Edward Pentin’s Vatican Notebook
Few Christians will deny that Western Europe is suffering from a spiritual malaise that can undermine the average European’s self-confidence and strength of will.
But the implications of this, according to the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, can be commercial as well as spiritual. Why, for instance, do European businessmen tend to be much less entrepreneurial or willing to take risks than their more religious American counterparts?
The reason, says Acton, is secularism: that if a society is made up of many atheists, then they are unlikely to be what Pope John Paul II calls “people of hope”. And those without hope have only the present – they have no compelling reason to be interested in the future, for themselves or for others. For this reason, Acton argues, Europeans will lack an individual spirit of enterprise, choosing instead to fall back on corporatism, welfare dependency and regulations at the expense of future generations.
“If Western Europe is to become an entrepreneurial society,” wrote Acton’s research director Samuel Gregg in a recent article for the Wall Street Journal, “it requires more than greater access to capital. It demands nothing less than a cultural revolution: one that not only sweeps away corporatist structures and complacent attitudes towards regulation, but also relights the fire of hope that only comes from the virtue of faith. And that is the work of evangelisation.” Gregg drew comparisons with the United States which, while he admitted had “its fair share of practical atheists”, is generally considered more religious and, according to a recent EU survey, has almost twice as many entrepreneurs contemplating starting their own business as in Europe.
Acton’s director, Fr Robert Sirico, visiting the Vatican last week, expanded on Gregg’s thesis. Echoing John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia in Europa, he explained that as Europe loses its Christian identity and belief in God, it becomes vulnerable to corrosive sociopolitical maladies. “This, of course, means that there’s going to be a kind of pacifistic response – that there’s nothing worth fighting for,” Fr Sirico explained, adding that philosophical, moral and epistemological relativism works against “a robust culture that knows itself and can protect itself”.
Europe’s Judaeo-Christian heritage does not guarantee success in business, he argued, but it does make society “more law abiding, contract fulfilling, transparent, honest and coherent in one’s personal life and one’s public profession.” In that sense, he said, “secularisation and incumbent moral relativism has tended to, and will tend to, affect European business”. ‘Christianophobia” is of concern to the Vatican but only marginally so, according to Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. He said that it is a new word but not a new matter. “The Roman emperors had a lot of Christianophobia but where are they now? They’re in the history books.” Christians, he said, “mustn’t be scared about it” but rather continue “to be what we are”.
Fr Sirico, a friend of Rocco Buttiglione who was a very public victim of the prejudice last year, said that Christianophobia is “rampant” but mostly confined to small, powerful political and media elites.
“In terms of the EU, it may be the case that the lunatics have seized the asylum,” he said, adding that most people are too busy raising families to pay much attention to it. The media, he believes, also fuels the prejudice. “It amplifies the voice, kind of like those puff fish who grow 10 or 20 times their size to scare off predators.” Much Vatican talk has been focused on the recent appointment of Cardinal Angelo Scola, Patriarch of Venice, as the general rapporteur for the next assembly of the Synod of Bishops.
The appointment, the first to be taken by the Holy Father after leaving hospital, strengthens Cardinal Scola’s candidature to be the next pontiff. Cardinal Wojtyla held the same position in 1974 and his record in the post is said to have been a decisive factor in his election as John Paul II.
This will add to Cardinal Scola’s already influential position in the College of Cardinals, having admirably addressed the vital issue of the Church's relations with Islam (he recently founded a learning centre in Venice for Christians who live in the Islamic world and launched a magazine which explores Muslim-Christian relations). An intellectual and fan of the late Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, Scola, 63, is also prelate of an archdiocese considered to be a stepping stone to the papacy (both John XXIII and John Paul I were Venice patriarchs).
The October synod will be dedicated to the Eucharist and Scola’s task will be to summarise converging points and present propositions to the Holy Father.