The European Union seems set to split the Tories. Many of its architects drew on Catholic tradition is there a role for the Church in the EU? Fr Patrick H Daly studies the matter.
EUROPE has occasioned such public bickering in the ranks of a deeply divided Conservative Party and generated so many shrill outbursts in the opinion columns of both broadsheets and tabloids, that one takes it for granted that the European Union (EU) is by now a familiar concept to the man in the street.
But officials in the Commission Information Service (D-G X) reluctantly admit that, despite its massive public relations budget, its high-powered information offices in all the member states and its glossy free brochures and pamphlets, most people in the UK more than elsewhere, perhaps have little understanding of anything to do with the EU.
The EU and its institutions and a fortiori any grandiose project spawned by them such as the Inter-Governmental Conference, leaves people either hopelessly confused or just cold.
The average UK citizen has little perception of how the Commission, Council and Parliament work, and they have been up and running and transforming our lives for over a generation. What hope is there that they might understand what an inter-governmental conference involves? Why might they even care?
Oddly enough in this age of galloping secularism, the constituency within the Euro-citizenry which European Commission President Jacques Santer and his predecessor have turned to with greatest frequency, has been the Church.
The Commission is at home with the nuts and bolts of legislation, administration and political wheeler-dealing, yet its ingenuity in coming up with fresh ideologies is more limited.
Prophecy is one of the gifts with which the Spirit has endowed the Church, and it is, we are assured, a particular charism of bishops.
In clarifying its vision of the Europe of tomorrow it seemed not unnatural for the Commission to turn to the Church, and to ask the bishops of Europe to provide the Community with that spiri tuality the secular mandarins cannot supply.
How, then, can the Church pick up the gauntlet thrown down by Delors and Santer? Without a seat at the IGC negotiating table, how can its voice be heard, how can its prophetic vision (if it has one) be shared, how can the religious dimension be guaranteed in a Citizens' Europe of tomorrow?
There are various ways in which the Church, acting at various levels, can make a positive contribution to the shaping of the new Europe.
The Catholic Church already has an excellent record in adopting a positive and constructive attitude to the EU. The late Pope Paul VI actively promoted European integration and, through his older brother Ludovico, who was a member of the European Parliament, followed closely developments within the growing Community. The present Pope has given his broad backing to European development, has visited Brussels and Strasbourg, and must now rejoice in old age in having his concern for la grande Europe, the twolunged Europe, shared in the corridors of Europower.
Two of the continent's most widely respected Catholic spiritual leaders, Cardinals Hume and Lustiger, have published important collections of sermons and addresses in which they endorse the aspirations of those striving for deeper unity between European nations.
There is no reason to believe, especially now that the centre of gravity of the European Bishops' Conference (CCEE) has moved East with the nomination of Cardinal Vlk of Prague as President, that commitment to the European ideal at the highest levels in the Catholic Church should wane. The Holy See, the CCEE and senior prelates across the continent must continue to give a strong lead on the "European agenda".
Bishops Conferences too have been broadly supportive of European integration. The Bishops of England and Wales strongly encouraged their people to exercise their democratic right on the occasion of last year's European Parliament elections.
Ours and the Irish Bishops' Conference are the only national groupings of bishops among the Fifteen to have European Affairs' Committees, surely a sign of how seriously the Church's contribution to the EU Is taken by the bishops of the British Isles.
The statement from the Bishops' Conference at their November meeting, widely expected to urge Catholics to welcome the potential opportunities the IGC will create, will certainly require prophetic courage, especially as some of the most vociferous Euro-sceptics in the House of Commons are members of their flock!
Individual bishops and priests can also contribute to the great debate on Europe opened by M Santer.
Lenten Pastorals focus increasingly on matters of social and pastoral concern: by highlighting the positive and negative ways in which European policies touch their people's lives, bishops can illustrate how Europe affects the parishioner in the pew, while at the same time positively exploiting their relatively high profile in the body politic making Brussels and Whitehall mandarins sensitive to the ethical dimension of Community legislation.
Finally, on Europe Day each year, parish priests can impress on churchgoers how important the EU is to their and their children's futures.
It is clear that the Church and individual clergy and laity can exercise a major positive influence on public opinion among Catholics and be instrumental in provoking public debate, yet equally important in the Catholic input to the European experiment and of crucial import where the 1GC is concerned are the already existing institutional links which function so successfully as channels of two-way exchange between the Church and the European institutions.
To begin with, the Nuncio in Brussels is also an accredited ambassador to the EU institutions, while the Holy See is represented at consular level at Strasbourg. The nunciature monitors all issues arising in the area of international public law.
The equally urgent matter of the pastoral implications of the economic, social and cultural configuration of the new Europe is addressed by a special commission of EU Episcopal Conferences (COMECE) which is made up of 14 bishops, representing the episcopal conferences of the EU.
In response to a specific invitation from Jacques Santer, the COMECE bishops are drawing up a Catholic position paper which will be fed by the Commission into the IGC negotiations.
What unique or specifically Catholic insights the Holy See, COMECE or Church lobbies can bring to the most crucial debate on the future of Europe since the Treaty of Rome was signed in 1957 is another matter.
Yet what is essential for the Church to appreciate as the Reflexion Group commences its deliberations, is that it has a role to play in seeing that a debate on Europe does take place, in ensuring that European Catholics understand that every issue of consequence now has acquired a European dimension, and in seizing the unique opportunity being offered it to fulfil its prophetic mission.
That it can best do by offering to the continent that was for so long synonymous with Christendom a Christan vision of its future.
Patrick H Daly, priest of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, worked for the European Commission in Brus
At present Administrator of St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham, he has been a member of the European Affairs Committee of the Bishops' Conference since 1992.