Cry Freedom—Plug Catholicism
Pope John Paul ii, addressing the Vatican’s diplomatic corps on January 12, said that “religious freedom might be threatened in some European countries that confused the official separation of church and state with a ban on religion in the public sphere.” He chided an attitude in “some European countries that could effectively endanger religious freedom” (Reuters, January 12).
France is planning to ban all religious symbols in public schools—prohibiting Muslim girls from wearing headscarves, “which many Europeans see as a sign of growing Islamist influence among their Muslim minorities” (ibid.). Germany and Belgium have also considered similar legislation.
The pope appeared to be coming to the aid of minority European Muslims in the name of religion in general. But he was actually pushing democratic European nations to interpret the separation of church and state in a way that doesn’t exclude Catholicism. The Vatican is trying to prevent its influence from being marginalized by secular movements in European politics.
The pope said, “The difficulty to accept religion in the public sphere has been shown by the recent debate about the Christian roots of Europe”—not the debate about “religion” or the “separation of church and state.” He said some countries “have read history through reductive ideological glasses, forgetting what Christianity has contributed to the Continent’s culture and institutions.”
In these two statements, the pope summed up both the crisis in Europe today, and how the Vatican plans to fix it—that solution being a Europe united by its Christian, i.e. Catholic, roots.