The Buttiglione Case As Seen By Buttiglione
Rocco Buttiglione


Speech given by Rocco Buttiglione, Italian Minister of European Affairs, at the VI Congress on Catholics and Public Life, in Madrid, Spain, on November 20, 2004.

As you know, I was recently a candidate to be a European Commissioner. And as you also know, I was rejected for the position for expressing my Catholic beliefs on sexuality and marriage at the hearing.

Some have said I was imprudent. They say, of course I had the right to express my Catholic principles, but this was the wrong time and place. I disagree. I believe I presented myself with an extremely Nicodemian attitude. If you recall, Nicodemus, a disciple of Jesus, was a very fearful man. He was not courageous; he was very prudent. Like Nicodemus, I was superlatively prudent.

One may think: If we cannot express our principles in public we will seem to be ashamed of them. I do not want to respond to this. I was not ashamed; but I was not provocative. I was prudent. I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More... But a seat on the EU commission – yes, that I can offer.

They introduced the category of sin into the political discourse, and I said "No, in politics we may not speak of sin. We should speak of non-discrimination, and I am solidly opposed to discrimination against homosexuals, or any type of discrimination." I did not say that homosexuality is a sin, as many newspapers reported. I said, "I may think." It is possible that I think this, but I did not tell them whether I think it or not. What I think about this has no impact whatsoever on politics, because in politics the problem is the principle concerning discrimination and I accept that principle.

That was not enough. They wanted me to say that I see nothing objectionable about homosexuality. This I cannot do because it is not what I think. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is written that, from a moral point of view, homosexuality is not a sin but rather an objectively disordered condition. Homosexuality can become a sin if one adds the subjective element, which is to say, full knowledge that this is wrong and also freedom of the will which accepts this wrong position. I was not allowed to say that and for this reason I was deemed not worthy to be a European commissioner.

This is not so important for me, because in life these are just political battles. You win some, you lose some. This is a normal part of life.

Catholics have the right to hold positions in the European Union. Is it conceivable that Catholics can be prohibited from exercising public office because of their Catholicism? Because they take the Church's position? Some say that the Catholic position on sexuality is aberrant, and this view should be grounds for discrimination at the EU, or in regard to holding public office. I do not want this to become accepted practice. They have established that a Catholic who says that perhaps it is possible that homosexuality would be a sin can be discriminated against. I found myself in a position in which I clearly had to decide with respect to whether I would keep my position, between my faith (or if not my faith at least the doctrine of my faith) or to accept being discriminated against. For my faith I was able to sacrifice a seat in the EU, which is not such an important thing. Ultimately, this is what happened.

I don't know if God would give me the courage to offer my head for my faith, like St. Thomas More. I hope I am never in a position to find out. But offer a seat on the commission – yes, that I can offer. But there is a problem. It is a problem concerning the nature of democratic institutions, because behind this we have the underlying problem of liberalism and what it means to be liberal/free, and what it means to have a liberal constitution or a liberal democracy in Europe today. We have two visions, one which I consider to be effectively liberal and the other, which I consider to be an antiliberal perversion of liberalism.

In the first vision, the State does not have an efficacious vision as such; the State does not think about producing the values which are necessary for civil life. The State knows that values need to be produced by others: churches and the culture. Values are produced in the sphere of culture; and thus, the State has a positive attitude before the sphere of culture. It recognizes the role of churches in society and accepts the role they exercise. The other vision is a more continental European vision; it is the vision of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau thinks that the State should produce its values, that we need a civil religion and the revealed religions – revealed in quotation marks – must be subject to this state religion. This was the beginning of classic totalitarianism, because Marxism, Fascism and National Socialism were the civil religions of the Europe of yesterday.

And today, what is happening? What is happening is that there is a section on the left in Europe with the tendency to affirm a new civil religion. This new religion affirms that it is not permitted to have strong ethical convictions, and that democracy must base itself on relativism. Relativism means that there is no distinction between good and bad. I think that this is wrong. I think that our democracy needs a different foundation, and that foundation is the Christian notion of freedom – Christian and also liberal with respect to freedom. This means that I have the right to think that you are wrong and at the same time I am ready to give my life so that you may have the right to be wrong, because if you have what is good not through your own freedom, but imposed from without, this would not have moral value. It would have moral disvalue.

