By Edward Pentin
n the fall of 2004, Rocco Buttiglione, a friend of the late Pope John Paul II’s and Italy’s European affairs minister under the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was forced to withdraw his nomination as the new European commissioner for justice. His conservative social views proved an anathema to a predominately secular European Parliament. After his nomination, Buttiglione, who heads Italy’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), said homosexuality was a sin and assailed the moral fitness of single mothers.
The comments, though in keeping with Buttiglione’s social and political thinking, provoked outrage among Socialist and Green deputies within the EU. When Berlusconi reluctantly his name from consideration, Buttiglione called himself an “innocent victim of an orchestrated campaign,” a position he maintains today.
Buttiglione has a boyish face that sits incongruously on a somewhat gangly, six-foot frame. His disarming manner is in keeping with 18th-century erudition and charm; he makes a point of practicing the antiquated courtesy of kissing a woman’s hand. That Buttiglione’s proper demeanor would unsettle European Parliament liberals is hardly surprising. The cigar-puffing traditionalist harks back to an age at odds with progressive liberalism. But he is anything but apologetic.
Buttiglione, who is also a lecturer in philosophy, spoke to Edward Pentin in Rome.
How disappointed were you about the European debacle? Did you consider it to be a personal defeat?
I very much wanted to become a European commissioner and of course I was disappointed. On the other hand there are things more valuable than a seat on the commission and one’s conscience is one of them — perhaps first and foremost. I must add that when I resigned I felt I was completely alone, abandoned and defeated. But immediately after that I realized there was an enormous current of support for me personally, and for my positions. [There are many] people who can make a distinction between ethics and politics and who think that you do not have a right to set up a kind of inquisition, or “conscience police” in order to enquire into the religious convictions of anybody, and in particular of a possible commissioner.
Do you think the affair had more to do with Europe’s institutions rather than European society as such?
It had to do with some European lobbyists and it was a disgrace — a disgrace from the point of view of a balanced Europe. … You cannot discriminate on conscience — and this was done. According to these principles, Konrad Adenauer, Alcide de Gasperi, Robert Schuman would not have sat on the commission. By the way, according to those principles, George W. Bush could not sit on the commission — not even John Kerry, because although he is a liberal he thinks that abortion is morally evil though it should not be punished by the law. And this, by the way, is exactly the position I held in the commission. So there is a kind of new orthodoxy and those who hold to this orthodoxy believe there is only one truth, and this truth is that there’s no truth. Anybody who stands by objective values, anybody who thinks that there is any kind of truth, although he keeps them carefully distinguished (the sphere of religious truth from the sphere of politics), he is at least considered suspect. He’s a second class citizen.
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