The faithful are being nudged towards a ‘Remain’ vote not only by England’s cardinals but also by the Pope. But how many Catholics will take their advice?
By Damian Thompson at the Catholic Herald, 13th May 2016.
On June 23, Catholics in England and Wales will be confronted by the same question as everyone else: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
We are given only two possible answers – “Remain” or “Leave”. The Church is not officially taking sides and therefore we are free to choose.
But that word “officially” is crucial. Both Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor have endorsed a vote to Remain. These are their personal convictions, they have stressed.
They have not, however, kept these personal views private – unlike the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who probably also supports staying in the EU but who has not jeopardised his authority by saying so.
Anglicans and Catholics therefore find themselves in different situations. The former will arrive at the polling booth unencumbered by advice from their spiritual leader. The latter, in contrast, are being nudged towards a “Remain” vote not only by Their Eminences but also by the Pope.
Last Friday, Pope Francis received the Charlemagne Prize for services to European integration. The prize is awarded by the city of Aachen in the Rhineland, which Charlemagne chose as his capital and which, under the name of Aix-la-Chappelle, was for centuries a direct vassal of the Holy Roman Empire.
Last week it could have been mistaken for a direct vassal of the European Union. The awards ceremony, held in the Vatican, was addressed by Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.
They must have been pleased to hear Francis identify Brussels with “the soul of Europe”. On immigration, the Pope brushed aside the fears of Eurosceptics and even the anxieties of pro-EU national politicians. Tighter border controls were a manifestation of “meanness”, serving “our own selfish interests”. It’s not hard to work out where the Holy Father’s sympathies lie in the British referendum. The Vatican’s “foreign minister”, the Liverpool-born Archbishop Paul Gallagher, has said bluntly: “Better in than out.”