Eight years ago the European Parliament denied towering Italian intellectual Rocco Buttiglione a position as European Commissioner for Justice because of his faithful Catholicism. Asked in a hearing if he agreed with the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are sinful, he said yes, he agreed with the teaching, but this would not prevent him from faithfully carrying out the laws of the European Union related to everyone including homosexuals. This was too much for the sexual left firmly ensconced in the European institutions, and Buttiglione was voted down.
The event caused a scandal in Catholic circles and turned Buttiglione, a highly respected but not widely known academic, into a rock star among faithful Catholics around the world.
Tonio Borg, foreign minister of Malta, has been nominated to become the next European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy. His nomination has sent the European sexual left into a lather. But it looks like the left-wing members of the European Parliament learned a lesson from the Buttiglione debacle. What could have turned into Buttiglione II may have been averted—though the result may likely be the same, that is, the denial of a high European post to a faithful Catholic.
Like Buttiglione, Borg is a practicing Catholic. And he comes from what may be the E.U.’s most conservative country, where abortion is against the law and where divorce was illegal until last year. It’s a place where the Church is a dominant and even a welcome player in the everyday lives of the Maltese people. A few years ago I walked down the street in the capital, Valetta, with Father Anton Gouder, who has a television show in Malta. Drivers pulled over on crowded streets to jump out of their cars to shake his hand.
The beliefs espoused by Borg on life and marriage fall into line with the teachings of the Church and fall within the mainstream of political thought in his home country, though not so much in the parliaments and salons of Berlin, London, Paris, and certainly Brussels.
The usual suspects have coalesced in opposition to Borg’s nomination. The president of the European Humanist Federation, Pierre Galand, sent a letter to Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, charging that Borg’s views place him in opposition to “European values.”
Galand wrote, “As stated in Article 2 of the [Treaty of the European Union], the European Union has always been deeply committed to the promotion of human rights, in particular the rights of minorities, and also common European principles such as equality between men and women and non-discrimination.” The letter charges “as Minister of Justice in Malta, [Borg] repeatedly and vigorously opposed women’s sexual and reproductive rights and even campaigned in 2004 to constitutionalize the abortion ban in his home country. In 2011, he also strongly opposed the legalization of divorce in Malta. In addition, he has openly expressed contempt to the LGBT community and opposed recognition of the rights of homosexual co-habiting couples in the Maltese Parliament in 2009.”
Borg was grilled for three hours at a hearing before the European Parliament last Tuesday afternoon. Right out of the box, leftist MEPs demanded to know his position on LGBT rights and abortion. Borg had been accused of saying derogatory things about homosexuals and of denying them basic rights. He disarmed his accusers by outright denying he had ever said anything unkind about homosexuals and asserted that not only did he agree with European laws on non-discrimination, but that they should seek out and put an end to all forms of homophobia anywhere in the European Union.
On the life issues, he said quite rightly that the issue did not belong to the competence of the European Union but is left up to the decisions of each member state and that he agreed with that. Asked about a Maltese woman who left Malta to get an abortion elsewhere, he said she broke no laws.
Where the panel wised up from the Buttiglione fight is that Borg was not questioned even a single time about his religious beliefs. And in his answers Borg showed he was more of a wily politician that Buttiglione. One legal observer pointed out, “I had the impression that Borg is different from Buttiglione: one a professor that does politics, the other a real politician.”
Does the political savvy of both sides mean Borg will win? For a moment it seemed so. After his hearing Michael Cashman of the United Kingdom, and the head of the European Parliament gay rights group said, “I do remain concerned about Tonio Borg’s track record. But given the reassurances he has given us on fundamental rights, I believe we could entrust him with the public health portfolio, and hold him strictly to account on the commitments he made tonight.” But within twenty-four hours Cashman had backed off and said he would still vote against Borg.
The left-leaning parties—ALDE, GUE, Greens, and S&D—make up almost half of the European Parliament. ALDE, GUE, and the Greens have already come out against Borg. S&D will decide next week, with a vote of the full Parliament expected on Wednesday.
Though Borg may have been cleverer than Buttiglione, the question remains. Can a faithful Catholic and one who is unwilling to dodge and weave be elected to high office in the European Union? If not, the Catholic founders of the European project would be profoundly shocked, but at least faithful Catholics in Europe might know how to proceed.
Austin Ruse is president of C-FAM, a New York and Washington, D.C.-based research institute focusing on international legal and social policy.
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