Austrian priest and theologian Paul Zulehner

Austrian theologian warns Europe’s freedom at risk from “illiberal democracies”

Noted Austrian priest and theologian Paul Zulehner has warned Europe’s “hard-won freedom” is at risk from “illiberal democracies” in countries such as Hungary and Poland.

Driving the news

Zulehner was speaking Monday in a keynote presentation at the 30th Colloquium of the European Parishes (CEP) in Lviv, Ukraine.

The Colloquium, which has brought together 150 representatives of parishes from all over the continent, has been discussing the theme: “Who will help us to be Christians in modern Europe?”

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The big picture

As KNA reports, Zulehner denounced in his talk the growing trend in countries in Eastern Europe of replacing the free individual with the member of the Christian-nationalist community as the subject of collective identity.

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But the University of Vienna theologian warned countries in western Europe have hardly escaped the growth in populist, nationalist and racist ideologies.

He added that freedom is being experienced on the continent as increasingly risk-laden because of the confusion of globalization and the weakness of institutions, including the family.

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Go deeper

This epidemic of freedom-phobia is precisely what the different Churches in Europe are being called to address themselves to, explained Zulehner.

In political terms, this means the Churches should make a clear commitment to liberalism, and clearly reject “self-interested political parties and systems that have taken the path of an illiberal democracy”.

The theologian added that the Church will only be seen as credible in this fight against illiberal democracy to the extent that it promotes freedom and justice in its own ranks.

By respecting the consciences of individual church members, by recognising human rights, by practising subsidiarity and synodality as well as by reducing existing discriminations, such as those of women and the LGBT community, Zulehner explained.

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In the midst of “cultures and politics of fear” the Churches are called to be “oases of trust” that contribute to a “free, just and peaceful Europe”, said the theologian.

“Of course, a church is not a political party, but politically it is inevitably partisan: it has to speak out in favor of the poor and the poor, for even today these poor people are crying out to heaven”, claimed Zulehner.

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Cameron Doody

Director and editor at Novena
PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. Lecturer in ethics at Loyola University Maryland, Alcalá de Henares (Spain) campus. Religion journalist with 4 years experience.
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