Dialogue – a vital issue for the Church and for Europe

Evangelische Marktkirche, Wiesbaden, Hessen, mit Kastanienbaum

The Church can only carry on a meaningful dialogue with the outside world if she is committed to an internal culture of dialogue

In Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union undertakes to hold an “open, transparent and regular dialogue” with the churches and religious communities. This dialogue, carried out at various levels, also includesEuropeInfos. This publication puts forward comments with a Christian perspective on current issues of the European Union, proposed in the spirit of dialogue.

Dialogue does not mean a non-committal conversation with all, but a mutual search for the truth and a meaningful basis for decision-making. Dialogue requires openness on both sides and a willingness to move towards the other. Dialogue cannot succeed where only one side is willing to learn.

One of the major steps forward taken by the Second Vatican Council was the development of an understanding of the importance of dialogue to the Church, both internally and towards others. Above all, with the Pastoral ConstitutionGaudium et Spes, the Church entered into an open dialogue with the modern world. Based on the same dignity and the sense of the faith of all members of the People of God, the Church Constitution Lumen Gentium created new prerequisites for internal dialogue within the Church. The Council expressly recognised that there was a legitimate variety of opinions within the Church. In so doing, the Catholic Church did away with a self-image based on a pyramidal, authoritarian hierarchy.

In his encyclical “Ecclesiam suam” (1964), Pope Paul VI explored the significance of dialogue to the Church in greater depth. He saw it as an essential feature of the Church, with its roots in the Revelation itself, as a dialogue between God and people. In relation to the Church’s evangelistic mission it means that: “Before we can convert the world – as the very condition of converting the world – we must approach it and speak to it.

The Council provided for the institutionalisation of the dialogue within the Church by setting up the Synod of Bishops as a permanent institution, seen by Pope Francis as a place of common spiritual discernment. In his opening address to the Synod of Bishops in 2014, he specified “speaking openly” as a fundamental requirement of synodality. The Pope deems different opinions and discussions to be necessary to the process of spiritual discernment. The basic right to freedom of opinion also applies within the Church.

A willingness to enter into dialogue is an essential criterion for the credibility of the Church. A Church that refuses dialogue refutes itself. Young people in particular are sensitive towards discrepancies between the words and the actions of those who see it as their task to spread Christian beliefs and attitudes. Christians should be more open to dialogue, as they relate not only to themselves but also to others, and even risk failure. A willingness to enter into honest dialogue has the quality of preaching.

Dialogue is also an essential dimension in the political process of the European Union. Dialogue characterised the initial stages of European unification, when statesmen of European states that had formerly been enemies sat down together around the table. The joint political decisions of the twenty eight Member States are also made in a spirit of dialogue. The “confessional procedure” with its religious connotations has become an established description of dialogues between politicians in crisis situations.

Dialogue is not a matter of style, but a vital issue for the Church and for Europe. Against this background, the interventions in the February edition of EuropeInfos were highly problematic and went counter to the culture of dialogue. Our review was forced by the Polish and Hungarian Bishops’ Conferences to withdraw two articles without the editors being given any fully understandable reasons. Dialogue should also be the medium whereby differences of opinion and conflicts are resolved between Christians. The deciding factor must be the authority of the arguments, not the argument of authority.

Martin Maier SJ