Cardinal Ratzinger Says “No” to Turkish EU Membership

Today’s foreign-press reference comes courtesy of the New York Times Sunday editorial page, which cites a recent interview I missed in France’s Le Figaro of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Vatican prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Times editors condemn Cardinal Ratzinger – who can accurately be termed the Vatican’s ideologue-in-chief, and so is certainly close to Pope John Paul II – as a “meddlesome cleric” for offering his view that Turkey is “in permanent contrast to Europe” and so does not belong as a member-state of the European Union. Perhaps mid-August is a slow period to find things to comment on, or perhaps those Times editors really are so enthusiastic about seeing Turkey join the EU, but it’s at least curious that they want to offer comment on a piece which the vast majority of their own readers cannot read themselves – readable, in fact, only by ipso facto traitorous John F. Kerry-types who know French! – and so who are dependent on the quotes and extracts that those editors are willing to reproduce for them in English. A prime case, one could think, for EuroSavant to go take a look.

Cardinal Ratzinger’s interview, by Le Figaro’s Sophie de Ravinel, actually touches on a subject closer-to-home than the question of Turkey, namely the controversy over whether Kerry can advocate permitting abortion and still be a good Catholic. One wonders why the New York Times worthies didn’t focus more on this part, in which Mme. de Ravinel asks point-blank whether the recent document Cardinal Ratzinger published on the responsibilities of Catholic politicians was not “an intrusion by the Church and the Vatican into a country’s political life?”

Naturally it was nothing of the sort, according to the Cardinal; the Catholic Church certainly believes in pluralism and does not seek to impose its religion on others through politics. On the other hand, a Catholic politician should be expected to reflect and transmit the “light of reason” of his faith in his politics. After all, the State should be obliged to protect life from its first instant to its last – that’s not a matter of faith but simply stands to reason, the Cardinal maintains. Standing in opposition to this nonetheless necessarily means standing in opposition to “a fundamental element of the Christian conscience.” Not only politicians, but all Catholics need to keep this in mind during that “examination of one’s conscience” that is supposed to take place before one participates in Holy Communion. In any case, Cardinal Ratzinger sees no conflict between the Vatican and the American bishops on this issue: “if the modes of presentation are different, the principles, in contrast, are the same and clearly set out.”

But to the question of Turkey and the EU; or, rather, still not yet to the question of Turkey and the EU. Reading the interview, one has to say that the good Cardinal certainly didn’t bring up this subject on his own, but rather had it directly posed to him in a question. But it was a relatively late question – the penultimate – and one that did naturally flow from topics discussed just before. It had been in fact the question just before the one touching on John Kerry that had afforded Cardinal Ratzinger the chance to decry the high degree of secularization in present-day society (generally, but particularly in France), and so to insist that “the Christian faith [still] has something to say to the common morals and the composition of society” – “it’s a great spiritual force that should touch and illuminate public life.” Then things really got going when Mme. de Ravinel raised the issue of the failed attempts to get some mention of Europe’s Christian heritage written into the preamble of the European Constitution. That was definitely an error, Cardinal Ratzinger maintained, because “Europe is a continent that is cultural, not geographical. It’s her culture that gives her a common identity.” That Christianity formed this continent is “a simple fact of history.” And there’s no need necessarily to have to strain one’s brain going back thousands of years about this; Europe also faced a challenging “forming” process out of the destruction of the Second World War, and you’ll find that the politicians who led this – Schuman, Adenauer, de Gaulle, De Gasperi, etc. – were all personalities with strong religious components. The Cardinal can’t understand why people don’t realize all this; he even suspects a hidden European self-hate and/or hate of Europeans’ own history.

All of this, then, lays the groundwork for what at that point is the inevitable segue to discussing the Turkish candidacy. Naturally admitting Turkey would be another error: “Turkey has always represented another continent in the course of history, in permanent contrast to Europe.” Just think of the wars – the fall of Constantinople, the struggles to keep Turkish forces out of Central Europe (in particular, the two sieges of Vienna) after they had already overrun the Balkans and Hungary. Turkey may consider itself a lay or secular state, but it is founded upon a base of Islam – and so let Turkey pursue tight political integration with its own (i.e. Muslim) kind. Of course, cultural and commercial ties with Europe short of actual EU membership are always possible – but ultimately, making Turkey an EU member-state would mean “the disappearance of the cultural to the profit of the economic.”


