Monthly Talking Point – September 2019

This month by Father Patrick H Daly

Europe is still our Home and we continue to be Europeans after Brexit

During the three and a half years working in Brussels for the Catholic Bishops Conferences of the EU (COMECE) it was my privilege to work closely with the CEC, the sister organisation representing the church communities of the Reformation and the Orthodox churches. We shared common goals, the principal one being sustained, constructive and open dialogue with the EU institutions. We always operated from a common platform and understood the big questions in much the same way, always articulating as best we could the voice of Christian concern. There was a shared conviction that the social-market economy was the ideal model which best reflected a Christian understanding of economic growth and social justice. There was a deep belief in the pursuit and maintenance of peace in Europe and beyond as a foundational principal of all EU policy. There was also the view that the EU political classes as well as the civil servants who worked in the institutions were keen to listen to new ideas and to be challenged by alternatives to the tried and tested methods, some of which had failed so miserably to gain credibility among the voting public. We worked hard together to put flesh on the bones of an idea first introduced in the Maastricht Treaty, that of EU citizenship. I am sure that readers of Caversham Bridge would subscribe to most of those ideals.

Brexit, promised for 31 October as our newspaper goes to press, represents a major re-appraisal of our commitment to the founding values of the EU and to the European project’s noble aspirations. I deliberately mentioned the many ways in which COMECE and CEC were singing from the same hymn sheet. There were important differences too. I flag up just one. The primary focus of the ecclesial communities which belong to the Reformation family – for a variety of reasons, varying from the theological to the ecclesiological – is the local church. This has meant there has right from the outset been an ambivalence in the Anglican Church as well as the Protestant Churches of Germany concerning the EU. Local interests, local concerns were being ignored. The Catholic Church, from the beginning benevolently supportive of the European project, identified with the internationalist ambitions of European integration and, as Cardinal Vincent Nichols pointed out at the time of the 2016 referendum, Catholics tend to favour the creation of the wider community. Hence the distress Brexit has caused among many Catholics.

The important thing to remember is that there is life after Brexit. The local or national concerns of the Reformation family are perfectly legitimate and translate themselves into practical community-building initiatives, and this is particularly the case in Caversham. This remains true whatever the ultimate outcome of Brexit. Catholic parish communities become more international in their make-up year by year: this welcome and challenging trend will continue, even if the profile of the international community within the parish community changes, after Brexit. What the Brexit debate and the challenging reality it will face us all with has done is invite us to treasure the social vision we share across the Christian family, appreciate and re-assess the separate strengths we as local church communities have, and understand more clearly how the relationship we have to our continent and its spiritual and political heritage helps us get a better understanding of ourselves. Whether or not Brexit finally goes through, we are all still Europeans, the off-shore islands and the continental land mass will still be as close and as far apart as ever. It is important to remember that our Christian faith is an irreplaceable part of our European heritage.

Patrick H. Daly, Parish Priest Our Lady & St. Anne, Caversham