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An unprecedented vote by a commission of the European parliament underscores
the growing conflict between extreme secularism and Christianity in Europe.
By Michael S. Rose |
José Manuel Durao Barroso, the incoming European Commission president,
disappointed his conservative supporters when he caved in to pressure from
Socialist members of the European Parliament and withdrew his proposed 25-man
slate of nominees to sit on the European Commissiona group similar
in many ways to the Presidents appointed cabinet in the US. His decision
to withdraw his nominees, in order to put together a "better"
team, was made on October 27, 2004the very day that the 732-member
EU parliament in Strasbourg was scheduled to vote on the nominations.
Up until that time, Barroso had called on the parliament to show "responsibility"
by supporting him in what had promised to be an extremely close vote. Apparently
he concluded, as the time for that vote arrived, that he could not win.
He withdrew his nominees at the last moment, saying, "I have come to
the conclusion that if a vote is taken today, the outcome will not be positive
for European institutions or for the European project."
The controversy over Barrosos nominees, which has thrown EU politics
into disarray, centers primarily around just one nominee: Italys Rocco
Buttiglione. Appointed as the European Unions next Justice Commissioner,
Buttiglione raised eyebrows when he aired his traditional views on women,
homosexuality, and the family. His controversial comments came during a
three-hour grilling by the European parliament over his conservative religious
and moral views.
"The family exists in order to allow women to have children and to
have the protection of a male who takes care of them," Buttiglione
said at his confirmation hearing on October 5. "This is the traditional
vision of marriage that I defend."
This comment was interpreted by some as degrading to women, especially single
mothers, and as a condemnation of same-sex "marriage," which has
been legally recognized in European countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Germany,
the Netherlands, and most recently in Spain, until recent times a Catholic
stronghold of Europe.
During his hearing, Buttiglione also criticized the growing number of European
women who put their careers before their families, pointing to the increasingly
low birth rate in most EU countries, including Italy. And he defended his
countrys recent crackdown on illegal immigrants, in which thousands
of North Africans were deported earlier this year. "This is not an
expulsion," he explained. "It is a refusal for entry at the border,
which is in accordance with international law."
Buttigliones most controversial statement, however, came when he was
quizzed on his views of homosexuality. "I may think that homosexuality
is a sin," he said, "but this has no effect on politics, unless
I say that homosexuality is a crime."
In his remarks on the subject, the nominee emphasized that as European Justice
Commissioner, he would not try to enforce his personal beliefs. But listeners
paid little attention to his reassurances on that score. Nor were reporters
mollified when Buttiglione clarified his remarks, adding that he thinks
all people are sinnershimself included. "I dont think [others]
to be worse sinners than myself," he said. "It is a theological
issue, and it should not interfere with our policies." Nevertheless,
the Associated Press characterized his remark that homosexual acts are sinful
as "crude," while the BBC called it a "slur on gays."
These traditional views clearly rattled many members of the European parliament.
Buttiglione was denounced by some as unfit for the important post of Europes
Justice Commissioner. Josep Borrell, the Socialist president of parliament,
described the Italians comments as "shocking," adding the
observation that if Buttiglione would merely be in charge of beetroots,
his strongly held traditional beliefs of sexual morality would not be such
an important factor.
According to the logic of Buttigliones detractors, since the position
of Justice Commissioner entails jurisdiction over issues of discrimination,
including the rights of women and homosexuals, a man who operates according
to a set of traditional moral principles is wholly unfit to look out for
the welfare and freedom of European citizens. Following that logic, the
Civil Liberties Committee of the European parliament voted, by a narrow
27-26 margin, to reject Buttigliones nomination. The committee cited
the 56-year-old Christian Democrats "extreme" views. The
same committee also voted, by 28-25, against the Italians re-appointment
to a different EU post.
Although the parliamentary committees vote was not binding, this rejection
of Buttiglione marked the first time that anyone appointed to a seat on
the EU commission had ever been singled out as unacceptable for the post.
The committees vote also served as the prelude to an escalating controversy
that jeopardized the prospects for approval of Barrosos nominees to
the commission. The European parliament cannot reject individual commission
nominees; it must accept or reject the entire panel of proposed commissioners.
So the furor over Buttigliones nomination imperiled the entire slate,
and raised questions about whether Barroso would have a leadership team
in place when he took over the reins of the EU presidency.
