ROME — One of Europe’s leading pro-life figures believes a sea change in public opinion in favor of a culture of life is under way, but the momentum needs to be maintained, primarily by younger generations.
In an interview with the Register, Luca Volonte, a former Italian parliamentarian and chairman of the Popular Christian Democrats to the Council of Europe, says the increase in popularity for pro-life marches on the continent has been an unexpected boon of the past five years.
Volonte, who has been at the forefront of campaigns to uphold natural marriage and the family in Europe, was interviewed during a break at a conference on the Church’s approach to poverty and her “preferential option for the poor.” The June 26-29 conference was hosted by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Rome-based Christian think tank that he chairs.
What have been the most interesting aspects of this conference for you?
The aim of the speakers was to try to understand, on the one hand, that the social economy and free market are not in opposition to the Christian idea and dignity of the human person. On the other hand, it was very interesting to understand the different approaches of the speakers and the impact Pope Francis’ remarks have had on this new humanitarian approach to the market and culture, based on Catholic social teaching.
Next year, we would like to examine how democracies can survive if their effects exclude people, most notably unborn children or the elderly from society, and how it’s possible that democracy can improve itself without a real, clear moral basis.
Pope Francis often criticizes “the system,” often taken to mean the capitalist system of the West. Do you think it’s also important — and the Holy Father says this, too — to highlight the lack of morals, and specifically the lack of Christianity in society, regardless of the economic system?
Yes, it is. The real message of the Pope is not to criticize the system itself, but how the system appears today. It’s a system that has lost its moral basis.
It’s very difficult to describe such a system as the same capitalist system, or the same free market society, in the way it was described 10 years ago. When we proposed at the end of the socialist era at the end of the last century that the free-market society could be a new approach for all new democracies, we referred to a free market, a free society and the rule of law in every state. These three pillars (a free market, a free society and the rule of law) would be important for a new democracy to work.
Now, are we so sure that these three fundamental pillars are the same pillars that support and sustain a free market society at this time? We have some doubts. Also, the Pope has remarked that capitalism, or anti-human capitalism, is a consequence not directly of the free-market society and the rule of law in a democracy, but, rather, is born around the fact of the financial crisis.
But how much does the economic crisis point to a deeper cause, that of secularism, a lack of Christian belief? Would you like to see the Pope speak more along those lines, perhaps saying a key problem is the loss of Christian roots in Europe?
This is what I especially liked about the Pope [and his remarks] at his recent meeting with Sant’Egidio, in which he said we should not only restore the Christian roots of Europe and the world, but also re-offer these joyful Christian roots and invite others to discover this joyful mission in the world.
He touched briefly but clearly on the same point John Paul II touched upon at the end of 1990s and was more often touched upon by Benedict XVI. Europe has a proper mission in the history of the world, and this mission is not only to discover its Christian roots, its Judeo-Christian roots, but also using, improving these roots to benefit not only Europe, but also the discussion worldwide. This has been very clear, from John Paul II to Pope Francis.
Some talk about a resurgence in the pro-life movement in Europe, especially against abortion and among young people. Is this your experience, too?
Sure, there are many, many good signs. All the time, I try to focus on the positive, because we should try to start with the positive. We have important statistics: The enormous number of people who have participated year by year in marches for life in Rome, Brussels or Paris and many other countries has been increasing, and … their consciences [have been affected, as well]. This has been an unexpected sign of the last five years.
At the same time, we have the insurgency of pro-family associations around Europe, not only pointing out what is wrong in upcoming legislation [against the family unit], but repurposing, reoffering the importance of natural marriage and the natural family as a key point on which social questions can be rebuilt.
These two movements are closely working in Europe, more than in the U.S., where we have a sort of war between them. Many of these movements are made up of 30%-50% young men and women. So it’s an impressive and positive sign for the future of Europe.
For sure, my generation, those aged 40-50, have a prophetic duty to help them, support them, work with them; and at the same time, we should be sure that anything could happen in Europe. We must also be a part of this new social cause to rediscover our Christian roots, but we should also be aware that much of this work will be up to future generations.
Many in the pro-life movement were disappointed at the time by the Pope’s comments last year when he said the Church shouldn’t talk about abortion, contraception and same-sex “marriage” “all the time.” Others took his words out of context, saying the Church shouldn’t be “obsessed” by these issues. Did you view this as a setback for the movement?
I took the Pope’s declaration as a real question I had to ask myself from a personal point of view, not because I was upset — because, instinctively, I was totally upset — but because I felt I had to reflect on this question of the Pope, and that was really tough.
We come across, many times, the temptation to use sort of nominalist values, also to justify our work, and use them to place ourselves in opposition to others.
In this sense, the Pope’s declaration totally had an impact on our side of the problem and cast light on using values in a nominalist sense only to oppose others who want to destroy these values, but without reference to any broader picture. The Pope’s words should, therefore, be seen as an invitation to propose what we want to defend: We want to defend natural marriage and the natural family because we live a joyful experience in our marriages — those who have natural marriages and families. So proposing something positive obliges us not simply to defend one word or definition, but also to take a positive approach overall.
For sure, by proposing something positive, we have more possibilities to convince others. That’s positive. Promoting the natural marriage and family introduces a contradiction into the current political system. Sure, we should at times be obliged to defend our opinion, but starting from the point of view of only ever defending something is also sometimes an excuse for not doing something else.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.