Pope Francis expressed deep scepticism about the European Union in his address in Strasbourg yesterday, Ukip leader Nigel Farage has claimed.
Mr Farage, who met the Pope at the European Parliament yesterday, said Francis’s comments marked a major shift in the Catholic Church’s attitude towards Europe.
In an article in this week’s Catholic Herald, Mr Farage writes: “I found the Pope’s speech remarkable and personally very encouraging, for he implied that the modern European Union had gone badly wrong and the idea of a united European state wasn’t even desirable, never mind necessary.”
But Bishop William Kenney, spokesman on European affairs for the bishops’ conference of England and Wales, insisted that Francis’s visit underlined the Pope’s support for the EU.
Commenting on the reported rise in Catholics voting Ukip, he said: “I do find some of Ukip’s policies somewhat doubtful. Whether Catholics vote for them must be a matter for Catholics to decide themselves. Like on immigration, for instance, the Holy Father said today that we can’t turn the Mediterranean into a cemetery and the problems of immigration aren’t going to go away while there is violence and poverty in our world.”
In his article the leader of Ukip, a British political party that campaigns for restrictions on immigration and Britain’s exit from the EU, urged people to stand up for Britain’s “Christian culture and values”.
“At one point in his speech, the Pope talked about Europe asserting its own cultural identity. ‘Awareness of one’s own identity is also indispensable for relations with other neighbouring countries,’ he said. This is where we come to the Christian virtue of patriotism,” Mr Farage wrote.
“I have spoken many times before about British people standing up in the world and at home for our Christian culture and values. We should not be browbeaten into silence to please those who come to us from other cultures.”
He also described Francis as “an up to date pope who knows what’s going on”. He also joked that the Pontiff was becoming “more UKIP” because when Francis visited Strasbourg yesterday “even the archbishops were wearing purple”, the official colour of the party.
But Richard Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber said that Pope Francis’s article had been spun out of context by the media. Writing in a blog post he said: “His Holiness had strong words about protecting and defending migrants; about peace and mutual understanding; about the importance of action to protect the environment; about the need to protect human rights and dignity; and about allowing cultural differences to flourish while continuing to develop the cooperative framework of the European Union. He emphasised the readiness of the Church to play its part in the EU’s further development. And the central theme of his speech was the motto of the EU itself: united in diversity.”
Mr Farage’s article appears in the last broadsheet newspaper edition of the Catholic Herald, out this Friday, and on this website. From next week, the Catholic Herald will become a weekly magazine.