be sustained in an ethical and legal vacuum.  There are human needs which cannot be attended to just by the market, indeed they are values and needs which should not be just bought and sold just like commodities.

The nature of the modern economy has indeed changed. In a knowledge-based economy people are the central driving force.  If this is so then the economic values which are important today must include the enhancement of people, their inclusion and their participation.

There is a striking short sentence in an Encyclical of Pope John Paul about Europe (Ecclesia in Europa, #111).  The Pope says that “saying ‘Europe’ must be equivalent to saying ‘openness’”.   He went on to say that “Europe cannot close in on itself. It cannot and must not lose interest in the rest of the world. On the contrary, it must remain fully aware of the fact that other countries, other continents, await its bold initiatives, in order to offer to poorer peoples the means for their growth and social organization, and to build a more just and fraternal world”.

There is a sense in which a Europe based on the concept of integration can never be satisfied to work only within its own boundaries. Its sense of responsibility must always be outward looking.  This does not mean that it can just embrace every country as a member and that it must open its borders indiscriminately to all. European Union expansion is a complex matter.  Studies have shown that those countries of Central and Eastern Europe which have been most successful in their search to become modern, democratic nations with a flourishing free market are those which had to go through the exercise of adapting to the norms of EU integration.  The process itself has its own value.  There is no short cut along the path of the economic and democratic reforms needed to join the European Union.

Pope John Paul II was an extraordinary European.   I always remember the first time that I heard him explicitly state his view that the decisions of Yalta were unjust and had to be reviewed.  At that time, this was heresy, as politically incorrect as you could get at the time.  Yalta, no matter how undesirable, was fact of Reapolitik and to challenge it – according to the accepted wisdom – was to put the stability of Europe at risk. 

Even the Helsinki process – which played an enormous role in fostering the promotion and protection of human rights right across Europe – set out from the presumption that there would be no changes in European boundaries.  In the context of the times, that almost implicitly meant that the regimes of Eastern Europe – in particular the German Democratic Republic – would remain for much time to come.  It is amusing indeed to see the list of those who signed the Helsinki agreements.   The signatures of all the old party chiefs and dictators of Eastern Europe are there.  I won’t comment on the names of the Western side.

What is the way forward?  A recent newspaper report announced that the Irish Bishops had decided to encourage a Yes vote in a second Referendum.  That was news to me.  The Bishops have not discussed the matter and there is no way in which I could envisage making any comment without knowing first something about the nature and the precise text of the protocols that will be agreed upon.  We have to wait.

I am not sure that it my task as a Bishop to tell people how to vote.  I make no apology for being enthusiastic about much that has come about through European integration.  I know that it would be foolish for me to attempt to foresee how in the future protocols might be interpreted in an era in which European and indeed Irish culture is changing.  My task as a Bishop to is to challenge those who belong to the Christian community to address the issues on the basis of their faith and to be involved through critical judgement and participation in debate and of course through voting.

Pope Benedict XVI has stressed that “The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics…  The Church cannot and must not take upon herself the political battle to bring about the most just society possible. She cannot and must not replace the State”.   It is clear that parties and individuals may legitimately support the treaty, others may legitimately oppose it.  What seemed strange to me at the last Referendum was that parties who supported the Treaty found it difficult to say that together, and seemed to want to make party-political gains around the issue. 

The electorate on its part needs to have at its disposal knowledge that is sufficiently clear for them to make a decision as to how to vote.  The Pastoral Message of the Irish Bishops on the occasion of the last Referendum “[condemned] unreservedly those who would seek to influence the outcome of the Referendum, whether by offering misleading or even patently incorrect advice or by introducing extraneous factors into the debate”.   That statement is certainly still as valid as it was then.

There were many who wanted the Catholic Bishops to have spoken out in favour of a yes or a no vote at the last referendum.  I believe that the Bishops’ Message provided a comprehensive reflection on the issues that were involved, but also about how Christians should be present in the European project.   European Christians need to have a Europe strategy appropriate to a pluralist, democratic, political system.  That means that such a strategy should  sustain what is good in any aspect of European policy and challenge what is lacking in it or even wrong.  To be credible in such an endeavour the Christian must have the courage to do both, sustain and criticise, and not be content to take occasional pot shots from the sidelines.   The Europe of the future needs to be a Europe of participation.  This requires that we enhance the structures for participation but it also means that we as Europeans, whatever our beliefs, must be willing to participate, to take part, actively and critically.

Further information:
Archdiocese of Dublin Communications Office (tel: 01 8360723 / mobile: 087 8143462)
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