Europe In normal places most congregations were split at more or less 50% for Brexit, 50% for Remain. In Brighton we seemed to follow, as we do on most issues, the ‘London trend’. Brighton voted remain.
Catholics have always been looked on with a certain suspicion in Britain because it is our nature to look beyond national borders, to not only Europe but to the rest of the world, 'Catholic' means, in its broadest sense, 'Universal'.
In the sixth century the Christianisation of England brought with it union with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome and the then Christian world, not only of Europe, but beyond it. In a sense, the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century brought with it England’s withdrawal from the European Union. The pre-Reformation Church in England was European with at least one Greek Archbishop of Canterbury and most of our clergy were educated in the great universities of the continent.
Even after the Reformation, many Catholics were educated abroad, in Flanders and France, as well as Italy. Catholics had a sense of being not only English or British but also European. Immigration too, not only from Ireland but the rest of Europe, has been a mark of English Catholicism.
Today the vitality of many of our parishes comes from its members who are not just immigrants from Europe but the rest of the world.
The post-war founders of the European Economic Community were more or less a group of Catholic intellectuals (at least three are having their causes explored for Canonisation). The European flag’s twelve gold stars on a blue background is actually a Marian badge. Much of the early legislation of the Community was heavily based on the Catholic Church’s social teaching, in the beginning its leaders were devout Catholics.
One essential understanding they had was one of ‘subsidiarity’, which often appears in documents of the Pope’s, it simply means that power is exercised at its most local level, essentially by the individual, the family or the local community, and central government only comes into play where strictly necessary.
The English Catholic concept of ‘distributionism’ (Belloc, Chesterton etc), which goes back to Pope Leo XIII was very much at the heart of their vision. It said that everyone had a right to enough of a share of wealth and common goods that were necessary for the support of family life and a secure childhood and old age, in sickness and in health. For them excessive wealth in the hands of a few was inimical and contrary to the Gospel.
Pope Francis described today’s Europe as “an elderly, haggard grandmother”, though he stresses the importance ‘unity’ and ‘brotherhood’, the huge numbers of unemployed in many parts of Europe, the gulf between the poor and excessively wealthy, the numbers of homeless and hopeless people, the absence for many of effective justice, is far from the vision of the Catholic founders of the EU.
Pope Benedict spoke of a union that is merely based on ‘wealth creation’ as being bound to failure and ultimate collapse. I am not sure what the future of our country outside of Europe is and neither am I sure what Europe’s future will be. Its failure to have children and the consequence necessity of immigration has made its own future unclear. What I am certain of is the necessity to have truly Catholic voices, familiar with the Gospel and the Church’s teaching in the coming months and years.