Now approaching its first decade, this year’s Report of our Observatory is devoted to Europe. It may seem surprising to see a Report dedicated to all five continents focusing its attention on only one of them. This sort of misgiving was naturally present in the minds of the Report’s editors from the very outset, especially in light of the fact that some of the collaborating research centers are not based in Europe. Nonetheless, despite the aforementioned misgivings, a decisive reason held sway and led us to decide on this theme. If Europe has borders from a geographical point of view (not exactly precise ones), and if in geopolitical terms it seems compressed by other powers both eastward and westward, as an idea it does project a potentially universal civilization. Speaking about Europe therefore leads to dealing with other than European themes alone. If there is a crisis in Europe it concerns the world at large.
Added to this is the fact that Europe does not represent a random point of reference for the Social Doctrine of the Church. This is where it originally assumed concrete form, and in many ways the relationship between the Church and the world as established in Europe has a much broader meaning. If a crisis were to befall this relationship – and we cannot ignore the many symptoms pointing in this direction – the negative repercussions would be clamorous outside Europe as well. I’m not saying the old European solutions regarding this relationship have to be defended and conserved in a nostalgic fashion. My considerations have to do not with historical solutions adopted in Europe with respect to sundry political and social issues, but with the selfsame structure of the relationship between the Church and the world, and its fundamental directives as always understood and articulated by the Social Doctrine of the Church. They need Europe and Europe needs them.
Europe is therefore the theater of several equally important scenarios for the destiny of humankind and the Church. Roman pontiffs have repeatedly recalled how important Europe is for evangelization and new evangelization, and this also in the social sphere. The latest to do so was Pope Francis who addressed Poland and Poles, and all others through them, when in July 2016 he evoked in both Warsaw and Czestochowa the 1050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland that had taken place with the conversion of Duke Mieszko in 966. If the evangelization of the social sphere slows down in a substantial manner or just comes to a halt altogether here in Europe, the same will happen throughout the West, whose origin and foundation is Europe, and not only in the West. I say this without taking anything away from the vivacity of the Churches of other continents that are also imbued with Magna Europa, and which, in the future, could well provide great assistance in the rediscovery of – God forbid – Europe lost.
Just like its predecessors, this IX Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church does not mince with words in seeking to project the reality of what is happening, without making any allowances for prevailing thought. Therefore, we do not shy away from asserting that the European project is in the throes of major crisis, and that only a radical rethinking of methods and especially contents will be able – with the help of Providence –to change a situation proving to be very dangerous for one and all. The overall title of this Report is clear in its evident asperity: “The End of Illusions”.
The process of European unification has embarked upon erroneous roads down through its history, but has also had opportunities to make amends and get back on the right road. This happened in particular after the downfall of the Communist empire in eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s. No matter which pathway of unification may have been travelled since then by European countries, and no matter what may have been the right and the wrong steps taken, all the conditions for a radical correction of route were present. Nonetheless, Europe took no advantage of that opportunity and lost it. Europe could have started breathing with two lungs. The tired societies of western wellbeing could have received human and spiritual input from the east. John Paul II considered Europe to be one of the core themes of his pontificate and, beginning with the encyclical letter Centesimus annus and the Synod on Europe, worked tirelessly to reawaken full awareness throughout the continent regarding its essential reasons for being. Such efforts on his part also included a specific request for there to be a reference to God in the European Constitution, a document drafted early in the 1990s and intended to redesign the selfsame foundations of the unification process, but which, albeit driven by the right aspirations, made use of inadequate methods. In actual fact, nothing changed and the enlargement plan continued with the co-option of new counties within a cluster of weak moral and religious convictions. The Masstricht Treaty was signed in 1992 and it was decided to give life to the European Union, but its bases in terms of doctrine, values and religion were all too fragile, and at times subservient to an ‘Occidentialist’ ideology more so than to a west whose roots were deep in Christianity. What prevailed were the Europe of Illuminism, “instrumental reason”, the conventionalism of human rights, centralization and standardization from on high, etc., instead of the political wisdom of articulated and subsidiary construction beginning from the grassroots. And this also continued afterwards, also with the entry of the new eastern European countries, thereby creating a rift within the Union.
The European ideal saw the light of day after World War II in order to bid adieu to ideological states. It was a positive signal at a time when – the 1950s to be exact – an ideological war was being fought in European countries, but without actual warfare. Used in the cold war were all means available and not just the nuclear threat or espionage. The European ideal therefore rang out loud, clear and stimulating. During past decades the European continent as such has no longer experienced ideological wars, but it cannot be said it has not been exposed to an ‘ideological state’ insofar as the European institutions – not a state as such but at times seeming like they want to be a super-state – have exercised the strong pressure and perhaps even the oppression of an ideological entity.
This European Union characterized by the prevalence of the ideology of Illuminism, the predominance of the intellectual and political nomenklatura in line with the “Ventotene Manifest”, and an abstract concept of rights without a shared vision of duties, feels it is kept together by democracy and liberty, and even thinks it can expand its own democracy and liberty throughout the world, while, on the contrary, it is precisely with respect to this point that it has not been able to master itself. The failure of the European illusions has to do precisely with its concept of democracy and liberty, and therefore concerns its very essence. The basic mistake was to have thought the war against XX century ideologies had been won with formal and procedural democracy that tolerates everything unto the point of being intolerant with whomsoever argues that it isn’t possible to tolerate everything. Moreover, this basic mistake is still present, and even growing stronger, this being a sign of ignorance continuing in time. This is where Europe reveals it is still an illusion. It is by no means certain that it is an illusion that has come to an end, but it is quite certain that we are face to face with the end of illusions.
President of the International Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân on the Social Doctrine of the Church, Archbishop of Trieste, and Chairman of the “Caritas in veritate” Commission of the Council of the European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE).
 For more information consult the three main articles in this Report, and specifically so the one by Alfredo Mantovano..