John Paul II's Legacy in Europe: Hope and Empowerment

A Reflection on the Late Pontiff's Achievements in Building Culture of Life on the Continent

Rome, (Zenit.org) Roger Kiska | 1052 hits

It is indeed a grand task to try and summarize the legacy of Pope John Paul the Second.

I have been asked specifically to speak on the issue of Europe.  Being here in Rome I am brought back to two memories.  The first a childhood memory from Manitoba, Canada where I grew up with a great number of Slovaks and other Central and Eastern Europeans who fled from the monster of communism.  I was 7 and John Paul was coming to Winnipeg for an open air mass.  For my family it was a special honor, as my father…. a structural steel engineer…. was given the task of designing the Alter.  At the age of 7 I thought of Pope John Paul the Second as a superhero.  I remember the mass was on a Saturday and the next day at our small Slovak parish, where I served as an alter boy, I had day dreams that he would come and surprise us with a visit.  It was perhaps a silly childhood wish but what has never changed is my belief that he was a superhero.

The second memory I have is of conversations with several leaders of the Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia. When they spoke of their experiences in challenging Socialism, they all had one thing in common….that was that  eventually during the conversation the name of John Paul would always come up.

Indeed, Pope John Paul the Second was a towering figure in the miraculous events that happened in 1989 when the Iron Curtain fell throughout Europe. That legacy is what I wish to speak about today.  Because it is that legacy which is perhaps most under threat….this time not from Moscow but from Brussels, and from Strasbourg and from Geneva.  It is often said that the Communists didn’t die out in 1989, they simply re‐branded and moved to Brussels.

One of the hallmarks of the iron curtain was state control of every aspect of one’s life…whether it be religion, freedom of expression, the provision of goods and services, freedom of association, and so forth.

While there are countless issues regarding how the European institutions and national governments are suppressing religious freedom and other fundamental rights,  today I would like to address two of those rights: freedom of expression and so‐calledanti‐discrimination laws.

Addressing the issue of freedom of expression, I would note first that modern day “hate speech” laws were initially introduced into international law at the United Nations  by the USSR, former Yugoslavia and former Czechoslovakia.

The first attempts to introduce “hate speech” into the corpus of international law failed during the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights because Western democracies like Canada, the United States, Belgium  and the United Kingdom fought tooth and nail to keep them out. The same battle took place when the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was being drafted.

This time the communists got in some of their language. The irony among ironies is that all of those countries that fought to introduce “hate speech” all fell under the weight of their tyranny.  However, the concept they introduced….. the concept that the West fought so hard to keep out of the United Nations… is exactly what those same nations now are forcing upon Europe and the West.

I would also note that “hate speech” laws do not work. Laws prohibiting anti‐Semitic speech were present in the Weimar Republic in an attempt to stop the uprising of the National Socialist Party.  Far from stopping Nazism and anti‐Semitic speech, it made heroes of those prosecuted under the law among their fringe followers.  It empowered their hate and gave them a broader platform.

On the flip side, freedom of expression transforms cultures. The words and actions of the late Pope John Paul II  and the brave members of Solidarnos proved this to be true by standing up to communism and winning!

Evangelism also changes lives. To the sinner, of course the words of the gospel can be offensive and hard to hear.  That is why God blessed us with Grace.

In the words of one leading court judgment: Free speech “includes not only the inoffensive, but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome  and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence. Freedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having.”

What is truly sad is that we in Europe have recreated the concept of the witch hunt.

Those who dare challenge the cultural orthodoxy of the day by speaking on behalf of the family, against homosexual behaviour, for life  and for religious freedom  are losing their jobs,  being fined and even going to prison.  No less than 4 Catholic Bishops in Europe have had prosecutorial files opened against them  simply for speaking out against homosexual behaviour. A Bishop in Ireland had a file opened up against him for referring to Ireland as a   Godless culture—  a statement which apparently offended an atheist.

And anyone who was following either the Commission Hearings of Rocco Buttiglione or Tonio Borg know very well what I am talking about!

What we have learned from the life of John Paul is that free speech is never free.  If we want to impact culture in a radical way,  just as the beloved Pontiff did, we must expect consequences.  But we must continue to kick at that darkness until it bleeds daylight.

A second area of state control, one becoming equally rampant in Europe, is the use of so‐calledanti‐discrimination laws.  In fact, one of the most existential threats to religious liberty in Europe today is the European Union’s proposed Equal Treatment Directive on goods and services.  The Directive,  if adopted, will have to be transposed into the national legislation of all 28 EU Member States and will have “sexual orientation” as a protected grounds for discrimination. The legislation could make cases against Christian service providers commonplace in Europe. What’s more is that the legislation is so vague that it can be abused with impunity.

For example, the Directive introduces the concept of harassment. If an individual receiving a service or refused a service feels harassed he or she can bring a claim [and shockingly the Directive uses a subjective standard rather than an objective standard]. Equally shocking is that there is a rebuttable presumption of guilt.  That means that the service provider is guilty until proven innocent.

Looking to the United Kingdom, we can see that similar legislation adopted there has already led to widespread litigation. Bed and breakfast owners are being sued for refusing to let a single bed in their private home to a same‐sex couple.   Foster parents are being refused the privilege of fostering children because they oppose homosexual behavior.

