The Brussels-based Church commission representing the European Union's Catholic bishops has urged a revival of the "European project" in the light of Brexit, and called on Catholics to support closer EU integration.
"For the Church, a political project derives legitimacy from its impact on human persons - so the European project should be our project", said Fr Olivier Poquillon, French secretary-general of COMECE.
"In an anxious period like this, it's vital to impose a framework which prevents national and corporatist egoisms from taking precedence over the quest for the common good. Whether they like it or not, our countries and peoples belong to Europe".
The Dominican priest was speaking two weeks after a COMECE visit by members of the international affairs department of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, as Church leaders prepared for a late October Vatican symposium on Europe's future, to be attended by EU officials and 340 Christians prominent in politics, business and science.
He told Switzerland's online Catholic news agency, Kath.ch, the EU often gave the impression of "privileging structures and financial profits" over "persons and communities", and needed to allow citizens to reappropriate the continent's "work, economy, environment, culture, politics and religion" from consumerist pressures. He added that the Church supported the diversity and subsidiarity outlined in European law, but also believed it was wrong for governments to "claim credit for all successes while blaming the EU for every failure".
"Defiance of institutions isn't specific to the EU - it's a global phenomenon, which also affects the Church, enterprises and states", Fr Poquillon said. "Brexit is merely the European expression of something we've seen in the US and other countries: sensing a loss of control over our political, cultural, religious and technological environment, we're strongly tempted to withdraw into ourselves".
COMECE represents over a thousand Catholic bishops from the EU's 28 member-states, and has a German president, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich-Freising, who also sits on the Pope's C8 group of advisors, with vice-presidents from Belgium, Italy, Scandinavia and Lithuania. The commission, founded in 1980, has vigorously backed closer European unity, but has also faced criticism for going beyond its mandate to act as an EU liaison organisation.
In his interview, Fr Poquillon said the 2016 Brexit vote had strengthened the "European rootedness" of other EU member-countries, whose citizens realised the EU's institutions, though sometimes criticised, offered "the best means of assuring peace and security". He added that Catholic social teaching provided the "principal reference" for COMECE's dialogue with the EU, and sought to ensure the human person remained "at the heart of public policy".
"Negotiations between London and the 27 show it's above all the citizens and enterprises of the United Kingdom who'll suffer from leaving the Union", the COMECE secretary-general said. "Despite the inequalities and frustrations which it generates, European construction can boast 70 years of peace and economic development".
PICTURE: An EU flag is waved in front Big Ben and the Elizabeth Tower at the Houses Parliament in London, after Prime Minister Theresa May updated MPs in the House of Commons on the Brexit negotiations since her Florence speech last month