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Europe’s Catholic leaders are undoing the good work of Pope Francis over the migrant crisis


Europe’s Catholic leaders are undoing the good work of Pope Francis over the migrant crisis


Pope Francis greets migrants at the Moria detention centre in Mytilene, Lesbos

Being a Merseyide Anglican, my Dad used to refer to the rites of the Catholic Church as “Roman mumbo jumbo”. He once gave a Catholic friend a lift to work, forgot the friend was a Catholic and – cursing another driver who cut in front of his car – shouted: “Who does that damn fool think he is, the Pope?” His friend declined all future lifts.

I thought my father was a bit extreme, but I didn’t like Popes very much either. Pope Pius XII, it seemed to me, failed in his duty to denounce the Nazis for their persecution of the Jews. I forgave Pope John Paul II his conservatism only because he infuriated George W. Bush by denouncing the 2003 Iraq war.

But I made peace with the Vatican when Pope Francis came along. I decided he was definitely a good guy when he went to Lampedusa in 2013 – long before the rest of our leaders started their lachrymosae for the refugees of the Middle East who were drowning in the Mediterranean – and asked if anyone had wept for the thousands who were dying in the coffin ships making for Italy. “We are a society which has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion,” he said. Good on yer, Pope, I thought.

Then up he popped again on Lesbos last month and took three Muslim refugee families back home to the Vatican. As Martin Schultz, President of the European Parliament, was to say, Pope Francis showed all of us “what it means to be human”.

If you thought all this was a bit of ‘Roman mumbo-jumbo’ dressed up as Christian charity, just listen to what the Pope had to say when he was awarded the European Charlemagne Prize this month. “What has happened to you, the Europe of humanism, the champion of human rights, democracy and freedom?” he asked. “What has happened to you, Europe, the mother of peoples and nations, the mother of great men and women who upheld, and even sacrificed their lives for, the dignity of their brothers and sisters?”

A big ouch. Especially from the regressive old men of eastern Europe who believe that they, and they alone, safeguard the blue-eyed, golden-haired birth right of Christian Europe.

First we had the odious Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary telling us that his country was defending the frontiers of “Christendom” when it was corralling the Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan because “Islam was never part of Europe”.

Then we had the Czech President, Milos Zeman – a left-wing politician – telling us that it was “probably impossible to integrate the Muslim community into European society”, claiming earlier that the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to “control Europe”.

Given Hungary’s grotesque fascist history and its pro-Nazi government’s dispatch of its Jews to Auschwitz, you’d have thought Orban (born in a Hungarian city which was the seat of its most anti-Semitic Catholic prelate, Bishop Ottaker ‘the Jews are eating us up’ Probaszka) might have spared us his lecture on European “culture”.

Far worse, Orban was followed only a few days ago by no less than the Archbishop of Prague, Cardinal Dominik Jaruslav Duka, who decided not only to demean Muslims, but pissed mightily on Pope Francis himself.

“The sensitivity of Pope Francis on social issues is different from ours in Europe,” said this paragon of Christian virtue. “Pope Francis is popular and there are different sources of his popularity. He also comes from Latin America, where the gap between rich and poor is much bigger.” As for Francis’ Lesbos trip, “it was just a gesture”.

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I suppose time was when a Pope would have sent a flagon of poison off to his errant cardinal, or at least a Vatican assassin with a rusty knife, especially when the meddlesome priest compared him unfavourably to John Paul, “who was able to attract the attention of crowds but… he knew the history of Nazism and Communism and he knew how difficult was the fight for freedom.”

Cardinal Duka even had a good word for the retired ex-Pope Benedict – the former Hitler Youth anti-aircraft gunner, who was also anti-abortion and claimed that Auschwitz was the product of a Nazi “ring of criminals” in Berlin.

“When you’d compare the language of these Popes [John Paul and Benedict] and their most frequent words, you’d see a big difference,” quoth Duka. “However, you have to take society’s mood into account.”

Ah yes, Pope Francis had to bend to ‘society’s mood’, didn’t he? And after all he came from a country, poor man, with a big gap between rich and poor – as if this very social crisis was not endemic in every east European nation between the First and Second World Wars.

Even Angela Merkel did not escape the cardinal’s scorn. She and European federalists had demanded a “welcoming culture” of accepting refugees from the Middle East, which was now dividing European societies and endangering their safety.

Not for the cardinal any comment on Pope Francis’ concern that the Mediterranean risked becoming a “graveyard”. Not a word from the Archbishop of Prague for Francis’ dream “of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.”

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To be fair, as they say, Cardinal Duka is also a brave man. He was persecuted by the Communists, imprisoned, and yet kept the faith.  No-one should lecture Duka on suffering. Yet his words suggest that he cannot understand the suffering of those who are not of his religion.

That is his problem or, as those of the faith might say, his sin. After all, it’s not as if the Catholic Church has an unblemished record in old Czechoslovakia.

When Hitler broke the country in two, Father Jozef Tiso, a viciously anti-Semitic priest, became president of the Nazi ‘Slovak Republic’ – and enthusiastically supported the deportation of his country’s Jews to Auschwitz, an exodus only temporarily halted when the Vatican intervened.  Would that Duka could re-read the biography of this wretched son of the church; Tiso wouldn’t have indulged in ‘gestures’, nor cared very much about ‘society’s mood’.

But even Duka’s current prime minister might reflect that Tiso must have thought it ‘practically impossible to integrate’ the Jewish community ‘into European society’. I know what my Dad would have said.

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