- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

United Press International
Pope John Paul II is lobbying European governments to officially recognize the European Union's Christian roots, but diplomatic sources say secular opposition is likely to block his efforts.
Vatican diplomats, and the pope himself in meetings with European officials, say they want to see a strong reference to Christianity worked into the preamble to the EU constitution, now being drafted by the Convention on the Future of Europe chaired by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
Working through the Catholic delegates among the more than 100 European parliamentarians attending the convention, the Vatican hopes to have a statement written into the text identifying the European Union with the Christian faith, a senior European official in Washington told United Press International yesterday.
The Vatican's argument is that Christianity's fundamental role in shaping European culture should be acknowledged in what is destined to become the European Union's key document. "It's something that is apparently close to Pope John Paul's heart," the official said. "But it won't survive the process."
A reference to the European Union as a Christian institution would further complicate the debate in Europe over whether Turkey is eligible for admission, some analysts say.
Turkey is officially a secular state but is seeing a revival of its Muslim origins. A party with Muslim roots, the Islamic Justice and Development Party, emerged with a majority in elections in November.
But European sources said that is only a secondary point. Although the picture was mixed, few of the 15 EU member states, and of the new members scheduled to join in the next two years, include a reference to religion in their respective constitutions. These sources report a widespread reluctance among convention delegates to involve religion in the process of shaping the new Europe.
Even predominantly Catholic Italy and Spain are not officially described as Catholic countries. The Italians removed the religious designation from their postwar constitution in 1945. France's tradition of secularism goes back to the French Revolution.
Greece is still officially an Orthodox country, but the Greek government, under pressure from the European Union, recently removed the bearer's religious affiliation from its passports. Britain recognizes the Anglican Church as the country's official religion, and the British monarch is the head of the church.
The convention expects to complete its work on determining the shape of the European Union by the autumn, after which its proposals will be sent to member governments for approval and finally adopted at a special conference in 2004.
"If anything, the statement the Vatican wants should more correctly refer to the Judeo-Christian culture, but that would really set the cat among the Islamic pigeons," the European official said. "But any reference to Christianity would create additional problems, and the [European Union] has enough of them."


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