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Sunday 30 November 2014


Speech shows that Pope Francis is definitely a Catholic

The Pope bluntly told many home truths to the EU elite last week, says Ruth Dudley Edwards

Pope Francis delivers his speech at the Presidential palace in Ankara. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Pope Francis had two diplomatic fixtures last week. He won his first when the EU decided not to field a team. In his second, which is still in progress, he faces a more serious challenge.

Before we complain about what he did and didn't say or do, could we give the fellow a break and the benefit of the doubt? He's almost 78; he has only one lung; he was catapulted in March 2013 into the headship of a scandal-ridden, global entity with more than a billion followers; although apart from two periods of a few months staying with fellow Jesuits at schools of philosophy and theology (1980 in Dublin and 1986 in Frankfurt) he has always lived in Argentina, on becoming Pope he had to settle in that snake-pit otherwise known as the Vatican; his attempts to clean up the Catholic Church's finances and reform its bureaucracy have made him powerful enemies; the hard-line right think him a dangerous radical who is undermining every basic principle of Catholicism; the hard-line left - who chose to interpret his remark "Who am I to judge?" as meaning there would be female and gay priests tomorrow - have decided he's all mouth and no trousers, and both these factions appear bent on civil war.

Anyway, last Tuesday, when he addressed the European Parliament, there was no messing about. The Pope may live in the Vatican, but his perspective is not European: 41pc of Roman Catholics live in Latin America; despite religious persecution, Africa (15pc) and Asia (12pc) have the fastest growth, while the Catholic population of Europe, (23pc) is tumbling. In his view, what with globalisation and technological change, the world is a different and much less Eurocentric place than when in 1988, in Strasbourg, Pope John Paul II hailed the EU as a "beacon of civilisation".

"In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and ageing, of a Europe which is now a 'grandmother', no longer fertile and vibrant," he told the 700 MEPs and assembled Eurocrats. "The great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions." Though larger and stronger, the EU "seems to give the impression of being somewhat elderly and haggard, feeling less and less a protagonist in a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion."

He criticised selfish lifestyles, a preoccupation with technical and economic questions, a "throwaway culture", "uncontrolled consumerism", indifference to the poorest of the world and the domination of debate by technical and economic questions to the detriment of concern for people who "risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine" that discards them when no longer useful - "as in the case of the terminally ill, the elderly who are abandoned and uncared for, and children who are killed in the womb". And while the EU promotion of human rights was a laudable commitment to enhancing human dignity, the "common good" should trump the rights of the individual.

There was plenty more of substance in this fine, tough speech, including the chilling reminder when he spoke of getting the EU act together about immigrants: "We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery!"

(The Guardian, which provides much unwitting humour, had an article explaining that after his "massive faux pas" over grandmothers, "the love-in with Pope Francis is over; or at least it is as far as this Catholic feminist is concerned.")

Last Friday, he began a three-day visit to Turkey. The Christian population there has fallen from 20pc a century ago to around 0.2pc; there is rapid Islamisation of society; Christians face increasing persecution and President Erdogan made a speech before the Pope's arrival complaining about European Islamophobia, explaining that non-Muslims "like seeing us, our children die" and asking threateningly, "How long we will continue to tolerate this?"

The Pope didn't appear fazed. In his opening speech he praised Turkey for taking in 1.6 million Syrian refugees, but called for interfaith dialogue to fight extremism: "Fanaticism and fundamentalism, as well as irrational fears which foster misunderstanding and discrimination, need to be countered by the solidarity of all believers."

The other day, I (a Judeo-Christian atheist) asked a right-wing American Catholic friend if he thought the Pope was a Catholic. He wasn't sure. I think last week proved he is.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards