Europe is becoming ‘spiritually fragmented’

Europe is becoming ‘spiritually fragmented’ Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

“A society which has lost its religion becomes sooner or later a society which has lost its culture.” This sentiment undergirded the theme of the most recent Ratzinger Symposium held in the Buswells Hotel in Dublin.

Entitled ‘The Future of Europe: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives’, the conference pays homage to the theology of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, which still remains crucial in addressing complex contemporary issues such as Islam, democracy and the conscience.

In a room of around two dozen people, academics and the general public came together to try and make sense of the challenges that are now facing contemporary Europe.


Initially beginning in 2013, following the resignation of Pope Benedict, the conference which was organised by Dr Vincent Twomey SVD (Prof. Emeritus Maynooth) and Mary McCaughey, provides a platform to discuss the works of Joseph Ratzinger and their impact on the public sphere.

Fr Twomey, who studied under Ratzinger during his doctoral thesis, also articulated that these types of conferences offer “opportunities for young scholars to meet and express their ideas”.

Chairing the talks was Mr Philip Cremin, lecturer in Theology, Waterford Institute of Technology, alongside the two speakers Dr Mary Frances McKenna and Dr Tom Finegan.

Speaking first, Dr Tom Finegan, lecturer in Theology, Mary Immaculate College (Thurles), offered a thought provoking paper entitled ‘Liberal Democratic Dictatorship?: Ratzinger, Rawls and Religious Freedom’.

In dialogue with the works of John Rawls, Dr Finegan echoed and developed the thoughts of Joseph Ratzinger who saw society declining into moral relativism.


This idea has commonly been referred to as “the Dictatorship of Relativism”. Dr Finegan stated that relativism is the “denial of objective moral truth”, and is constitutive of an ongoing precedent in Europe, where we are continuing to “make the conception of the good our own”.

This of course has serious practical consequences in fields such as jurisprudence and commerce, where people who conscientiously object to providing services such as administering abortions are being denied juridical support. This popular outlook, for Dr Finegan, corrupts democracy, blinds moral truth, and reduces ethical and political decisions to a mere majority vote.

Dr Frances Mary McKenna, author of Innovation within Tradition Joseph Ratzinger and Reading the Women of Scripture (Fortress Press, 2015), similarly argued that the “common values which underpin the European project have become obscure”.

Interacting with thinkers such as Ratzinger, Jürgen Habermas and Alasdair MacIntyre, McKenna argued that the future of Europe is “destined to be in the age of Enlightenment thought” where human rights and the dignity of each of human being are “ultimately subject to the democratic will of the citizens”, where natural law, practical reason and the common good will not be explicitly recognised.

For her, the problems in Europe must be addressed by “focusing on our own circles of influence” in the same way that, “St Teresa of Avila urged her sisters in the 16th Centuries to mind the pots and pans rather than try and save the world”.

The persons of the Church are the yeast which can bring about change, in the same way that the few thousand people that followed Jesus after the crucifixion spread the Christian message.


Her talk was comprehensive and inspiring, articulating that living Christianity as real and true is “what transforms people” and through it “salvation can infiltrate the world”.

Each presentation was followed by a Q&A session which examined the efficacy of Joseph Ratzinger’s ideas, and also allowed for some to express their concern for a Europe that is becoming more fragmented spiritually, economically, and culturally. One area of interest that evoked discussion was the place and role of Islam in Europe.

Dr Finnegan stated that at least one positive aspect about Islam’s presence in Europe is that it will reintroduce discussion about God and theology back into the public mind.