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Catholic bishops demand still more: text from COMECE (2007)

Report to the COMECE plenary meeting, 21 November, 2007 (Commission of the [Catholic] Bishops' Conferences of the European Union). The clerics' right to be consulted in the planning stages of EU laws was cemented as part of the Lisbon Treaty. Even before this was signed, the Catholic bishops were already asking for further privileges. An appendix calls for inserting into EU law the Catholic “culture of life” programme.


Mgr Adrianus van Luyn, Bishop of Rotterdam and COMECE President,

Report to the COMECE plenary meeting, 21 November, 2007
 

 2.3. Dialogue with the political authorities of the European Union

[...] I would like to conclude with a third form of dialogue, namely the dialogue with the political authorities of the European Union. Even though there is a long tradition of friendly contact between the Catholic Church and representatives of the European institutions via and alongside COMECE, it is only recently that this dialogue has been somewhat formalised. Alongside the seminars which the European Commission has been arranging for years on fundamental issues with church representatives in Brussels and the traditional talks between these representatives and the church in question with governments in the framework of their six-monthly EU Council Presidency, I am thinking here first and foremost of the three key talks of the last three years, to which leading religious representatives were invited by the presidents of the European institutions. The last of these key talks took place on 15 May this year [2007] and for the first time, the presidents of the Parliament, Council and Commission took part. Next year [2008], a similar summit is planned for the end of April, beginning of May.

I would like “contrary to some previous criticism” to give a clear welcome to these talks. They bear testament to the way the EU has come to value representatives of the Church and religious communities more, and those who “like me” have been working for some years at COMECE, no doubt remember the difficulties of earlier years, which were marked by the institutions not acknowledging us. This does not mean that the key talks could not be even better organised and, for example, some thought given to the number of church representatives and religious communities. These talks are indeed necessary but they alone are in our view not enough to satisfy the offer of an open, transparent and regular dialogue.

Dear brethren, an entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty will enhance recognition of the relationships between Church and state at Member State level and the EU’s dialogue with churches and religious communities at the primary law level of the European Union. This is why one should now start giving real thought to the form of this dialogue. This is first of all the task of the European institutions and the Commission in particular. However, as COMECE we are of course prepared to discuss our views and ideas as well as our questions in preparatory talks on the dialogue of the EU with churches and religious communities.

We are faced primarily with questions!

  • What is meant by the “Union”, when the treaty states that the Union is leading a dialogue?
  • Are all European institutions intended?
  • What role will the future permanent President of the European Council play?
  • How can the European Parliament be involved?
  • How can the adjectives “open, transparent and regular”, with which the dialogue is described, be more closely defined?
  • Who are the churches and religious communities?
  • What are the selection criteria?
  • Can the subsidiarity principle be sufficiently respected in a dialogue between the EU and communities with different world views given that it is only anchored in the constitution of one Member State? [Switzerland]
  • Can a distinction be made between various levels of dialogue?
  • How can the selection of themes of the dialogue be more systematically arranged?
  • How can it be guaranteed that the dialogue is not reduced, wrongly and inadmissibly restrictive, to two partners: political representatives on the one hand and religious representatives on the other?
  • Is it not important to continue the existing bilateral contacts of one church or religious community with the EU, like the meeting that the German Minister of the Interior organised during the German Council Presidency [1 January 2007-30 June 2007] or the biannual talks between the churches with the changing Council presidencies?

As you can see, there are many open questions and the time it takes to ratify the Lisbon treaty should be used to find as many acceptable solutions as possible for all interested parties. I repeat therefore the offer to participate in talks.

Conclusion

[...] Wherever the Church engages herself, she is not interested in special rights and privileges, and we recall Pope Paul VI, who, addressing politicians in the Council embassy on 8 December, said: “All the [Church] expects from you is freedom. Freedom to believe and to preach belief, to love the freedom that is God and serve Him, to live in freedom and bring to humanity the message of life.” Even today, more than forty years later, nothing can be added to this wish. Dear brethren, thank you for your attention.


Appendix

Religious leaders meeting Brussels, 15 May 2007, Berlaymont building
A Europe built on human dignity (Human dignity, MDGs, Tolerance, article I-52)

In the first place I wish to underline the Catholic Church’s appreciation of the fact that human dignity and respect for it is the first value of the European Union, as is stated in article 2 of the draft EU Treaty as well as in article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. [...] 

As I said, human dignity applies to all human beings whatever their condition and state. The question of to whom human dignity is attributed has been disputed in the past and still is at present among Member States and citizens. Especially in the evolving field of life sciences and biotechnology, the concept of human dignity needs constant refinement as well as action in accordance with the precautionary principle. In issues where there is no agreement on the concrete meaning of human dignity, respect and protection have to be provided for a broader concept of human dignity including those human beings who are particularly vulnerable, be it the unborn or those vulnerable due to age or illness. Here I see concrete limitations to the concept of tolerance. Tolerance becomes a useful principle on the basis of a clear apprehension of the values at stake. In concrete terms : The form of “tolerance” applied in the EU Research Framework Programmes does not sufficiently take into account serious ethical concerns and reservations on research involving human embryos and human embryonic stem cells. Ladies and gentlemen: There is need for a major European debate on “human dignity in practice”. Such a meta-political debate must provide an open space of discussion and not discriminate against politically discomforting positions based on serious ethical, philosophical and anthropological insights. A regular dialogue between the EU institutions and Churches and religious communities will make an important contribution to this debate. Therefore, the provisions for such a dialogue and the necessary structures in the three EU institutions as enshrined in article I-52 of the Constitutional Treaty must be upheld in a future inter-governmental conference. Let me conclude by expressing my deep satisfaction that today’s meeting includes the Presidents of the three main EU institutions. This is the first time ever in the rich history of European integration that such a meeting has taken place and I feel honoured and proud to be present today. However, in order to conduct an ongoing dialogue on EU issues, today’s meeting as well as possible follow-ups, need to be complemented by meetings at working level in order to debate EU policy in more detail. I therefore suggest that contact points be established in the three institutions. Dear Mrs Merkel, Dear Mr Barroso, Dear Mr. Pöttering, thank you again for making this meeting possible. I now look forward to our exchange in the course of the discussion. God bless you all.

 



Source: http://www.comece.org/content/site/en/press/pressreleases/newsletter.content/966.html

(Formatting not in the original: there it is all one paragraph, with quotation marks, dashes and apostrophes all rendered as question marks.)
 


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