Yes – exactly! Thank you, your Holiness! Diligent readers of this weblog will already be aware of my stand that, if American authorities want to urge the European Union to add to its polity a huge, economically-backward nation of mostly agricultural peasants, with a culture very different from its own (very different even after allowing for the wide cultural variation found within current EU-“Europe” itself), then let the USA go first to show what fun an exercise like that can be and make Mexico the 51st state. Perhaps the teaching of history in European secondary schools has regressed as much as it seems to have in the States – although it can’t really be as bad as that: there’s nothing like the school football and basketball teams over here to divert monies that should be going to teachers and textbooks – but it should be clear that Cardinal Ratzinger does have his historical facts right. What defined “Europe” as this continent was taking shape in the first millenium, or in the roughly six hundred years after the fall of Rome? It was precisely the spread of Christianity, the dispatch of missionaries from the Church’s home base in Italy – first to France (yes, France originally had to be won for Christianity, too), to England, to western Germany, then beyond the Oder to eastern Germany and Poland, to Scandinavia, etc. It was only when those wild tribes on the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea – e.g. the Latvians and Lithuanians – were finally Christianized that the job was considered done, and Europe was formed – and defined. (Remember the Teutonic Knights? They contributed their rather “tough-love” missionary techniques to that latter proselytizing effort.)

While this was going on, and afterwards, what were the threats to this “Europe”? The Vikings and Magyars were certainly threats, but ultimately they could be converted to Christ and so join Europe. On the other hand, the invasion of the Arabs through Spain – and, briefly, into France – was something that Europe could only beat back, since the strong Islamic faith of these invaders precluded any similar sort of assimilation. And the same was true with the Turkish invasions from the fourteenth century onwards. Today we clearly recognize Arab civilization as not of “Europe” and so not eligible for membership; why don’t we see the clear analogy that should be having us view the Turks in the same way? How many statements from Cardinals and similar authority figures will it take to drum this reality into the European consciousness?

(Of course, perhaps it already is there in the European consciousness, i.e. among the electorate in the various current EU member-states; it’s just apparently not there in the minds of most of the politicians who purport to represent these electorates, since the taking-up of serious negotiations towards Turkish accession seems inevitable later this year. Indeed, it’s clear we can’t expect clear-cut statements on this issue like we’ve had from Cardinal Ratzinger from these politicians – do they really all think that admitting Turkey is such a good idea, or are they instead perhaps afraid of Turkish anger if/when the door is finally closed on Turkish accession? For it is also true that the issue has so far been handled rather irresponsibly, with Turkey being given by the EU one hoop after another to jump through in pursuit of EU membership (the latest one being an engineering of the reunion of the Turkish and Greek halves of the island of Cyprus) when the responsible political thing to do would have been not to play around with this country but instead simply say, at as early a point as possible, “No, sorry, it’s impossible as you are not of Europe.”

Be that as it may, if it is true that the fundamental realities of Turkey as non-European are indeed already grasped by European voters, or will be soon enough, that means that Turkish EU accession can anyway be defeated by one or more negative results in ratification referenda shooting this project down. Then the politicians can turn to Turkey and blame their own constituents for the failure – although Turkey will still be disappointed and angry after having been led on for far too long.)


Finally, I don’t get the New York Times editors’ point that Vatican officials have no rite to “meddle” in this issue by offering their opinions. In the big picture, because of the respect accorded to their respective institutions (however different they may be) both high Vatican officials and high officials of respected media institutions like the New York Times do have the right to comment on leading issues of the day such as this. If anything, the New York Times’ opinion should be afforded rather less attention due to the lack of the direct stake which that newspaper has in which way the Turkey-in-the-EU question ultimately is resolved, compared to the bona fide European-resident Vatican. Still, while I know that those Times editorials get allocated only a certain minimum space, I would love to know what those editors thought they were saying by “it would be refreshing if the cardinal had chosen to emphasize the positive potential in combining the best Christian tradition of charity and the best Muslim tradition of social justice.” Christianity has some sort of advantage in “charity”? Islam in “social justice”? Unclarified and unextended as it remains, that just sounds like a worthless throw-away line to me, which wilts in the face of the solid historic and European-identity truths that Cardinal Ratzinger eloquently brings up (if in French) in the Figaro interview. But again, there is a simple solution to all this: let the Times editors (and for that matter let George W. Bush) gaze across the Rio Grande at their Mexican amigos before they resume advocating Turkish membership in the EU.

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