Yesterday’s edition of the Observer carried a letter from 37 “faith leaders” calling on Britain to remain in the European Union.
As with all letters of this type, the sentiments expressed were clearly couched in terms that were hoping to gain the widest possible assent, so the language is hardly precise and hard-hitting.
Moreover, while the list of 37 names is interesting, far more interesting is the list of people who must have been invited to sign but declined to do so.
Take the Anglicans on the list. There is one heavyweight retired Archbishop, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, with one important retired bishop, Lord Harries, and there are a few current diocesan bishops (Liverpool, Gibraltar, Ely and Wales), but apart from that, there are few eye-catching names.
Given that this letter must have been circulated to all these groups (retired bishops, bishops, deans, deans emeritus, and so on) this represents a rather poor showing.
In the Catholic field, it is even more dramatic. Two Catholics have signed: the retired Bishop of Brentwood and Fr Ashley Beck, whose support for the European Union is well known from the pages of this magazine.
Of course, we have already had indications from the hierarchy about the referendum.
The Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales produced a studiously neutral statement, advising us all to think deeply, pray and vote accordingly, without telling us how to vote.
The key phrase in their statement is: “Each person will have their own views about the best political framework in which to realise these ideals.”
In other words, while we all may agree on what is best for the common good, the means of achieving it (whether it is staying in or leaving) is a matter of personal prudential choice. Presumably, given that this is their eminently sensible joint position, the Bishops individually have decided not to endorse this letter.
Yet at the same time, Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark has given an interview to Vatican Radio, which is clearly Eurosceptic in tone and content.
To return to the faith leaders’ letter published in the Observer, they ask us the following question: “whether undermining the international institutions charged with delivering these goals could conceivably contribute to a fairer, cleaner and safer world.” And it is a good question, but perhaps not quite in the way that they intend it.
Has the European Union actually made the world fairer, cleaner and safer? Does it in fact achieve what it claims to do? Is it a fit means to the end we all desire?
If it does not, and a look at its track record in Greece might be helpful at this point, along with its handling of the migrant crisis, then surely the European Union is part of the problem, not the solution?