Thursday, June 05, 2008

The Irish bishops on Lisbon

Not to be outdone, the Irish bishops’ conference has released a pastoral letter offering guidance to the Catholic faithful of this country on the thorny question of the Lisbon Treaty. It is available (pdf format) here. There is also a press release on the pastoral here.

Having read the bishops’ five-page document and expecting some form of clarification from the Church on the issues at stake in the referendum, Melancholicus was reduced to feeling much like Omar Khayyam who, in search of answers, “frequented both doctor and saint” but afterwards “went out by that same door where in I went”.

This because the poor idiot forgot that in dealing with the Irish bishops’ conference he was dealing with an organ of the conciliar church, and the documents put out by all such organs tend to be characterised by a studied ambiguity that is almost breathtakingly anglican in its refusal to commit itself to any particular position if other positions are thereby excluded.

On the first page of their pastoral, the bishops call on the faithful to “study and reflect prayerfully on the contents of the Treaty”, while reminding us that “there is a responsibility on all of us to exercise our franchise by casting our ballot”. So far so good, but any member of Fianna Fáil could have told us as much. The bishops then “condemn unreservedly those who would seek to influence the outcome of the referendum either by offering misleading or even patently incorrect advice or by introducing extraneous factors into the debate”. This has been taken in some circles as a condemnation of the No campaign. However, misinformation and dire warnings are by no means restricted to groups campaigning for a No vote; on how many occasions have not only our own politicians but also EU commissars threatened us with the end of the world and with dire economic misery should we have the temerity to exercise our democratic right to vote No?

Shall we permit ourselves to be bullied by these ‘gentlemen’?

The bishops then pass on to a discussion of ‘values’ in Europe, with reference to ‘Europe’s Christian heritage’. Completely absent from the thought of these our shepherds and successors of the Apostles is any awareness that ‘values’ is a subjective and essentially secular term that can be invested with whatever nuances of meaning that one wishes; it does not necessarily involve adherence to the natural law, to the good, or to right reason. Absent also is any recognition — never mind condemnation — that the EU is essentially a godless and secular institution which has very deliberately cast aside its Christian heritage in favour of a post-Enlightenment French revolutionary world view. But then the fog of bewilderment introduced into Catholic social and political life by Dignitatis Humanae has rendered the bishops unable even to notice such things.

True to form, the bishops do not inform us whether ratification of the Lisbon Treaty will usher in the sort of ‘values’ they expect the Catholic faithful to be interested in, never mind whether it will preserve whatever vestiges may remain of Europe’s Christian heritage — all of which makes the point of their pastoral rather redundant, unless the point is restricted merely to telling us that we must vote. This is probably because they can’t, rather than because they won’t. The Treaty is sufficiently complex as to permit possible future developments in a direction that no-one (whether in the Yes or No camp) can have foreseen with any certainty.

The bishops then move on to the sort of Europe “we want for our children”. Here again there is much concentration on ‘values’ (let the reader count how many times the bishops use this word throughout their pastoral) with a mixture of praise and criticism of the contemporary world. This is fine as far as it goes, but what has it to do with the Lisbon Treaty? Reading some passages of this pastoral, one could be sure that the bishops are calling for a No vote, but turn over the page and one would be prepared to swear on one’s grandmother’s grave that the bishops are urging their flock to vote Yes.

Finally, at the bottom of p. 5 and in a state of total dissatisfaction and bewilderment, one finds a reflection on St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, co-patroness of Europe. Anxiously racing through the last few lines, during which the bishops obligingly condemn Nazism and the holocaust, we are convinced that before it ends the bishops will surely give us their recommendation on whether ratification of the Lisbon Treaty is good for Ireland.

Except they don’t.

What a let down! After nearly two centuries of Irish Catholics happily being able to depend upon the hierarchy for instructions to vote this way or that, the bishops have finally broken with tradition and have washed their hands of the matter — leaving us frustratingly ill-advised facing a referendum in which this voter at least would actually have welcomed some kind of recommendation from the hierarchy, however contrary it may have been to his own inclinations, a recommendation more specific than simply “go out and vote”.

If every manner of man in this country can have a position on the Lisbon Treaty, why not also the bishops?

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