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Britain needs to be part of a reforming European Union, a bishop with responsibility for European affairs said this week in the wake of the electoral gains by the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip).
Bishop William Kenney said that the EU had kept the peace for 60 years and was “worth fighting for”, and that issues such as immigration, poverty and employment were better addressed working with other countries.
“I honestly think there is a message there – the EU needs reforming from within,” said the bishop, who represents the English and Welsh hierarchy at Comece – the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. “But I don’t see how getting out of it changes anything for the better.”
In last week’s elections for the European Parliament Ukip won nearly 28 per cent of the British vote – the largest share – while in France the anti-Europe Front National, from which Ukip has distanced itself, won 25 per cent of the French vote. Across the union, there was a rise in support for a number of anti-EU parties, some of which have nationalistic leanings.
Responding to the results, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, a member of Pope Francis’ council of eight advisors and President of Comece, said: “A matter of concern is the significant increase of support for parties which reject the project of European integration. A number of them were even able to secure a majority of votes in some member states including France, Denmark and the United Kingdom. Some of these parties are not only populist but nationalistic and xenophobic.”
These remarks came as political debate on Europe bubbled over in one parish when a Ukip candidate challenged a priest during Mass. Clive McNally, who last week failed to win a seat on Stratford-upon-Avon District Council, stood up and interrupted the priest’s homily to repudiate what he later described as an “overtly political stance … pandering to ill-conceived arguments and misguided prejudice”.
Mr McNally told The Tablet: “I was just compelled to stand up … I was shocked by what he said. He had started his homily by going on about how good the EU had been to avoid wars and then he quoted a Ukip representative – whom I later found out had been sacked from the party 12 months earlier – who had been making racist comments about Muslims. Obviously my ears pricked up as this point and he went on to say: ‘I would go so far as to say that you couldn’t be a Christian, let alone a Catholic, and vote for Ukip.’”
However Fr Ramsay rejected Mr McNally’s statement, saying: “I’m afraid Mr McNally is either mistaken or disingenuous in claiming I made a political or party-political statement (per se) in a recent homily. The homily, on the Gospel, pointed to Robert Schuman, whose vision of the EU based on Catholic Social Teaching had sought to keep peace in a Europe beset by wars.
“Parishioners here will readily confirm that I asked a question of Ukip, albeit a strong one in a homily, in the context of the distance between Ukip policies and the Catholic Social Teaching originally informing the EU.”
Fr Ramsey pointed out that Ukip youth leader Sanya-Jeet Thandi had resigned from a party as she saw as “racist”. He added: “People here are asking whether Ukip is racist or not.”
Above: Bishop William Kenney. Photo: Mazur/CatholicChurch.org.uk