Luxembourg archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich praised the successes of green parties in Sunday’s EU elections while lamenting the rise of populist-nationalist groups.
Archbishop Hollerich, president of COMECE (Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community), told reporters Monday that despite populist victories things would have been “worse” if not for the pope’s constant call for a more welcoming attitude toward migrants.
The Italian vote does not mean that Italians are rebelling against the pope, the archbishop insisted, because “the Holy Father’s message and our message as a Church comes from the Gospel, and it is not a political or media message.”
“Then again, there are Catholics and Catholics,” he said.
“It is positive that in several places numerous young people voted for ecological parties, which means that the themes of environment and creation can become important in the future,” the archbishop said, noting that “as a Church” the victory of the green parties “makes us happy.”
“There is, as expected, a strengthening of populist parties but it is not a trend in all countries,” he said, noting the strong populist victory in Italy was not matched in countries like Spain, Denmark, Austria, and the Netherlands.
“Certainly, the presence of a strengthened group of sovereign and populist parties will surely be an obstacle, but not an insurmountable difficulty,” he said, “because these political forces do not represent a strong enough minority to block the EU Parliament.”
Asked whether the overall results of the elections were positive or negative, the archbishop said they were “not completely negative” even if this is “perhaps harder to see for Catholics in Italy.”
Hollerich then went on to criticize Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini for preying upon Catholics by appealing to their religious sense.
“I think that in Italy, as well as in many other countries, Catholics have not been taken very seriously,” he said. “Their opinion did not count, and for this reason if someone holds up — for example — a rosary or something similar, people say: ‘Ah, finally there is a politician who cares about us.’”
“I could also hold up a communist flag,” he continued, “but that does not mean that I am a communist,” seeming to suggest that despite appearances to the contrary, Mr. Salvini is not a real Catholic.
The archbishop went on to downplay the importance of Salvini’s victory, noting that despite getting over 34 percent of the votes “it is not the majority of the population” and “it doesn’t mean that all the Italian people think the way he does.”
“In this post-modern era there is a certain political instability; the vote goes to one party one day and two years later the same party no longer counts for anything,” he said.
The archbishop suggested that in the elections the Italian people were also reacting against an ongoing economic decline in the country.
It is clear that in Italy “there has never been a real growth of the economy and people are poorer,” he said. “Then people vote for those who promise something but has yet to be seen whether they can keep their promises.”
“Our great enemy today is materialism, which is huge in Europe,” he said. “It is expressed in populisms but also in economic liberalism that is too strong.”