Cardinal Vincent Nichols has suggested that if Britain leaves the European Union it would create “complex problems”.
At the spring meeting of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales the Archbishop of Westminster said that the path to division “almost inevitably leads to further division”.
The cardinal said: “There is a long tradition in Christianity and Catholicism in particular of believing in holding things together. So the Catholic stance towards an effort such as the EU is largely supportive.
“If the vote was to leave Europe I think we would face more complex problems and greater difficulty in finding our role in response to it than we would by playing an active and vigorous part with partners within the EU.”
He accepted that his comments “basically answer” the question of how he would feel if the vote was to leave.
Cardinal Nichols’s personal statement went significantly further than the resolution passed by the bishops’ conference, which did not encourage a vote in either direction. The statement stressed that the European Union was founded on the principles of peace, subsidiarity and solidarity. “Our decision in the referendum should thus be taken in the context of how best we can promote justice and peace,” the bishops said.
They continued: “We must ask ourselves, in the face of every issue, what will best serve the dignity of all people both within Europe and beyond.”
Recalling “that Europe has a two thousand year-old Christian culture that has shaped the continent and is a dynamic spiritual, moral and intellectual resource as we address the future,” the bishops suggested we should pray before casting our vote.
Bishop Paul Gallagher, the British-born Secretary for Relations with States in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State – effectively the Vatican foreign minister – said in January that the Vatican wants Britain to remain in Europe.
“The Holy See respects the ultimate decision of the British people – that’s for the British electorate to decide,” he said. “But I think we would see it [Brexit] as being something that is not going to make a stronger Europe.”
FULL TEXT OF THE BISHOPS’ STATEMENT:
Reflecting on the forthcoming vote, we recognise the historic nature of this referendum and its implications for future generations. The outcome will have consequences for the future not only of the United Kingdom, but for Europe and for the world.
In our view, three things are essential:
that we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit;
that we all inform ourselves of the arguments on both sides of the debate;
that we each exercise our vote with a view to the common good of all.
The coming together of European countries in the aftermath of a catastrophic war was designed to bind together former combatants and the contribution of the European project to peace in Western Europe should be recognised. Pope Francis reminds us, in his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 25 November 2014, that the ideals which shaped this European project from the beginning were peace, subsidiarity and solidarity. In the Treaty of Rome, trade was harnessed to peace. The peace achieved in Western Europe shows indeed how “our problems can become powerful forces for unity” (par 5). Our decision in the referendum should thus be taken in the context of how best we can promote justice and peace.
Our focus needs to be above all on the human person. We need to build a Europe “which revolves not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values” (par 37). We all have a responsibility to keep the dignity of the human person at the forefront of the debate. We must ask ourselves, in the face of every issue, what will best serve the dignity of all people both within Europe and beyond.
This referendum therefore is about much more than economics.
We must not forget the profoundly religious roots of European nations; that Europe has a two thousand year-old Christian culture that has shaped the continent and is a dynamic spiritual, moral and intellectual resource as we address the future. As Pope Francis reminds us, we need continually to ask ourselves: who is my neighbour? In response to grave challenges, we are called to be generous and welcoming to all others, especially the most vulnerable.
Each person will have their own views about the best political framework in which to realise these ideals. We acknowledge the justifiable concerns that many people have in relation to the European Union, its institutions and the implications of increasing integration.
This referendum is an opportunity to reflect on those values we cherish as a nation and as Catholics. High among these values are mutual respect and civility, vital in this national conversation about the very future of our nation within the world.
Prepare and Act
Before voting, ask yourself the following question:
How in the light of the Gospel, can my vote best serve the common good?
As you vote, you may wish to use this prayer:
“Lord, grant us wisdom that we may walk with integrity, guarding the path of justice, and knowing the protection of your loving care for all”.