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Contextualising Brexit

Contextualising Brexit

On 23 June 2016 a referendum was held in which a narrow majority of voters in the United Kingdom (nearly 52%) voted in favour of leaving the European Union, the so-called “Brexit”. This contrasts with the large majority (67%) who had voted to join the then European Community in 1975. The result was a shock to most, even to those who had campaigned for Brexit. Apart from the political and economic fallout from this result, here are some reflections for Catholics, independent of particular leanings regarding the referendum decision.

The key figures in post-war European integration were devout Catholics: Konrad Adenauer, Jacques Delors, Alcide de Gasperi and Robert Schuman.  Even the European flag of 12 yellow stars on a blue background was inspired by the image of “a woman clothed with the sun… and a crown of twelve stars on her head from the book of Revelation, according to the flag's designer, Arsene Heitz.

Alessandra Nucci wrote of the European Union co-founders in The Economist[1]:

“Their faith gave them a strong sense of the cultural and religious ties between Europeans that transcend national boundaries.”

The intellectual chasm between the optimistic, unifying Catholic basis of the European Union founders and modern Europe has been evident on a number of occasions. An example is the stance that was taken during the drafting of the Lisbon treaty, the European Union's constitution, which decided that there should be no references to God or to the Christian history of Europe. Pope John Paul II called for opposition to this omission in his 2003 apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa.

An interesting article in Catholic World Report[2] contrasted this with Hungary's constitution which acknowledges Christianity as the basic religion of the Hungarian people (while ensuring complete freedom of religion) and includes:

- the protection of life from the moment of conception (although the law still allows for abortion);

- the family based on marriage between a man and a woman (although the law allows for same- sex civil unions);

- parental duties toward children but also children’s duties toward elderly parents;

- the responsibility before God of the Members of Parliament who approve the Constitution;

- the ethnic basis of the nation, with safeguards for the rights of resident minorities, implicitly refuting the utopian concept that defines a nation on the basis of its prevailing political ideology;

- the prohibition of eugenics.


The author, Alessandra Nucci, writes:

“While fundamental EU values—democracy, unity, solidarity—are related to the structure and prerogatives of the State, the Hungarian constitution repeatedly refers to personhood. “We hold that human existence is based on human dignity…. We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence, and that our fundamental cohesive values are fidelity, faith, and love.””[3]

Concerning the Lisbon treaty, a former Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, proposed that "a greater reference should be made to the fact that many Europeans derive something beyond humanity” [4]

Bruton's comment implies what most European, but not American, politicians would hold to – a complete intellectual separation between politics and religion, between belief and law. For us as Catholics, our very humanity is defined by our relationship to the Trinity. Indeed, the Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Bunreacht na hÉireann) begins:

“In the name of the Most Holy Trinity, from Whom is all authority and to Whom, as our final end, all actions both of men and States must be referred...”

Our human rights and dignity cannot be asserted intellectually without reference to our personhood and this demands some description of what personhood involves, our unique intellect and free will, our non-material, spiritual nature. This is not an 'add-on' for religious believers but the only safeguard against a secular denigration of our true humanity.

Any Catholic must be aware that anti-Christian 'belief' is now part of the political and philosophical fabric both of modern Britain and of modern Europe. Abortion, euthanasia, the denial of the intrinsic reality of the sexes in favour of some vague blanket notion of everyone having 'rights' and the general moral decadence of Europe are indications of a serious malaise, intellectual as well as moral. Fundamental human rights assume a fundamental value as regards human personhood. This cannot be taken as a given without some reference to the fact that the Christian philosophical heritage concerning the dignity of the human person is what enables us to acknowledge human rights and safeguards in the West. 

In the Faith movement, our humanity is seen in essential relation to the Incarnation of Christ as the full revelation to us of our true humanity as well as of His divinity.

As Pope Francis said in a post-Brexit video message[5]:

“Europe is called to reflect and to ask itself whether its immense heritage, so permeated with Christianity, belongs in a museum or is still able to inspire culture and to offer its treasures to the whole of humankind.”


Faith Magazine

January/ February 2020

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