An entire diocese was successfully sued when it refused to hire a man    openly engaged in the homosexual lifestyle as their youth pastor.

Let’s start with a brief piece of history.  In 2007 the United Kingdom adopted the Sexual Orientations Regulations. In 2007, the same year the Regulations were adopted,  there were 14 Christian adoption agencies in the United Kingdom: 11 Catholic Adoption agencies in England and Wales;  2 Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Scotland; and one Evangelical adoption agency in England and Wales.

As a result of the Sexual Orientation Regulations, all 14 agencies suffered severe repercussions.

Of these 14,  several of which had existed for a hundred years or more   and were credited with placing the most difficult children with families, 11 of them were either forced to remove their Christian ethos and become secular adoption agencies or they went out of business completely. Catholic Care, in the Diocese of Leeds, continues to fight to remain open but is facing an uphill battle.

To put this into perspective:  the two Catholic adoption agencies in Scotland accounted on average  for 20 percent of the adoptions in Scotland each year.  Of the 11 Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales, they performed one/third of all private adoptions in the United Kingdom. Before closing its doors to business,  the Westminster Catholic Children’s Society alone  provided services to more than 3000 children, young people and their families.

While we lament the loss of ethos based adoption agencies because of gender politics, what is equally deplorable is that in the name of so‐called “sexual orientation”, countless children will stay in orphanages  or inadequate foster care because of the loss of these adoption agencies.

Europe is indeed at a cross‐roads. And there is much reason for hope. And much of that hope comes from our youth….and this in itself is a testament to the legacy of Pope John Paul the Second  and the tremendous focus he put into reaching out to young people.  All throughout Europe we see increasingly and historically robust opposition to same‐sex “marriage”  and same‐sex adoption.  Much of these grass roots efforts have been begun by students  and young professionals.

In France, Le Manif Pour Tous mobilized marches through the streets of Paris and  around France with a million protestors.  In Croatia, youth together with the Church collected an astounding amount of signatures to force a referendum on the question of marriage.  Just at the signature gathering stage, nearly 20 % of Croatians signed to Constitutionally protect the sanctity of marriage.  In the actual referendum, 66% of voters voted in favour of conjugal marriage.

In the United Kingdom, an astounding 668, 000 people signed a petition in favour of marriage as between one man and one woman.  A competing petition put online by homosexual agenda organizations and with corporate sponsorship received only 50, 000 signatures. That is 13 times less signatures. A number so embarrassing, they were forced to shut the website down.

In 2012, Slovenians voted down a family code that would have allowed same‐sex civil unions. And in Slovakia, the Parliament has already passed the first reading of a Constitutional amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage as between one man and one woman.

For those on the left who think that the marriage debate it over….I say: “you haven’t seen anything yet!”

The fight for the unborn child,  another battle near and dear to our beloved John Paul, has also taken a decidedly positive step forward… in fact several massive steps forward. The Court of Justice of the European Union….  in October 2011…. in the case of Brustle v.

Greenepeace ruled that in the context of patent law,    life must be seen as beginning from conception.  The landmark ruling is unique in that it is the first inter‐governmental judgment of its kind. No other ruling or other binding legal instrument contradicts it.

Second,  we have seen several national parliaments in Europe tighten their laws (either judicially or through their Constitutional processes)  to limit access to abortions. At the same time,  the European Parliament failed to pass a resolution promoting abortion known as the Estrela Report….. Sorry I misspoke…. because of our collective efforts the European Parliament failed not once,  BUT TWICE,  to pass the much maligned Estrella report. The sounds of Ms. Estrella weeping and gnashing her teeth can still be heard in the halls of Strasbourg!

And of incredible significance has been the success of the One Of US European Citizenship Initiative which has collected nearly 2 million signatures Europe‐wide.  The purpose of the initiative is to have the European Commission initiate legislation to protect life,    stop the funding of embryonic stem cell research  and end its foreign policy spending towards overseas abortions.

And so to conclude,  I want to go back again to the question of the legacy of our beloved Pope John Paul the Second.  And I believe what his legacy in Europe is can be summed up by two words: HOPE and EMPOWERMENT.  Who would have ever thought that a Polish born Catholic…. under Communism nonetheless…. could become arguably the most important figure in the 20th Century.  Many of the battles he fought are now our battles to fight.  Just as Communism and its twisted ideals did not die entirely with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall…. so too must we not let the grand legacy of John Paul have been in vain.

It is not the role of government to keep Christians from being able to live their lives in truth. It is not the role of government to stifle the teaching and preaching of moral theology.    It is not the role of government to compel service providers and professionals to act contrary to their consciences. This is a fundamental misreading of the foundational Treaty documents drafted after World War II which were meant to take the power out of the hands of  government and give them to the people where natural law properly places them!    

So let us celebrate the life and sainthood of John Paul the Second this weekend.

And let us continue to fight for his legacy. Thank you.

*** 

Roger Kiska serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom and is based in Vienna, Austria, where he specializes in international litigation with a focus on European law. This is the text of a speech he gave at the C-FAM / ADF Rome conference "Building a Global Culture of Life: The Legacy of St. John Paul the Great at the UN" on 25 April 2014.