Respect for the human person and his rights is the basis of an authentic democracy. Cultural relativism is not an adequate foundation for democracy. I would like to quote two very important authors who hold this point of view. The first is a great expert on totalitarianism, Benito Mussolini. Benito Mussolini wrote that fascism is the political expression of the most modern currents of contemporary philosophy, that is to say, of relativism. Because if there is not an objective truth that we must respect, then each individual will have the right to utilize whatever power he has: physical power, intellectual power, the power to manipulate through media communications, in order to impose on others his vision of the world. And this is not what we consider to be democracy. This is the beginning of totalitarianism.

The other author I want to cite is Plato. In The Republic Plato explains to us that democracies die at the hands of ethical relativism. He doesn't say "ethical relativism" – he lives in the time of the Sophists. If there is no distinction between good and bad, the politician can do anything.

What motivation does the politician have to resist corruption, the great danger of our democracies? What motivation does the politician have to not manipulate public opinion? What motivation does the politician have to remain faithful? Without conscience there is no politics and the democratic process is corrupted. I think there is something similar discussed in Pope John Paul II's encyclical, Veritatis Splendor. There we also have this idea: The adequate foundation of democracy is not ethical relativism, but rather the idea of the human person, of respect for the human person, of the rights of the human person and of the correct relation between freedom and truth.

I want to add that in Veritatis Splendor there is something else that is similar: The truth wants to be the form of human action and can be the form of human action only through human freedom. This is the mother of democracy. Europe has to choose between these two models of democracy. I believe that this is the matter being decided in a democratic battle, in a democratic fight, which is going to last many years. And the concern I have, and the hope that I have, is that my particular case can be an occasion, an aid, not only for Christians, but also for those who believe in the freedom to mobilize, and to open up a discussion about the adequate foundation of democracy. Evil is never only evil; there is always something positive in evil. That which was for me an evil, I believe has something positive within it for all of us. Perhaps for the first time one will speak about Europe not to complain about bureaucratic problems, but rather to ask ourselves: What is conscience? What are values? What is the identity of Europe? And there are, of course, in Europe, groups, not so large, but very well organized and mobilized, who see a non-Christian foundation of Europe; and the Christians, I don't know if they are a majority or a minority, but they are not very well mobilized.

I know that there is a discussion, "Are Christians a majority or a minority in Europe? Is this Europe Christian or not?" I think it is a false question. Europe is not Christian and nor is it non-Christian. I believe there has never really been a Christian Europe. I believe that Europe always lives the tension between faith and disbelief. It is living it in our time, as it has always lived it. And in this tension between faith and disbelief we have to take a position. And we can be victorious if in the first place we ourselves have faith, because nothing has the power to convince as does conviction. Christians who have no faith cannot convince others of the human truth of their position.

And in the second place, if we have the courage to mobilize ourselves and to become active in public life, which means not to impose our positions on others, but to defend the liberty of all and to participate with our vision of man.

Sometimes we will have a majority, and at other times we won't, and Europe will follow its path, which is a path of dialogue between faith and disbelief, which is constitutive of the conscience of Europe, of our conscience.

I want to add some things concerning the theme of this conference: "Europe, be yourself," which means (I am the fortunate husband of a psychoanalyst who always says that it is necessary to have in the family at least one person with a serious job and that I may concede to myself the luxury of politics because she has a serious job; and she has familiarized me a bit with the thought of Sigmund Freud): Europe is like a person; everyone of us forms his conscience in dialogue and in a relation with his father and his mother. This dialogue is difficult. There are shocks, fights; we may break with and reconcile with each other. It is not easy to be a son or daughter, but it is more difficult to be a parent.

Someone who does not live in this dialogue condemns himself to living superficially and cannot mobilize the profound depths of his human reality. Who are the fathers and mothers of Europe? They are Socrates and Christ, born of the encounter between the Judeo-Christian religion and Greek and Latin thought. And of course there are many different positions within this dialogue: Philosophers who say that Christ is a philosopher, not the son of God, but the master of morality (Hegel in the writings of his youth), or the Christians who say that Socrates in reality is a prophet of Christ and prepared the pagans for an encounter with Christ (St. Augustine – we recently celebrated his anniversary – in his City of God gives us the idea that Socrates is a kind of Moses.)

