Tuesday, January 18, 2005

An Inquisition against Catholics?

As pointed out in the previous post by Srdjan (see below for an overview of the problem), Europe is facing a dilemma:

Can Europeans expressing papal orthodoxy aim at the highest European offices? There are two problems here. First, can we meaningful distinguish here between private morality and public concerns? Second, are christian values banned from the European public sphere?

The case we are treating is Rocco Buttiglione's, the president of a catholic party, and a member of Berlusconi's government. He claimed that his religious views on homosexuality and marriages were private and, therefore, could not impinge on his job as European commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. The problem is that that job involves crucial policy choices on discrimination based on gender and sex. Can Buttiglione still be evenhanded despite what he thinks and says?

My answer is no. The reason is that, in this case at least, Buttiglione's private views are just a transposition of the Papal magisterium, a very widely spread public view on matters of morality. Moreover, Buttiglione's suggestion that his private views should not count is disingenous. His life displays a long list of public pronouncements and actions directed at discriminating against gays and women. The burden of proof is on his part! Why should he stop discriminating now that he has been offered a post in the European Commission? On the contrary, his agenda becomes even more visible, and more public, and could be implemented in an even more effective way.
The second problem is of a different genre. The identity of Europe in terms of Christian values has been debated at various times, including in the project of a Constitution for Europe. Buttiglione's rejection and the rejection of inserting a reference to christian values in the European Constitution do not mean that Europe is claiming a rigid separation between State and Churches. I think that most Europeans still agree that Christian values are part of our roots. But many Europeans also agree that the Catholic Church cannot have the monopoly of the interpretation of those Christian values. The Catholic interpretation is an important one, but by no means exclusive. It is a very strong interpretation because it is centralised: it speaks with one voice, which is the voice of the Pope. In this sense, Catholic orthodoxy is more powerful than any other christian doctrine. Thus, it is problematic to entrench christian values because it would have amounted to giving even a more central position to the Roman Church. And this is not desirable necessary. They already have a strong voice, we don't want to strengthen it under the pretext that we are only recognising our common roots, that is, christian values.
As a consequence, Christian values are not banned from the European polity. On the contrary, every christian, not only catholics, and every non christian, must have a say about European identity.

To go back to the central question, a catholic can indeed become a high officer of the European Union. The outgoing President, Romano Prodi, is a Devout Catholic after all. But there are some conditions. First, papal orthodoxy on issues of homosexuality and marriage is not a matter of private morality. It is very public and it aims to lobby the society on issues of homosexulaity and the role of the woman in a society. Papal orthodoxy on those issues leads to discrimination, there is little to be hidden about it. Europe cannot afford it. Second, Catholic candidates are not victims of a "liberal crusade against religious values" or of "an inquisition against Catholics." Let's not be fooled. Certain interpretations of Christian values are very tolerant and pluralist and can only be welcome and cherished as deeply Europeans. Others interpretations of Christian values, including Papal interpretation of what christian values means for homosexuality, are not tolerant and not pluralist. People holding those views cannot become European public officers, let alone commissioner for Justice. Their freedom of conscience and expression is nonetheless untouched. As private persons, they can think and express what they want. But they can't pretend that the same standards are going to be applied to them as public officers. Europe, today, does not want to be ruled by officers who hold discriminating views against homosexuality. And they can't pretend that we believe them when they say that what they think is not going to influence what they do. Unless they believe they are Gods.

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