Cardinal Points

“There is a long tradition in Christianity and Catholicism in particular of believing in holding things together. So the Catholic stance towards an effort such as the EU is largely supportive.” Cardinal Nichols

Is there a Catholic view on Brexit? Or even a Christian one?

Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor think there is – otherwise why would they go on record with opinions on the matter? Archbishop Justin Welby is doubtful – but convinced that a Christian is obliged to vote. George Carey is for Brexit. But how seriously should we take these contributions – if at all?

History is not encouraging. Leo III crowned Charlemagne ‘imperator romanorum’, which might be thought to express a preference for a united Europe; but like other attempts at political union (Napoleon, Hitler) it did not last long. Does Pius VII’s presence at the coronation of Napoleon show a similar devotion to European union?  And who now would stand by Cardinal Innitzer’s decision to celebrate the Anschluss by ordering all the church bells in Vienna to be rung?

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Since Vatican II the Catholic Church, like most other Christian bodies, has been pro-democracy. But it was not always so. During most of the Church’s long history a referendum on any subject would have been viewed with abhorrence as a concession to the worst sort of mob rule. Monarchy – indeed absolute monarchy – was what the church sanctified and upheld – dynastic houses in the West (Hapsburgs, Bourbons, Tudors), Caesaro-papalism in the East.  And monarchy in the West was for long inseparable from the developing notion of the nation state.  The Brexiters’ talk of ‘sovereignty’ is rooted in the very Tudor notion that a kingdom is necessarily an empire in itself. And the Church of England’s enthusiasm for absolute monarchy was only extinguished by a civil war.

So what notice, if any, should we take of the opinions of churchmen in the present debate? Clearly there are some issues on which the Church has a legitimate say, and Catholics are duty bound to take heed. The cry that religion and politics should remain forever separate is simply an attempt by secularists to drive Christianity from the public square.  But on many, perhaps most, of the issues of contemporary politics there is no Catholic or even Christian, position.

The consequence of which is that what you think of Cardinal Nichols’s advice will rather depend on what you think of Cardinal Nichols.

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