Recently I read that Pope Francis had commended a book by the theologian Fr John Navone SJ, entitled A Theology of Failure. Those of us who argued that Catholics should not support the leave campaign in the EU Referendum (and I don’t know of any breakdown of how Catholics voted) ought to get the book.
In things I have written since January I have confined myself to theology, and to the demands of Catholic social teaching in particular, and I will do so now. I argued that the Church understands solidarity so as to support greater unity and integration in Europe, to break down barriers and walls; that we be sceptical about claims made about national sovereignty; and that Catholic teaching about migration and refugees must distance us from the language and (apparently successful) approach to this issue from the leave campaign. These three arguments, which in my judgment compelled Catholics to reject the leave campaign, have lost none of their force or validity since last Thursday – Catholic teaching is not like that. Indeed, the rise in racist incidents since the vote, much of it directed against Catholics, makes my third argument much stronger. There is a lot of evil around, real moral evil.
I think that now the Catholic Church faces two priorities.
The first is to build up our parishes, schools and Catholic organisations into what we could call, in the tradition of the Servant of God Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement, “communities of resistance”. We should be strengthening – at a time when there may well be increased poverty – our practical support for the poor, particularly refugees and asylum seekers; we also need to make sure that we stand in solidarity with people living in this country from the rest of Europe (and indeed the rest of the world), many of whom are feeling anxious and frightened at this time. The vice-chancellor of my university, Francis Campbell, suggested this week in a Thought for the Day broadcast on Radio 4 that our inspiration should be Our Lord’s parable in Luke’s gospel of the Good Samaritan. In relation to refugees we have also been given very clear direction by the Holy Father.
Second, we need to think about education and formation. I have argued repeatedly that this debate is about Catholic social teaching; while some in the leave campaign have engaged with this, it has been far more common among Catholic opponents of mine to ignore this branch of moral teaching completely, to suggest that it is not binding, or to reduce it to vague generalities. What we have learnt is that there is still widespread ignorance of social teaching in our community, even among clergy – in spite of all that was done in parishes and elsewhere after our bishops’ 1996 document The Common Good. This means we need to look at clergy formation and at what we can do in parishes, schools, and Catholic colleges and universities.
In an earlier article I referred to the recent speech made by Pope Francis when he was awarded the Charlemagne prize in Rome at the beginning of May. (The text is on the Vatican website.) The Holy Father made many criticisms of how the EU is run (as he has done before) but I will conclude now with these extracts:
“In the last century, Europe bore witness to humanity that a new beginning was indeed possible. After years of tragic conflicts, culminating in the most horrific war ever known, there emerged, by God’s grace, something completely new in human history. The ashes of the ruins could not extinguish the ardent hope and the quest of solidarity that inspired the founders of the European project. They laid the foundations for a bastion of peace, an edifice made up of states united not by force but by free commitment to the common good and a definitive end to confrontation.
“Europe, so long divided, finally found its true self and began to build its house… not only did they boldly conceive the idea of Europe, but they dared to change radically the models that had led only to violence and destruction. They dared to seek multilateral solutions to increasingly shared problems… I dream of a Europe that is still young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life. I dream of a Europe that cares for children, and offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter… I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being…”
Fr Ashley Beck is Programme Director of Pastoral Ministry at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and Assistant Priest of the parish of Beckenham in the Southwark archdiocese