London, 10 July 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A leading Polish cleric has spelled out the views of Pope John Paul on the eastward expansion of the EU, saying the pontiff believes the EU should welcome members from Central and Eastern Europe.
Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, former secretary general of the Polish Bishops' Conference and current head of the Papal Divinity School in the city of Cracow, says the Pope believes "there is no alternative to a united Europe" and also that the western half of Europe owes a "moral debt to countries of the ex-communist bloc."
Giving the Europe Lecture at the Polish Embassy in London last night, Pieronek spoke on the theme, "The Catholic Church and European Integration." He said Popes from Pius XII to the present have shown growing support for a united Europe, as a means to prevent wars by building new political structures. But he also said the Church believes that a united Europe can be of consequence only when it becomes a 'community of the spirit' -- one open to all.
"European openness necessitates the readiness to expand by welcoming into the community those countries which are not yet within its structures, especially the Central-Eastern European nations and, more still, not to lose interest in other countries and continents, other religions and cultures even if they were formed outside of Christianity and Europe. . .The Pope's view of European expansion also seems to include the idea of the West's moral debt to countries of the ex-communist bloc."
The East/Central European church hierarchy originally feared that membership of the EU would bring 'spiritual pollution" from the western 'materialist' half of Europe. Many clerics feared the import of social evils, such as abortion and sexual permissiveness, and also the western trend to falling congregations and empty churches. Pieronek himself said the clergy had "stereotyped suspicions" that "clandestine forces" would seek to destroy Christianity, overthrow moral principles, and advocate "moral relativism".
But attitudes have turned 'about face' in the past three years. Doubt has been replaced by enthusiasm, by a feeling that EU membership will give churchmen a historic opportunity to conduct what John Paul calls a "new evangelization" of the West.
Pieronek cited a recent poll in Poland which found that 84 percent of the clergy were in favor of European integration -- a higher figure than for the nation as a whole. The attitude of the Polish Episcopate was favorably influenced by a visit to Brussels of a delegation of Polish bishops, a mission that coincided with the EU debate on enlargement to the east. The EU has invited 10 Central East European countries, including Poland, to apply for accession.
Pieronek says Pope John Paul understands the fears of those in Eastern and Central Europe who worry about the dangers to religious life, morality and family unity. He is aware that the tendency in the western half of Europe to sever the link with the "transcendental dimension" and "to live as if God did not exist" poses a danger to Christianity, the Church and man himself.
Accordingly, the pontiff has called for a "new evangelization" aimed at renewing Europe's Christian faith, and promoting spiritual values across a united continent. He also wants the Church to promote the material and social welfare of Europe:
"This recreation of society's structures should make Europe, and the Europeans, sensitive to the needs of others, to the existing unjust North-South divide, the plight of the starving, the migrants, the unemployed and, above all, it should impel them to defend the basic human values, which are shown by the protection of human life and family values."
The lecture by Pieronek was one of a series staged by the Polish embassy in London on the theme of European integration.