The "See Change" Broadside #1
March 27, 2001

The Church in Europe: The European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights

The hierarchy of the Catholic church in Europe has issued several statements severely criticizing the recently signed European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights. The charter was approved at a summit of European Union leaders in Nice, France, on December 7.

The charter upholds some basic rights such as freedom of speech and thought, and equality before the law. It also recognizes the right to strike and fair working conditions. The charter is not legally binding, but the fact that it was adopted may well have legal implications. Supporters argue that it should be seen as an embryonic constitution for Europe.

The rights are set out in 54 articles and six chapters: Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizens' Rights and Justice.

Some of the most basic rights are in the following articles:
2: Everyone has the right to life. No one shall be condemned to the death penalty or executed.
14: Everyone has the right to education and to have access to vocational and continuing training.
23: Equality between men and women must be ensured in all areas, including employment, work and pay.
28: Workers and employers…have the right to negotiate and conclude collective agreements at the appropriate levels and, in cases of conflicts of interest, to take collective action to defend their interests, including strike action.
32: The employment of children is prohibited.
35: Everyone has the right of access to preventive health care and the right to benefit from medical treatment.

While there appears to be little in the charter to arouse controversy, the pope and several bishops went on the offensive.

The church hierarchy's opposition to the charter was encapsulated in a statement by the General Assembly of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (CCEE). The bishops argued that "some of the formulations used in the Charter are incomplete or unacceptable: apart from the lack of any reference to God, the prohibition of the cloning of human life extends only to reproductive cloning; by making a distinction between the right to marriage and the right to a family, it seems that one is seeking to recognize relationships that are different from marriage and to call them families; it has been omitted to accord Churches and religious communities as such a specific legal and institutional character." ["Declaration of the General Assembly of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences on the draft Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union," Louvain, 22 October, 2000.]

It seems that the bishops want the European Union to become an extension of the church, by confirming that European civilization, in the words of the pope, "emerged because the seed of Christianity was planted deep in Europe's soil." [Zenit, "Pope's proposals for European charter of human rights," September 24, 2000.]

Few democracies in Europe mention God in their constitutions but this did not deter the bishops from demanding that the European Union should do so. The bishops also expect the EU to impose the church's definition of marriage on everybody in the EU. The EU itself felt unable to go further than acknowledging the "right to marry and the right to found a family…in accordance to the national laws governing the exercise of those laws." It seems that the church may have attempted to use the charter to question recent legislation in some European countries that grants some "marriage-type" rights to cohabiting couples, including same-sex couples.

The church has failed to gain status at the EU that is similar to the Non-member State Permanent Observer Status it has at the United Nations. However, the church's involvement in secular bodies such as the EU and the United Nations is likely to become stronger as it places significant resources into the workings of these and other similar bodies. The "See Change" Campaign will continue to monitor and expose this involvement, with the aim of ensuring that the church's legitimate right to have a voice in policy discussions does not extend to having a say in policy making.


The "See Change" Broadside is a regular publication, emailed to supporters of The "See Change" Campaign, progressive Catholics and collegial organizations. We aim to show how the hierarchy of the Catholic church involves itself in public policy debates and, relying on sectarian religious positions, can, and does, obstruct progressive legislation. There is no copyright on this information. All we ask is that you tell people where it came from.

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