So, to be European means to participate in this dialogue. It doesn't matter what position one takes in this dialogue, but a person who remains indifferent to this dialogue may well be an excellent person – but he is not a European. A Europe which does not have the courage to confront itself with these roots – it is not as if they have something else – it is as if they have made a complete break with their family. It is not as if they can give themselves other fathers and mothers; it is not as if they can be another person; it is simply the same person who lives superficially, and does not reach the depths of his authentic identity.

In the same way, a Europe that does not have the courage to enter into this dialogue, to confront these roots, is a Europe which lives superficially. And we need a Europe that has depth, and this is the reason why I believe it is a bad thing that in the preamble to the constitution there is not only no mention of the Christian roots of Europe, but also no mention of the Judeo-Christian and Greco Latin roots of Europe. But a preamble is only a preamble, and not so important.

I would like to add some things about the Constitution that we have: If I had had the opportunity to write the Constitution, I would have written something different. But this is the only one we have. It is the only one that brings us all together. We need a constitution. It isn't very good, but it isn't very bad either. It lacks the references to the roots, but in the first article of The Charter of The Declaration of Human Rights is the clear reference to the human person as the center of the juridical and political order. This is fundamental and it is also a fundamentally Christian idea. It is the same as that which is at the beginning of the encyclical Redemptor Hominis: God revealing to man the truth about himself (about God), revealing at the same time the truth about man, that man is a person too.

And "person" means that he is free, that he has the duty and the right to look for truth, but to look for it in his freedom and through his freedom. The truth, as my old teacher Augusto del Noce always used to say, is a thing that no one can think for you. You have to think it. You yourself have to discover it. And if it is imposed then it isn't truth because you didn't think it; it doesn't have the value of the truth.

In addition to having the freedom to search for truth, to be a person also means to be free to give oneself in love: we are free in order to have the possibility to fall in love. And here there is something that may seem paradoxical: the man in love, the married man, is more free than the man who is single. To create a community with a woman, to promise yourself to her, to have children, to educate children, is the highest expression of human freedom in the natural order.

And here we discover another political problem, which is the problem of the family. Today the family is the subject most discriminated against in Europe. To have children means that one of the two in the couple, perhaps always the woman, must sacrifice an important part of her professional career. It means that we have to spend a great deal of money on the children, to invest a great part of our energies into the education of the children, and all this is a fact that has social relevance. It is a social role, because without children, Spain dies, Italy dies, Europe dies, humanity dies.

And when children are mature they pay taxes and contribute to the pensions of those who didn't want to have children, who became richer, and had more money to spend. Is this just? It is just only if there is a politics which favors the family, which gives the family fiscal justice, and helps that member of the couple, perhaps always the woman, who renounces a part of her professional career for the social tasks of the family. This is just only if there is a politics of the family, which is not a solidarity with families, it is a duty of justice before families. For this category is the most clearly discriminated against in Europe, and we have a culture that does not want to recognize this, we have politics that does not want to recognize this.

They attacked me also for being chauvinist, and I want to say that I think that the problem of today is that a woman has the right to a professional career but she also has the right to be a mother. And we as men should not consider as second class citizens women who freely chose not to have a career in order to consecrate themselves to the education of their children. They must not be a discriminated group. On the other hand, we must not fault those women who desire to have a professional career and children: we need a politics which permits a woman to freely choose how to divide her commitments. We need work schedules which can be compatible with family schedules, etc.

If we don't do this, Europe will be over. We already have few children; in a few years we won't have hardly any. And also there is the idea of those who do not want to see this capacity of man to bind himself to another, to form a community beginning with the family, and who think of a Europe of isolated individuals who do not constitute community, who do not marry because they are afraid of falling in love, and when they do fall in love they don't have the courage to think that it can last forever, a courage which is needed to commit oneself. And the result is a Europe where children are not born, and if they are born they don't have the optimal conditions to be educated and to flourish and mature.

