Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor
THE Catholic Primate of All Ireland heaped pressure on the Government yesterday by warning that committed Christians voted against the Lisbon Treaty because they fear the European Union is becoming too secular.
The remarks, made at a political summer school, will dismay Taoiseach Brian Cowen and ministers while giving heart to militant Catholic action groups that joined forces to help defeat the June referendum.
Cardinal Sean Brady told the Humbert school in Ballina, Co Mayo, that he believed there was "unease" in the hearts and minds of committed Christians in relation to the direction being followed by the EU. But he stopped short of saying that he shared those misgivings, and pointed to some of the benefits of EU membership.
The most senior Roman Catholic churchman in Ireland called for calm and considered debate on the issues he had raised, saying that while some critics needed to open their eyes to the benefits of EU membership, others who were totally supportive of the EU had to listen to the concerns and reservations of others. There were people who were worried about the apparent loss of Christian ideas and memory in Europe, he said, and he had no doubt this was certainly a factor in the outcome of recent events.
"Ireland owes a lot to Europe and to the EU," Cardinal Brady said yesterday. "It's difficult to believe that Ireland would enjoy the peace in the North, or the economic progress in the South that we have today, without the support of the European Union."
He said the Roman Catholic Church had been very supportive of the ideals of the EU in the past, especially the idea of European solidarity with the poor. But it was also true that some people "are becoming uneasy about what is described as the loss of Christian values and memory in Europe".
EU policy decisions seemed frequently to be made without reference or recourse to Christian values and convictions, he added, "despite the fact that so many European citizens have religious faith and convictions".
Cardinal Brady said he was asking for calm, considered reflection to the matters he had raised. But he added: "We need a Europe that doesn't confine its debates to politics and history, but also takes into account social values, social cohesion, and the place of the family." For example, Brussels would do well to show greater respect for the views of families on educational issues, he suggested.
"I am asking that these matters be reflected upon, especially in light of recent events," he said, noting that the increasingly secular emphasis of the EU made it "more difficult for committed Christians to maintain their instinctive support for Europe".
Such a perception had certainly been a factor in the Lisbon referendum result, he felt. Unless these concerns were addressed, the unease would continue, he warned.
"There is no doubt about that. It is there in people's minds and hearts."
Cardinal Brady said he believed those who were hostile to Europe needed to realise the undoubted benefits of belonging to the EU, while committed europhiles needed to take on board the reservations of others, which was not to deny the hard work of Irish politicians, diplomats and civil servants in negotiating the Lisbon Treaty and bringing it before the people.