Pope criticises EU for excluding God
By Philip PullellaSat Mar 24, 3:18 PM ET
Pope Benedict strongly criticized the European Union on Saturday for excluding a mention of God and Europe's Christian roots in declarations marking the 50th anniversary of its founding.
In a toughly-worded speech to European bishops, Benedict said Europe was committing a form of "apostasy of itself" and was thus doubting its own identity.
The Pope, who like his predecessor John Paul often calls for a mention of God and Christianity in the European Constitution, said leaders could not exclude values that helped forge the "very soul" of the continent.
"If on the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome the governments of the union want to get closer to their citizens, how can they exclude an element as essential to the identity of Europe as Christianity, in which the vast majority of its people continue to identify," he said.
"Does not this unique form of apostasy of itself, even before God, lead it (Europe) to doubt its very identity?"
Apostasy is a total desertion of or departure from one's religion.
One of the Pope's compatriots, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, aims to relaunch the EU constitution and last month made a plea for the bloc to include references to Christian roots.
Plans to include such a reference in the original EU treaty, rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005, were blocked by French President Jacques Chirac.
Merkel, as holder of the EU's rotating presidency, is now in the process of reviving the constitution. Comments from Merkel, the daughter of a pastor, have encouraged religious leaders around Europe to redouble efforts to modify the constitution.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said he had pushed for inclusion of Catholic roots in the document but that the main task ahead for Catholics was to carry on a dialogue with religions like Islam and Judaism.
But in another sign of disagreement between Europe's leaders, the conservative European People's Party included religious roots in its anniversary declaration, in contrast to the general EU declaration to be adopted on Sunday.
"Europe's Judeo-Christian roots and common cultural heritage, as well as the classic and humanist history of Europe and the achievements of the period of enlightenment, are the foundation of our political family," said the statement, adopted at a meeting attended by Merkel and other EU leaders.
Pope Benedict warned the bloc was headed up a slippery slope of indifference and said it could not deny its "historical, cultural and moral identity" that Christianity helped forge.
"A community that builds itself without respecting the true dignity of the human being, forgetting that each person is created in the image of God, ends up doing good for no one," he said.
Pope: Europe losing faith in its future
By FRANCES D'EMILIO, Associated Press WriterSat Mar 24, 2:58 PM ET
Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children.
"One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.
Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile" — though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.
In countries like Italy, where many married couples have one or no children, the population is expected to shrink dramatically in a generation or two unless fertility rates quickly increase.
Benedict expressed concern that Europe's population trends, "besides putting economic growth at risk, can also cause enormous difficulties for social cohesion, and, above all, favor dangerous individualism, careless about the consequences for the future."
"You could almost think that the European continent is in fact losing faith in its own future," Benedict said.
A recent Eurostat survey showed Poland's fertility rate to be the lowest in the EU, at 1.23 children per woman.
Sociologists and economists blame the economy, particularly the unemployment rate — at 14.9 percent the highest in the EU. Worried about losing their jobs, many women in Poland put off having children, often until it is too late.
Earlier this month, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski proposed a new program of tax exemptions and support for working mothers in the hope of encouraging births and ensuring that Poles "continue as a nation."
Italy's fertility rate steadily plunged to a low of 1.25 children per women of childbearing age in 2001, with the last few years seeing a small turnaround, mainly due to births to immigrants.
Italian experts cite Italian's desire for an easier lifestyle, but they also blame shortages of day care centers, expensive housing and a sluggish job market which sees many Italians living at home until well into their 30s as reasons for the country's relatively few children.
Antonio Golini, an Italian demographer, told The Associated Press recently that unless the retirement age is raised, Italy will have more people drawing pensions than it will have workers in 2050.
Spain also has a low fertility rate, while France, with family friendly policies such as cheap day care and generous parental leave, has experienced a baby boom.
France had more babies in 2006 than in any year in the last quarter-century, capping a decade of rising fertility that has bucked Europe's graying trend. Its fertility rate in 2006 was 2.0 children per woman.
A rate of 2.1 children per woman is considered the minimum necessary to keep a population from shrinking.