By Sean Ryan - 02 May, 2016
The Catholic bishops of England and Wales recently held a plenary meeting to discuss the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Reflecting on the vote, the bishops said in a statement that they “recognise the historic nature of this referendum and its implications for future generations”.
They continued, “The outcome will have consequences for the future not only of the United Kingdom, but for Europe and for the world.”
“In our view, three things are essential: that we pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit; that we all inform ourselves of the arguments on both sides of the debate and that we each exercise our vote with a view to the common good of all.”
Examining the origins of Britain’s membership of the EU after World War II, the statement says that “The coming together of European countries in the aftermath of a catastrophic war was designed to bind together former combatants and the contribution of the European project to peace in Western Europe should be recognised.”
They reminded people of Pope Francis’ address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 25 November 2014, where he stressed that the ideals which shaped this European project from the beginning were peace, subsidiary and solidarity.
“In the Treaty of Rome, trade was harnessed to peace. The peace achieved in Western Europe shows indeed how “our problems can become powerful forces for unity” (par 5). Our decision in the referendum should thus be taken in the context of how best we can promote justice and peace.”
Going forward the Bishops state, “Our focus needs to be above all on the human person. We need to build a Europe “which revolves not around the economy but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values (par 37).”
“We all have a responsibility to keep the dignity of the human person at the forefront of the debate. We must ask ourselves, in the face of every issue, what will best serve the dignity of all people both within Europe and beyond.”
Commenting on the forthcoming referendum the Bishops state, “This referendum therefore is about much more than economics. We must not forget the profoundly religious roots of European nations; that Europe has a two thousand year-old Christian culture that has shaped the continent and is a dynamic spiritual, moral and intellectual resource as we address the future.”
“As Pope Francis reminds us, we need continually to ask ourselves: who is my neighbour? In response to grave challenges, we are called to be generous and welcoming to all others, especially the most vulnerable.”
“Each person will have their own views about the best political framework in which to realise these ideals. We acknowledge the justifiable concerns that many people have in relation to the European Union, its institutions and the implications of increasing integration.”
They said the referendum was an opportunity to “reflect on those values we cherish as a nation and as Catholics. High among these values are mutual respect and civility, vital in this national conversation about the very future of our nation within the world.”
The Referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union takes place on 23 June next.