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19th Jul 2018

Volcanic ash saves Buzek from awkward Vatican meeting

  • Buzek: Liberal MEPs worry that the Roman Catholic EPP elite is too close to the Catholic church (Photo: European Parliament)

Ash from an Icelandic volcano spared EU parliament President Jerzy Buzek from a potentially awkward meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on Friday (16 April).

Mr Buzek was to meet the pontiff and his "foreign minister" Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone amid the unfolding child abuse scandal which has seen the pope blamed for protecting abusive priests and Cardinal Bertone saying that homosexuality is a root cause of paedophilia - a classic tenet of homophobia.

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Liberal MEPs and gay rights activists on the eve of the trip had urged Mr Buzek and other EU leaders to break Brussels' silence on the subject. But the Vatican trip was cancelled at the last minute due to the drifting cloud of ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajoekull volcano, which disrupted flights across Europe.

Liberal group leader and former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt in a letter on Thursday to Mr Buzek, EU commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy said: "I ask you to react to these declarations, condemning them in the most unambiguous terms and to make representations to the Catholic church leadership, to ensure that truth and justice are brought to victims of paedophile crime."

"If he [Mr Buzek] doesn't raise the issue, he will have some explaining to do," Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld added.

A major gay rights advocacy group, the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), joined the appeal.

"EU leaders have a moral obligation [to speak out] under Article 1 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights [on human dignity]," the group's secretary general, Renato Sabbadini, told EUobserver. "A critical comment of this type would be very helpful ...it would be a strong signal to the church that there are limits to the kind of things it can say to get out of trouble."

Mr Buzek, Mr Barroso and Mr Van Rompuy's offices were all unavailable for comment when contacted by this website.

Mr Barroso is also under the Liberal spotlight due to his plan to hold a meeting with church leaders in Brussels in the coming weeks, an event which Ms in 't Veld would also like to see used to promote EU values.

A senior EU official said a Barroso statement criticising the Roman Catholic church for its handling of the paedophile priest scandal is unlikely because the issue is not an area of EU policy-making, however.

Antoine Ripoll, a spokesman for the christian-democrat EPP group in the EU parliament agreed: "I understand Mr Verhofstadt's moral point of view. But the EU as such doesn't have any competence in this area."

Ms in 't Veld paints a picture of the EPP establishment in Brussels as having too many non-transparent meetings with what she called the Roman Catholic "lobby."

Mr Buzek is a Protestant. Mr Barroso and Mr Van Rompuy are Roman Catholic and all three are EPP members. Gay rights campaigners in the EU parliament are concerned about Mr Buzek's reluctance to take part in a video for an anti-homophobia day in May. Mr Van Rompuy has caused controversy in the past by saying Turkey should never join the EU because it does not share its "Christian values."

"In that group [the EPP] you could certainly say that MEPs from southern and eastern Europe would be less likely to be seen hurting in any way the Catholic church," the ILGA's Mr Sabbadini said.

The EPP's Mr Rippel rejected the suggestion that his group's relations with the Vatican are somehow too cozy as "ridiculous."

Correction: the article originally said Mr Buzek is a Roman Catholic. He is in fact a Protestant. The original line "Mr Buzek is known in the EU parliament for his scant support for gay rights," has also been taken out and replaced with the line: "Gay rights campaigners in the EU parliament are concerned about Mr Buzek's reluctance to take part in a video for anti-homophobia day in May."

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