While the preamble of the draft constitution for the European Union does not make any explicit reference to Europe’s Christian heritage, a compromise has been reached to make some room for the influence of religion in the document.
In late May, a draft of the preamble pointed to the influence of ancient Greece and Rome as well to the philosophical currents of the Enlightenment, while ignoring completely the centuries during which Christianity was the dominant influence. This provoked strong reactions, especially from the Holy See and from Orthodox Churches. The President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community addressed a letter to the President of the European Convention (in charge of elaborating a draft constitution) and not only asked for a reference to Christianity, but renewed the bishops’ proposal for a reference to God in the Constitution.
Finally, the authors of the draft chose not to refer to any specific religion. The current draft preamble–which has still to be discussed before being possibly signed next year– only mentions the “cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe” Both the Pope, who has just published an Apostolic Exhortation on Ecclesia in Europa (28 June), and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church have strongly emphasized again the need for a reference to Europe’s Christian heritage.
“For the moment, the secularists have won”, commented Kenneth Woodward in theNew York Times (June 14). In a lecture in Fribourg (Switzerland) on June 12, a Catholic expert, Prof. Giovanni Barberini (University of Perugia, Italy), saw it in a more nuanced way. The fact that references to the Enlightenment had been dropped could be seen as a kind of victory for the Roman Catholic Church, which had been in fierce competition with influential Belgian and French hardline secularist circles on the issue.
Barberini emphasized other elements worth noticing in the draft constitution. Article 51 states that “the Union respects and does not prejudice the status under national law of churches and religious associations or communities in the Member States.” Moreover, “the Union shall maintain an open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches as well as philosophical and non-confessional organizations. The ways for such a dialogue have still to be created, concluded Barberini. Anyway, it remains to be seen if amendments are introduced on those various issues.
— By Jean-François Mayer