20th June 2016
I am writing to you not only in my capacity as a politician, but as a fellow member of the Church; that communion of believers in the True Faith which together make up the Mystical Body of Christ.
Politicians of faith often find themselves conflicted between the interests of what St. Augustine describes as ‘The Earthly’ and ‘The Heavenly’ Cities; that is to say, our professional lives require a daily balance between attempting to implement what we know to be right according to Divine Will and the interests of the material and temporal. Saint Augustine describes it best when he takes the symbol of the fish, The ikhthýs, as a symbol of Christ moving through the waters which symbolise this world. The ikhthýs was used thus by early Christians as a secret symbol of themselves as the faithful moving through the deep of persecution in a pagan world. As Christianity once again faces persecution throughout the world today, Roman Catholics in public positions find themselves as fish swimming through extremely muddy waters; doing our best to remain faithful whilst facing criticisms of our beliefs and attacks for stating them.
It is at this point I must respond to a point you made in your speech on the day of the Launch of the Official Referendum Campaign:
‘There’s a long tradition in Christianity and in Catholicism in particular of believing in holding things together. There’s a strong tradition in the Catholic vision of life that to start down the path of division almost inevitably leads to further division… So the Catholic instinct is to look for the whole – that’s exactly what the word means. And therefore the Catholic stance towards an effort such as the EU is largely supportive.’
Whilst I agree our faith believes in holding things together, we must first question as Catholics whether that ‘whole’ is congruous with the teachings of Christ and the doctrine and traditions of His Church. Furthermore, I question whether it is right to say the EU has not caused division. Like the fish, we must be careful not to be polluted by the glamour of this ‘whole’ and instead seek the truth.
“Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.” -Rerum Novrum
As Your Eminence will know, Rerum Novarum was a Papal Encyclical by Pope Leo XIII addressing the conditions of the working classes. It has formed the central text and main reference for the Catholic Social Teaching movement, a movement which has grown in strength in recent years as corporate interests once again threaten the conditions of working people.
Protection of the less well-off is a fundamental Catholic position. I can only assume your support of the EU is because it is argued that is has enshrined rights for workers. Whilst this is true in some instances, I do not believe it is necessary for these rights and regulations to come via diktat from Brussels. Indeed, I believe it is right for these decisions to be taken at a National level by a democratically elected parliament and the UK has an enviable history of introducing such rights, most of which are better than the EU’s. I also believe any protection offered by the EU is completely overshadowed by the EU’s inherent interest in protecting big business at the expense of small businesses and workers, a view which has been recently shared by ASLEF, BFAWU and RMT trade unions. Those unions in the same statement also stated their concern for the lack of democracy and the alienation of working people from the decision making process of the EU.
There is another aspect of the EU which has a devastating impact on the dignity of workers in the EU. I draw Your Eminence’s attention to the following excerpt from the same Encyclical:
‘…the labour of the working class—the exercise of their skill, and the employment of their strength, in the cultivation of the land, and in the workshops of trade—is especially responsible and quite indispensable.
Indeed, … it may be truly said that it is only by the labour of working men that States grow rich.’
The EU is the cause of less labour for fewer working people. Unemployment in Eurozone countries is at excruciating levels, especially for the young (49% youth unemployment in Greece; 41% Spain; 39% Italy). Much of this could have been alleviated for the common good of countries with various solutions, and in the case of Greece, by leaving the EU and the Euro. However, such options are callously denied by Eurozone leaders for the sake of preserving The Project – the ‘whole’ which you described in your speech.
The suffering of workers across the continent is something as Catholics we should display great charity and concern for. But we must also remember the working poor in the UK. Again, in Rerum Novarum:
‘To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven. “Behold, the hire of the labourers … which by fraud has been kept back by you, crieth; and the cry of them hath entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.” Lastly, the rich must religiously refrain from cutting down the workmen’s earnings, whether by force, by fraud, or by usurious dealing; and with all the greater reason because the labouring man is, as a rule, weak and unprotected, and because his slender means should in proportion to their scantiness be accounted sacred.’
While we must, as Catholics, be welcoming to newcomers, we must use good judgement and wisdom in the matter of wage compression. It has been established both by leaders of the IN campaign such as Lord Rose, by economic research by the OECD, EU and indeed a recent working paper of the Bank of England that mass immigration from the EU into Britain has lowered the wages of those in the lowest paid trades and professions. I fear our good intentions and compassion as Christians towards the Stranger are currently being manipulated by the ill-willed and unscrupulous to artificially lower the wages of the British Working Classes for their own interests; to defraud the poorest worker of his means is against the teachings of the Church. Indeed, the Church upholds it as a mortal sin.
I believe the EU’s current policies therefore are an attack on the worker; its cold-hearted dismissing of the pleas of the poor and the withdrawal from their lives of the dignity of labour for the sake of false absolutes and idolatry of the European Project are in contravention of Catholic Social Teaching and the love Christ demands of us for the poor.