Pope Francis’ policy of aligning the Catholic Church with the secular “zeitgeist” appears to have enthusiastic followers at COMECE, the Brussels-based lobby bureau of Catholic Bishops’ Conferences in the EU. Since the new pontiff came into office in 2013, the focus of COMECE’s activities has shifted from themes such as bioethics, the work-free Sunday, religious freedom, or the situation of Christians in the Near East and China, to issues where the Church can find areas of convergence with the fashionable left. As one hears, under the aegis of its new President Cardinal Marx the new priority is to campaign against TTIP, the EU/US trade deal currently under negotiation, and to help the European Commission in averting climate change. Good Catholics, it appears, think and do the same as everybody else does. This is what makes them a socially relevant group.
Given the new partnership between the Church and the political left, it perhaps should not come as a surprise that in COMECE’s latest newsletter one finds a rather astonishing article on the political situation in Hungary by one Hans Schelkshorn, a lay professor at the Faculty of Theology of Vienna University. In this article, which is as soundly Catholic as the rants one might always expect to hear from certain MEPs like Guy Verhofstadt and Sophie in ‘t Veld, the professor bemoans the “ideology” of Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán.
Orbán, who has won a 2/3-majority in the Hungarian Parliament in two successive elections, is not ashamed of identifying Hungary as a “Christian nation”, an identity that he has vowed to maintain and defend. The idea that a nation could, and should, identify as Christian is apparently quite unacceptable for the enlightened theologian from Vienna, who describes it as “Christian post-fascism”.
In particular, Mr. Schelkshorn is greatly dismayed that the Hungarian government “announces, some would say without any regard for human rights or any Christian scruples, We don’t want to live together with Muslims.’”
However, no explanation is provided as to why someone should find it desirable to live together with Muslims, or indeed why Hungarians should be pleased at the thought of Muslim mass immigration and the Islamization of society it would inevitably entail. Will Islam make a society more modern? Or more peaceful? Does it enhance technological and cultural progress, or economic growth? Is there a lot of evidence that within a few years Muslim immigrants will be fully integrated into European societies? The experiences made in countries like France, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, are surely all very encouraging, aren’t they? And no doubt, the plight of Christians in the Near East, which just today was at last identified as a genocide by an EP resolution, should make all Christians desirous to have more Islam here in Europe, including in places where it hasn’t arrived yet.
What is truly astounding in the COMECE newsletter is the complete ignorance of, and disregard for, European culture and history. But the nations on the Balkan peninsula – and this includes Hungary – have for more than three centuries made the experience of living under Muslim rule, and this experience remains deeply engraved into their collective conscience. They know perfectly well what it means to be a dhimmi, and to be treated as second-class citizens. They know what it means to have their sons taken away and turned into janissaries. Is there any reason why they should want to make this experience for a second time?
Perhaps, in COMECE’s view, Pope St. Pius V., who worked so hard to build the alliance that defeated the Turkish navy at the 1571 battle of Lepanto, and thus prevented the Turks from invading Italy, should have been a bit more culturally open-minded? Perhaps, if he were still alive today, he would qualify as a “Christian post-fascist”? And perhaps the same would apply to Polish King Jan III. Sobieski who, in 1683, massacred a group of Turkish “migrants” at the gates of Vienna, preventing them in extremis from settling down in that city? And there are many other “Christian post-Fascists” that come to mind: Charles Martel, El Cid, Skanderbeg, Prince Eugene of Savoy, Stefan cel Mare, to name just a few…
How good that in the Catholic Church this narrow-minded attitude belongs to the now very distant past. Today, we surely are more enlightened than our fore-fathers used to be.