Caught between Kerry and Buttiglione?

This week the European Parliament is split over the prospect of Rocco Buttiglione taking on the role of Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security after his remarks about homosexuals and single mothers. Everyone except Buttiglione seems to agree that he should never have said what he did, but the answer to the underlying question is more troublesome. At the same time, theologians are discussing the position of another Roman Catholic who is running for a rather higher office. John Kerry’s position on abortion has caused some scratching of the head in Vatican circles. During the presidential campaign, both Bush and Kerry have pushed their Christian credentials. Meanwhile, in the UK, Tony Blair, a man who has also made a lot of his faith (although he has denied rumours that he is about to become a Roman Catholic), is preparing a new set of gambling laws which have been denounced by many church leaders.

Let me say that I’m not a Roman Catholic. But as a committed Christian, the issues do concern me.

In apologising to European Commission president Barroso, Buttiglione closed by saying: “The only thing I cannot do is to change my principles against my conscience for political convenience.” The Italian press do not share his conviction. Rome’s right wing Il Messaggero said: “It is a mistake to mix religion and politics. Europe does not want to hear about this mixture of State and Church, which is part of our history.”

At the same time, across the wide water, Kerry is under fire for failing to adequately combine his faith with his politics.

In the Spring I took part in a debate with Evan Harris MP on the subject: “Does faith belong in politics?” Evan, a dedicated secularist, of course put forward the case that it does not. I took the opposite view.

It seems to me that the dilemma caused by trying to separate faith from politics is greater than that of trying to combine them. In fact, fundamentally I believe that that dilemma is irresolvable. Separating them means the institutionalising of a kind of hypocrisy – a politician may appeal to his faith when standing for election, but cannot be held to it when making policy. The dilemma is no less resolvable for someone who arrives in public life with a secular philosophy.

Which is a long way from saying that I have much sympathy with Buttiglione.

When I first heard about his remarks I was forcibly reminded of the words of Jesus: “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

BBC NEWS | World | Europe | European press review: “Buttiglione”

Martin Turner is Chair of the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum