At the end of 1996 our Bishops’ Conference issued an important teaching document about Catholic Social Teaching entitled The Common Good. One short phrase they used has always stuck in my mind:
‘Nothing is beyond the scope of faith.’
These words remind us that if we are serious about what we believe there is no part of our lives, or the life of the world, which is not illuminated and enlightened by what we believe as Catholics.
This should be our starting point when considering the campaign leading up to the EU Referendum on 23 June (the document, available from the Bishops Conference website, includes a short and important section on Europe).
For us, this issue has to be primarily about Catholic moral teaching, not politics or economics.
(The photo above is of Europe’s sixth patron saint, St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – Edith Stein)
I make this point because at the time of writing (beginning of March) the campaign so far has been very depressing, whichever side one is on. The public discourse has entirely lacked any moral angle whatever – it all seems to be about self-interest and fear – but surely in this context these are sinful things.
In our own personal lives we know that it is wrong to be selfish, we should put others first; we also know that so often love is pushed out of the way by fear of others: why should it be any different in the life of a community, in the life of our country?
One of the key principles of Catholic moral teaching is what we call solidarity. Long ago St John Paul II taught us that this is
‘not a vague feeling of compassion or shallow distress…on the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good;
that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all…a commitment to the good of one’s neighbor with the readiness, in the Gospel sense, to “lose oneself” for the sake of the other…’
(Encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis , 38)
What this means is that in foreign policy a country should never be selfish: we should be committed to a good wider than our own interests, to our neighbours’ good.
When did we last hear a politician articulate this?
We can understand this if we look at the big issue which has, it would seem, really brought about the Referendum itself: migration.
That is, fear and concern about immigration to this country by people both from the rest of the EU and from elsewhere in the world.
(Saint Catherine of Siena, in the cover on the right, is one of the six patrons of Europe)
The Catholic Church – in the person of the Holy Father, Vatican agencies, the bishops in this country and elsewhere in Europe, and Catholic charities – has repeatedly called for us to show a generous, hospitable and charitable reaction to the needs of refugees, in the spirit of Christ.
Moreover in this country our parishes have been tremendously renewed by migration over many years – we are a Church of migrants.
Yet public discourse in this Referendum campaign what is said is almost entirely characterised by fear, meanness, lack of charity and self-pity: it is all about building fences and walls. Christians have to challenge this.
These things are about morality and Christian life – try and keep them in your minds, whichever way you decide to vote.
Fr Ashley Beck is CTS author of Europe’s Soul and Her Patron Saints (2007) and Christians and the Euro (2009). He represents the Bishops’ Conference on the Management Committee of Faith in Europe, a research body linked to Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
On the 20th May, the Catholic Herald also published the following article by Fr Ashley Beck:
Why St Augustine wouldn’t vote Leave