Buttiglione was not without his supporters. Even the Portuguese Socialist
Antonio Vitorino, the outgoing EU Justice Commissioner, publicly backed
Buttigliones appointment. He said that while he did not agree with
the Italians views on homosexuality, he believed that Buttigliones
personal moral views would not "interfere" with his ability to
handle issues of human rights and civil liberties.
A German member of parliament, Eva Klampt, suggested that opposition to
the Italian politician was itself a contemptible form of discrimination.
In an interview with BBCs Europe Today program she said, "This
is really discrimination against a man who has a personal religious belief."
Buttiglione, a professor of political science at Romes St. Pius V
University, is known as a close friend and counselor of Pope John Paul II.
He is the author of the intellectual biography Karol Wojtyla: The Thought
of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II. In the United States, he has ties
with Michael Novaks American Enterprise Institute, George Weigels
Ethics and Policy Center, Father Robert Siricos Acton Institute, and
Father Richard John Neuhauss Religion and Public Life Institute. The
Italian Communist newspaper Il Manifesto has branded Buttiglione a "theo-con,"
in a scornful reference to the American "neoconservatives" with
whom he associates.
As a devout Roman Catholic, Buttiglione holds to the traditional teachings
of the Church on sexual morality and has consistently taken a conservative
position on political issues involving the dignity of life, opposing abortion
and artificial insemination. His stance on both of these issues was found
to be "extreme" by Socialist members of the European parliament.
But beyond the questions about the nominees particular views and associations,
the dispute over Buttigliones appointment highlights the growing conflict
between secularism and Christianity in Europe. Writing in Corriere della
Sera, Ernesto Galli noted that no true Catholic would say that he finds
homosexuality morally acceptable. The parliamentary committees vote,
he added, therefore "means in practice that, with few exceptions, anyone
who adheres to Catholicism or shows it without reticence is no longer suitable
to hold a position at the top of the EU [and that] Catholic Christianity
is substantially incompatible with the principles on which Europe as an
institution is based."
Avvenires Maurizio Blondet seconded Gallis assessment, but went
one step further. He argued that the debate in Europe is not so much about
Buttigliones comments as about the reaction they provoked. He denounced
the "open sneering" and "wicked delight" of Buttigliones
detractors as ominous. Blondet said: "The fact that those sneers come
from the sector that calls itself secular and liberal
throws a dark shadow over the future of freedom in Europe."
Perhaps the harshest critics of Buttigliones rejection have been high-ranking
members of the Italian clergy. Ravennas Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, for
example, told La Repubblica that the commissions rejection of Buttiglione
was "pure ostracism, an assault." The Vatican also responded,
at least indirectly, when Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Vaticans
Justice and Peace Council, charged that "new holy inquisitions fueled
by money and arrogance" were taking aim at the Churchs position
on moral issues in Europe. Italian Catholic intellectuals pointed at the
Buttiglione controversy as just another example of anti-Catholicisma
force that has become the contemporary equivalent of anti-Semitism in the
new secular Europe.
What most commentators failed to point out is that Buttigliones comments
represented the widely held opinions of the mainstream Catholic electorate
in his native country. The sort of comments he made at his confirmation
hearing are in fact de rigueur for politicians in Italy, where homosexual
lobbyists have not yet gained the stronghold they have in some northern
MOVES TO PLACATE
Up until the day before the scheduled full parliamentary vote to ratify
Barrosos commission, the incoming president steadfastly maintained
his support for his full slate of appointments. In an effort to ease the
fears of those who were protesting the Buttiglione nomination, Barroso stressed
that the Italian nominee would be just one member of the 25-man commission,
and his entire team would be liberal enough to please the critics on questions
of "sexual orientation." But again, those reassurances failed
to disarm the critics.
The crisis within the European Union had ramifications for Italys
internal political situation as well. Italys left-wing opposition
parties hailed the parliamentary committees vote against Buttiglione,
saying that the nomination had caused another embarrassing moment for Italy
in the eyes of European institutions, and ultimately blaming the incident
on the perceived missteps of the conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi,
who was primarily responsible for Buttigliones nomination. Berlusconi,
for his part, criticized the parliamentary vote as a display of "fundamentalism,"
because it called into question "the freedom of conscience and opinion
of a Catholic commissioner."
Rocco Buttiglione himself seemed largely unruffled by the escalating flap.
"I have said what I think, and I gave honest answers. Im satisfied
with my situation," he told journalists at a press conference in Rome.
"We must not be afraid of
confrontations sometimes. I think that
Europe grows when we talk about the values we cherish."
