Catholic / Orthodox Relations
Bishop Hilarion of Vienna and Austria: Towards an open, transparent and regular dialogue between the churches and the European Institutions
Bishop Hillarion, 4/22/2005
Vienna - Paper delivered at a meeting of religious organizations and associations at the European Parliament, 22 April 2005
The European Constitutional Treaty calls for an open, transparent and regular dialogue with churches and religious, as well as philosophical and non-confessional organizations (article I-52). Why is the dialogue with the churches necessary? How should it be organized? What should be its purpose and subject? Who are the main partners in this dialogue? And what results can we expect from it?

1. The European intellectual discourse of today is characterized by the opposition of two very different systems of values: one based on the anthropological theories inherited from the Age of Enlightenmen t, another based on a traditional religious world-outlook. This opposition is often characterised as a clash between liberal humanism based on scientific knowledge on the one hand, and 'theological and metaphysical speculations of the past' on the other. In reality, however, we are dealing here with two very dissimilar versions of humanism: one deriving from atheistic convictions, another inspired by religion and drawing from spiritual values. Religion, moreover, does not belong exclusively to the realm of the past: it is a vital spiritual force, inspiring millions of people at the present. The recent funeral of Pope John Paul II, which attracted immense crowds to Rome and generated an unprecedented outpouring of love, demonstrated the vitality of religion, its vigour and relevance. One would have to work hard in order to convince those who attended this extraordinary funeral or watched it on television that we are living in a 'post-Christian' epoch or that Europe has lost i ts religious roots.

2. One may therefore not speak about religious value system as outdated, outmoded and old-fashioned, as the one to be replaced by secular attitudes and norms. We are not dealing with the succession of value systems in their historical development: the question is rather about their opposition to one another, which sometimes leads to political, religious and armed conflicts. The dialogue between the two sides is essential in order to prevent such conflicts through harmonising the two value systems, which are destined to co-exist in the future. To propose only one value system as universal and having no alternative means to nourish the potential explosiveness of today's inter-cultural situation, in which a total dictate of Western humanist ideology is often considered as a threat to those societies that are based on traditional religious norms. The most extreme example of such conflict is the recent outburst of terrorism, which cannot be understood without taking into account the reaction brought forth in the contemporary 'non-Western' world by the attempts of the West to impose its world-view and behavioural standards on it. We are used to hearing statements on how terrorism has neither nationality nor denomination, and nobody doubts that unsolved problems of an ethnic or political nature are the main causes of terrorist acts. But it is impossible to deny the fact that the most aggressive perpetrators of modern terrorism are inspired by a religious paradigm, viewing their acts as a response to the total hegemony of Western secularism.

3. Modern liberal humanists like to criticize religions for an aggressive potential which is supposedly ingrained it them, as well as for their alleged inability to cope with one another. (One of the main arguments against the inclusion a reference to Christianity in the European Constitutional Treaty was precisely the fear to offend Moslems and to prevent T urkey from joining the EU.) In reality, however, all major world religions have a peaceful character and are well equipped for living together in harmony. In Europe, in particular, Christianity coexisted with Judaism and Islam for many centuries. What the religions have difficulties in coping with is the militant atheism and secularism, which poses a real challenge to their self-understanding. Utterly unacceptable for most religions is, for example, modern attempt to ban them from the public sphere - from schools, universities, mass media, political and social life - and to reduce them to the realm of private devotion. This contradicts the missionary imperative of most religions, notably Christianity, which believes that it must have an ample space in the public sphere in order to promote its understanding of values, its spiritual and moral teaching.

4. The dialogue between religion and liberal humanism which we so desperately need is not about theology or religious beliefs. It is an anthropological dialogue, whose main subject is the destiny of humanity. I am deeply convinced that churches and traditional religions can offer an anthropological paradigm which is absolutely essential for modern society. In the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) this paradigm is based on the notion of humans as being created by God, after His image and likeness. From there stem the ideas of an absolute ethical norm and of a divinely-inspired moral law, as well as of a deviation from it, known as sin. These notions are alien to liberal humanism, with its stress on the right of each individual to his or her own way of life, which extends insofar as it does not cause harm to others.

5. There are many concrete examples of striking contradiction between modern secular and traditional religious positions on ethical issues. Religion, in particular, insists on the integrity of marriage, on the sinfulness o f homosexual unions, on the inadmissibility of artificial disruption of human life, be it abortion, contraception, or euthanasia. Secularism, on the contrary, propagates 'freedom of love', struggles for the rights of sexual minorities, advances the idea that human life can be interrupted artificially. If such and similar norms are declared universal and are imposed on the entire population of the European Union fully and unconditionally, we risk to create a Europe which will never become a true home for those millions of people whose value system and behavioural standards are religiously motivated.

6. The majority of people in Europe associate themselves with Christianity. Among them, there are Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, the latter constituting more than 200 million of European population. With the expansion of the European Union several predominantly Orthodox countries, including Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania, join Greece, which has been a member of the Union for more than thirty years, in forming the 'Orthodox lobby', which must become a full partner in the dialogue with the European Institutions. The European Parliament as the main legislative body has a special role to play in this dialogue. It is precisely on the level of legislation that the harmonization of religious and secular value systems must take place, and it is precisely the Parliament that must take the position of major world religion into account whenever ethical and moral issues are discussed.

7. For the representatives of Christian churches, a dialogue with those parties whose programme is based on Christian values or at least takes them into account, should be a matter of priority. This is why it is crucial that Christian churches continue to be involved in the dialogue with the European People's Party. However, the churches cannot associate themselves with only one political party. They are open to people of various political orientations and must conduct a dialogue with all those who are interested in it, regardless of their party affiliation.

8. The Moscow Patriarchate has been involved in a dialogue with the European Parliament and other European Institutions for several years. In order to foster this dialogue, a special Representation of the Russian Orthodox Church to the European Institutions was created in July 2002. Indeed, Russia is not a member of the EU, but the Moscow Patriarchate is not only a church of Russia: it is an international body, which has dioceses and parishes also in Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldova, Central Asia, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and in most countries of Western Europe. Its presence in the territory of the European Union conditions its interest in the processes of European integration. Through its Brussels representation the Moscow Patriarchate is already involved in a dialogue with the European Institutions which is prescribed by the new Constitutional Treaty, but it believes that this dialogue must be significantly broadened and better structured. From an unofficial dialogue whose participants are not mutually accountable, meeting from time to time without any further obligations, we must gradually move towards a more official platform for a dialogue in which the politicians and religious representatives will be placed on an equal footing. Only in this case will the dialogue of the EU with churches and religious organizations become truly open, transparent and regular.
© Bishop Hillarion