This means many things for the future, because this is going to be a fundamental theme in European politics for the next years. And this is not only a European question; it is a question of nation-states. There is pressure to legalize gay marriage; this is not the problem. The problem is the abolition of marriage. It is the ignoring of the difference between this reality which has a social function and other forms of living together which I respect, but which do not have a social function. I don't see why the state has to sustain them, or why it has to give them a social relevance.

In life, private rights are proportionate to the instruments that those couples who are not a family need to order their life. I am not against the idea that the state facilitate ways that may help these people to live better. But it is not a family. It is something different than family. And to say that everything is a family is to say that nothing is a family. Another observation about this Europe and modernity: there is a vision that I do not share, which sees the history of Europe as a process of secularization and also of de-christianization, like a downward curve on a Cartesian coordinate system where religiosity is the y-axis, time the x-axis, and the process of secularization the downward curve. Christianity diminishes until it disappears. I believe that this is not so.

Catholics also bear much responsibility for this vision of history because they always idealize a past which is supposed to be more Christian than the present. But do we really think that the 30's, the years of communism, fascism, national socialism, were more Christian than the present years? I don't think so. I think that there has always been a battle between Christianity and other things, and this battle also exists in the heart of every one of us. We have had the years of the civil religion of nationalism and fascism, and then it fell apart. In this falling apart there was a period of re-christianization, the 50's and 60's. Then afterwards, with the 70's, there began another curve of de-christianization. Perhaps today we are experiencing a change, we are entering a phase of re-christianization.

Do you know what happened in the United States? They accused me of being a theocon – I don't know what that means, because in America there are neocons, but theocons don't exist. I don't believe we have to imitate America, but it is interesting and it is a problem for the left that Europe is considered modernity, but in the U.S. they are ahead of us – they have more technical progress than we do, they have more economic efficiency than we do – and they have more religion.

This means that it is not true that the process of modernization is necessarily tied to a process of de-christianization. They try to say it is rural America: but there are 2 million agricultural entrepreneurs throughout the whole U.S. The truth is different. It is that in America they have already lived through the peak of secularization and they have entered a different period. They became aware, for example, that we can criticize the family, that we can destroy the family, but we don't have an agency that can substitute for the family in its fundamental social role. This process caused family values to become transformed into a fundamental element of political life of America.

This is true not only among Republicans, because before the Liberties Committee of the parliament of Europe not only was Bush rejected, but so was Kerry, because he also has said, for example, that abortion is morally bad (even though he thinks that it should not be an object of juridical sanction). Kerry said that, and it does not correspond with the new autonomy that they intend to impose, that they are planning to impose on Europe. There has been a change in the U.S. I think that a change is possible also in Europe. There are interesting elements at work.

In the plane on my way to Madrid I was reading ll Corriere della Sera and there was an interesting poll. Do you know that that the clear majority of Italian youth are against abortion? Did you think this was possible? It is so. I want to say also that it is a majority of Italian youth, a much smaller majority, but a majority, that is in favor of euthanasia. This signifies that they are looking for their path and that in this search Christianity is a viable option, and it would interest them, but we need courage, we need courage in the Church.

I don't know if you like to read statistics, but it is always very interesting what you can learn from them, and they have a great impact. Do you know how many Italians think they are practicing Catholics? 57%. Do you know how many of those go to Mass on Sunday? Half. What does this mean? It means that many people would be able to practice their faith more if the Church had more capacity for attraction, more capacity for dialogue, more capacity to be present among the people. Europe is not Christian, but neither is it non-Christian. Europe, like the Italian young people, is looking for its path. In order to discover this path, in order to discover Christ as an adequate response to the desire of the heart of man, it is necessary that there be Christians who give testimony, who have the courage to be that which they are. I could say many things, but the time is up. And I consider it a privilege to have spoken with you and a success that, it seems to me, no one fell asleep.

Rocco Buttiglione has held professorships at the International Academy of Philosophy in Liechtenstein and Saint Pius V University in Rome and has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Science.
Copyright 2004. Rocco Buttiglione. All rights reserved.