At the same time, Buttiglione maintained that under no circumstances would
he change his religious or moral beliefs in order to gain office. "I
have already said several times that if I have to choose between the European
Commission and my religious and moral beliefs, I would choose the latter,"
he told the Italian news agency ANSA.
Many left-leaning European political activists in fact wanted him to withdraw
his own name from nomination, in order to save face for Barroso and ensure
the quick approval of the rest of the new government team. Some pundits
went so far as to attack Buttigliones honor, suggesting that any decent
person would have had the good sense to step aside once he realized he had
become the focus of so much controversy. Buttiglionewith firm backing
from Berlusconirefused to back down.
Barroso, after withdrawing his proposed nominees, went about the business
of putting together a new commission, hoping to placate his political opponents
without further alienating his conservative supporters. In a step that would
accomplish the former goal (but endanger the latter), he vowed to create
a new "rights agency" designed to handle directly "racial
and sexual prejudice," and to draft EU legislation outlawing discrimination
on grounds of "sexual orientation."
The Buttiglione controversy overshadowed Octobers landmark meeting
of European leaders in Rome, at whichamid great ceremonythe
political heads of the 25 member-nations signed the European Constitutional
Treaty. The signing of that documentwhich itself had been the focus
of controversy, primarily because of a failed bid to include some mention
of Europes Christian heritage in the preamblemarked the beginning
of a campaign to win ratification votes in each of the nations across the
The prolonged dispute over the Buttiglione nomination, which ultimately
forced a delay in the start of Barrosos presidential term, also underscored
a growing concern about the limits being placed upon free speech in relation
to political, religious, and moral views that do not conform to the militant
secularism that now reigns in many European nations.
Sweden, for example, recently criminalized speech critical of homosexual
behavior, allowing for penalties of up to four years in prison for offenders.
And Swedens "hate crime" legislation is no idle proposition.
It has already been used against a pastor of a Swedish Pentecostal church,
the Rev. Ake Greene, who was prosecuted earlier this year for citing Biblical
quotations denouncing sodomy during a sermon in his church.
The ramifications of rampant secularism for Catholic politicians in Europe
could be equally serious. Some analysts now say that traditional Catholics
need not apply for top posts in the European government, since they are
allegedly unable to separate their personal convictions from their political
activity. Ironically those who make such a claim (which, in principle, ought
to be true) include those wholike the EUs Green party deputy
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a famous radical activist of the late 1960scolor
all of their own political activities with their idiosyncratic personal
convictions on matters such as a womans "right" to procure
an abortion, or the "right" of homosexuals to join in same-sex
partnerships and receive all the same legal rights as married couples. In
sum, what the whole affair boils down to, as Bishop Joseph Duffy observed
in the Irish Independent, is "pure intolerance."
This article was originally published as "Catholics
Need Not Apply" in the January 2005 edition of Catholic
Michael R. Rose, the editor of the Cruxnews.com
web site, is the author of several books, including Goodbye,
SIDEBAR: BUTTIGLIONE SPEAKS OUT
After the withdrawal of his nomination to serve as Justice Commissioner
in the European Union, Rocco Buttiglione told the BBC television network
that he had "suffered unfair discrimination." Buttiglione pointed
out that during hearings before the European parliament he had made a
point of saying that his views on homosexuality were private beliefs.
Those views, he added, have "no impact on politics until I say that
[homosexuality] is a crime, and I emphatically do not say that."
However, Buttiglione said that Europe today needs "to change some
moral attitudes." Pointing to the recent American elections, in which
11 different states approved referenda barring same-sex marriage, he observed
that "America has shown itself more religious and more attentive
to values than Europe." He added that Europe could learn from the
American example, because the US "is surely a symbol of economic
efficiency, and sets the standard of that modernity which is a point of
reference for so many policies even here in Europe."
A few days later Buttiglione added more fuel to the controversy by wondering
aloud whether the Italian nominee who replaced him on the list of nominees
to the European Commission was a Freemason. Buttiglione offered his best
wishes to Franco Frattini. But then he added a warning shot, saying that
during Frattinis confirmation hearings, "I hope nobody asks
him if he is a Freemason." It was not clear whether Buttiglione was
actually charging that Frattini is a Freemason, or indicating that the
new Italian nominee could be subjected to false accusationsas Buttiglione
says he was.
The Masonic movement is legal, but highly unpopular, in Italy today. Scandals
involving the exposure of Masonic lodges during the 1980s resulted in
the collapse of the Christian Democratic government.
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