Meet Europe's new president

Apart from his fondness for haikus, and his giggle-inducing name, it's hard to think of anything interesting to say about Herman Van Rompuy, the first president of the European Council. In fact, the whole point of the Belgian's election was the avoidance of color and interest: they were looking for a low-profile eurocrat with a record of patiently building relationships, one whose focus was internal rather than external. As the Economist points out: "For all his merits, Mr Van Rompuy’s main experience of an international dispute as prime minister is the Belgo-Dutch row over the dredging of the River Scheldt."

But one interesting thing about Mr Van Rompuy is his Catholicism, about which he makes no bones. He was educated (drumroll, s'il vous plaît) by Jesuits in Brussels, went onto the Catholic University of Leuven, and in the 1980s wrote a book about Christendom as a modern idea.  He is, in short, a bearer of the torch first lit by the Catholic architects of European unity -- De Gasperi, Schuman, Adenauer -- who, like Van Rompuy, were all Christian Democrats for whom faith and Europe went together.

In 2004, when he was an opposition deputy, Van Rompuy objected to Turkey joining the EU in terms very similar to those used by the then Cardinal Ratzinger (h/t to Tom Heneghan at Reuters, who puts the two quotes side by side): namely that Turkey's Islamic character would dilute the Christian character of the EU.

That kind of talk makes me queasy. But I am impressed by a speech (in French) Van Rompuy gave on Caritas in Veritate which he carries on his website. It shows a sophisticated grasp of Catholic social doctrine.

Dull he may be, but I for one am delighted that at the heart of the European Union is a politician who can write (my trans):

According to [Catholic] social doctrine, the political community is at the service of the civil society from which it is born. Civil society represents the sum total of the goods, cultural or relational, which are relatively independent of politics and the economy. The state should make sure that the legal framework allows the social actors (societies, associations, organisations, and so on) to carry out their activities in total freedom; it should be ready to intervene, only if needed and in conformity with the principle of subsidiarity, in order that the interaction between freedom of association and the democratic way leads in the direction of the common good."

Herman Van Rompuy, we salute you. 


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
7 years 10 months ago
Lest we be over eager, sophisticated grasp of Catholic social doctrine,is often, in Jesuitical parlance, often heretical. Just saying.
Austen Ivereigh
7 years 10 months ago
Not sure I get you, Maria. First ''heretical'' isn't specifically Jesuit parlance, as far as I know (Dominican, perhaps?); and where is your evidence that those who have a strong grasp of social doctrine are heretics? The mind boggles.
Etienne Bernard
7 years 10 months ago
A more critical point of view of our president (in french): http://bruxelles.blogs.liberation.fr/coulisses/2009/11/van-rompuy-lanesth%C3%A9siant-local.html
 Being a catholic is not a garantee to be a good leader. I would prefer Jean-Claude Juncker, perhaps less "catholic-visible" but more fit to this job.
Etienne Bernard
7 years 10 months ago
"fitter" and not "more fit". English is not my mother tongue...
7 years 10 months ago
You are right. What I meant to say was: what is a sophisticated grasp of Catholic social doctrine for many Jesuits, is often, simply heresy to others. Thank you.

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

The martyrdom of Blessed Stanley Francis Rother "fills us with sadness but also gives us joy to see the kindness, generosity and courage of a great man of faith," Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for Saints' Causes, said Sept. 23 in Oklahoma City.

Catholic News ServiceSeptember 23, 2017
Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, the archbishop of Dhaka, has described the recent attack on the Rohingya community in Myanmar, as “a crime against humanity.”
Gerard O'ConnellSeptember 23, 2017
This year the Grand Bargain on refugees seems increasingly fragile.
Kevin ClarkeSeptember 22, 2017
The earthquake feels like yet another crisis tearing at our transnational families. The earthquake was a natural disaster, but the many ways American society fails to value the lives of foreigners, of immigrants, of its own citizens, because of their skin color or their Latino heritage is a
Antonio De Loera-BrustSeptember 22, 2017