Too often lambasted as “neo-Nazis,” the people and parties representing the new, populist Right in Europe have concerns the Church should recognize.
Type in “populism” and “Europe” in your Google search bar and you’ll likely be convinced the world is just days away from giving rise to the next Hitler.
“Liberal democracy in the West is on the fritz,” lamented the New York Times. “Nationalist, xenophobic movements across Europe are on the rise.”
Some in the Vatican, too, are echoing the media’s criticism of the Right in Europe, speaking out against the anti-immigration attitudes of many of the various parties. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin recently told an Italian news station that the he was worried that Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of new nationalistic movements in Europe represented feelings that “are born of fear, which is not a good counsellor.”
Pope Francis, for his part, has issued statements that have been interpreted as warnings against the growing European Right and the new strain of populism. While the pope’s sometimes deliberately vague warnings are often used by the media to advance left-wing agendas, there’s no escaping his recent reference to Hitler when discussing nationalism and populism.
All of this forms the backdrop of Pope Francis’ comments last week at the International Forum on “Migration and Peace,” where he reiterated and encouraged developed nations (particularly in Europe) to welcome the hundreds of thousands of Middle East and African refugees fleeing conflict.
For the Christian and non-Christian alike, the message seems clear: the European Right threatens the very existence of not only democracy, but also a moral order.
Except it doesn’t.
The media, aided by a myriad of left-leaning interest groups, has oversimplified the narrative by drawing black and white shades around complex issues, creating homogenous movements, and vilifying the outspoken leaders of these movements as fear-mongering demagogues. The irony is that much of criticism of the Right is itself fear mongering and dismissive of the legitimate concerns of the people flocking to these parties.
In reality, much of what the European Right represents is not “fascism” (an ideology that died with Mussolini) but Euroscepticism, an ideology that, if not reconcilable with Catholicism, is not necessarily anthethical.
This is because the European Union itself has adopted an antagonistic position to Christianity over the last 20 years. As Catholic historian Roberto di Mattei has noted, the EU charter on human rights “not only expunges any reference to Europe’s religious roots, but has in itself a visceral negation of the natural and Christian order.” Ironically, many of the founders of the EU, including Konrad Adenauer and Robert Schuman, were Catholic. But Schuman, who was twice prime minister of France, likely didn’t envision what the EU would become. From promoting abortion among young people to pushing “gender identity” legislation, the EU has maintained a relativistic social program that demonizes member nations that ground their identity in Christian morality or national self-interest. This is globalism in a distinctly humanistic state—one in which God is unnecessary.
According to Alan Fimister, a professor of theology and Church history at St John Vianney Seminary, Schuman “would have been appalled by the culture of death” and the “creeping dictatorship of relativism” that the EU has embraced. To add to the woes caused by the cultural upheaval advanced by the EU, the idea of a ruling elite from Brussels dictating the economic and social policy of nations like Poland or Hungary (which lean socially conservative) has caused consternation among many Europeans who feel their voices and their cultures lost.
To be sure, Euroscepticism is not an overtly Christian response or phenomenon. Dutch politician Geert Wilders is one of the most outspoken leaders within the European Right, drawing most of his support from a highly secular base that sees Islam as an existential threat. I could live without Wilders, whose bombastic rhetoric toward Islam should scare anyone concerned with religious freedom. But for every Wilders, there’s a Marion Maréchal-Le Pen scolding the French parliament for censoring pro-life speech, or Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party rebuking the EU over its radical pro-abortion agenda. That is to say that the European Right is more diverse than a platform built on anti-immigration and anti-globalization.
As to the question of Islamic immigration in Europe, it has to be considered through realistic lenses of both security and identity. Pope Francis is right when he speaks of the “promotion of an integral human development of migrants, exiles and refugees,” but the question of protecting refugees is something that the international community must face. The European Right, it seems, is being unfairly criticized in the court of public opinion; after all, the wealthiest of Muslim nations have hardly opened their borders to refugees. And make no mistake about it: the Catechism is very clear in giving governments the discretion to limit immigration should factors like security be a concern:
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
Let’s be honest: after a spike in Islamic terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, not to mention political unrest in poorly integrated areas of Europe, refusing to bring in more refugees is hardly justified by a purely xenophobic attitude, if one at all. This is as much an issue that should be solved according to the principle of subsidiarity than forced upon nations by a bloated international governing body.
No one should excuse aggressive nationalism and racism of the fringe Right wing groups in Europe. However, to dismiss the rise of the “populist” European Right, including movements with an emphasis on culturally Christian values, as “xenophobic” and a danger to world order, is preposterous. Constantly comparing leaders like Marine Le Pen (who has recently pledged to end same-sex marriage in France if elected president) to Hitler is not only bad for discourse but also belittles the Holocaust, reducing it to a political tool. Rather then vilify right wing movements in Europe, the Church must seek to understand the cultural decay that’s driven ordinary Europeans to the margins, and recognize the dangers that both secularization and Islamization of Europe present.