ROME – With European elections just three months away, the continent’s bishops have joined other Christian churches in lamenting that the Christian principles on which Europe was founded are either being sidelined or instrumentalized for political gain.

They have also called for an open and consistent dialogue between church and state, and asked that all European institutions and all candidates for European Parliament promote Christian values in pre-election campaigns and fight against the politicization of the faith.

In a joint March 20 statement, the Commission of Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) said challenges such as the successive economic, immigration, health and energy crises in Europe and the world, as well as current global conflicts, are compounded by a “broader crisis of values in the European area, which calls into question democratic principles and institutions.”

They pointed to a growing difficulty within European decision-making centers in responding to the situation, and said that as intellectual, political and religious actors, they felt called to assist in “redefining the framework of priorities for a sustainable future for Europe.”

In addition to COMECE, the statement was also signed by the Conference of European Churches, the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, and Together for Europe.

Among other things, the signatories said it is of “vital importance” to facilitate a participatory democracy and ensure the broadest possible participation of citizens in decision-making processes, as well as in the management of European affairs.

They noted that a significant portion of EU citizens who see the future of Europe through the lens of Christian values “now feel marginalized, as they do not have the opportunity to express their positions and opinions in an autonomous and distinct way.”

“We also notice the exclusion of any appropriate reference to Christian values in relevant EU texts,” they said.

Amid growing secularism, church leaders in Europe have long fought against progressive attempts to broaden legal protections for practices such as abortion and euthanasia, and they have consistently rallied against the rise of nationalist populism while advocating for a collective policy on issues such as migration and health, following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Their statement also comes after France recently became the first country to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right, a move some observers fear might spark similar legislative reforms in other countries throughout Europe.

In their statement, COMECE and the other signatories observed that “the importance of the Christian tradition as the ‘milieu’ in which today’s European values were established is being overlooked.”

“Precisely in this pre-election period, we, as Christians, express our willingness to ensure a substantial and in-depth political dialogue that would also be an opportunity to express our firm commitment to European values and the EU acquis,” they said.

They lamented that values such as peace, stability, prosperity and the rule of law “rather than rule by power,” which for years were taken for granted, “have now been torn apart.”

In addition, they also said a growing sense of fear and insecurity is dominating the perspective of a large portion of EU citizens on the future of Europe and the world.

“Fear motivates some of them to seek solutions and spiritual support in an objectified and instrumentalized version of tradition, sometimes disguised as an appeal to ‘traditional values,’” they said, criticizing the use of faith-based principles for political ends.

In these cases, they said, concepts such as ‘homeland’ and ‘religion’ “are weaponized, and dubious historical figures are turned into heroes.”

“All this takes place in a divided public place, increasingly characterized by polarization, and influenced by disinformation distributed in digital social networks,” they said, saying this obscures the possibility of dialogue and undermines receptivity to the opinion of experts, as well as “respectful disagreement.”

They said they have frequently observed a “reality of parallel monologues, as well as the development of closed community groups in which opinions devoid of critical thinking and counterargument are created and divulgated.”

In this environment, and with elections on the horizon, the signatories voiced their belief that Europe’s leaders and its political factions “are being called to reshape their own narratives based on the long-term trends that characterize the European integration process.”

Christian values, which are embraced by a large portion of European citizens, “can provide a guarantee of a safe approach to the changes and challenges we face,” they said.

To this end, they said it is essential for all European factions to take Christian values into account when it comes to policy, especially on core issues “and in a labyrinthine political landscape where citizens are particularly concerned about any shifting and unstable norms.”

The signatories assured of their commitment to working together in a dynamic and inclusive way in order to promote “a positive European agenda” in which Christian values serve as an inspiration.

They called for an open and stable dialogue with churches as outlined in the Treaty of Lisbon, and specifically called on political groups of the European Union, the various political parties, and all candidates for European Parliament to recognize Christian values “as a main foundation of the European project.”

To this end, they asked specifically that article 17 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – which introduced a legal obligation for the EU to conduct regular, open, and transparent dialogue with churches, religious associations, and non-confessional organizations – to be better implemented.

Signatories also asked that EU leaders and entities “fight against the instrumentalization of Christian values for political interests and in the perspective of ethno-racial narratives,” and promote Christian values in political programs and pre-election campaigns as June approaches.

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