How the Church became an unexpected battlefield in Europe’s new politics

In this article, Ben Ryan, Head of Research at Theos, a Christian think tank, argues that, in his view, the use of Christianity in the rhetoric of some of the populist movements arising in Europe can be dangerous

In 2003 Pope John Paul II in his exhortation Ecclesia in Europa lambasted Europe for its ‘loss of Christian memory’ and depicted Europeans as ‘heirs who have squandered a patrimony entrusted to them by history’. He had battled hard (and lost) for explicit recognition of Europe as a Christian continent defined by a history of Christian values in the preamble to the proposed constitution for the EU.

His successor Pope Benedict XVI would pick up the theme, making it his great mission to restore Europe’s Christian identity. Indeed, in April 2005 he would tell the pilgrims gathered in St Peter’s Square that his choice of name, honouring St Benedict, was because ‘He represents a fundamental point of reference for the unity of Europe and a strong reminder of the un-renounceable Christian roots of its culture and civilisation.’1

John Paul II and Benedict XVI were left disappointed. The overriding belief in European political life has in recent years been that religion the role of religion is akin to the appendix in the human body. Certainly, it had a purpose once, as part of our evolution, but today its purpose is unclear, and, on the whole, it can be happily ignored—except on those occasions when it erupts in a manner highly dangerous to the body as a whole.

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