Reading room > Interview with Fr Frank Turner SJ

30 Sep 2006

30 September 2005 -  Budapest

Zoltán Dudás (Z.D.): Please tell us something about yourself.

Fr. Frank Turner SJ (Fr.T): I’m Frank Turner, a member of the British Province of the Jesuits ordained in 1981. I have always worked trying to strengthen the connection between faith and the search for social justice in some practical ways and through my academic training. I lived in very poor accommodation in three English cities. My doctorate was in the area of faith and justice. I taught political theology in the universities of Manchester and London, and for seven years I was adviser to the bishops of England and Wales on international affairs. I was appointed in January to come to OCIPE in Brussels. I’m happy to have this new mission.

Z.D.: What was the subject you were teaching in Manchester and in London?

Fr.T: In Manchester it was social and pastoral theology, and in London it was more specifically political theology ­– so social justice in the public level, in the level of public policy. But also historically as well. The Christian reflection on these subjects goes right back to Saint Augustine and beyond. ­Think of his great work The City of God’. Thomas Aquinas had very serious reflections on many of these topics. So it’s not a new discipline just post-Marx or anything like that, it has roots right throughout Christian history of theology.

Z.D.: You are the General Director of OCIPE. What is OCIPE? What is its mission?

Fr.T: OCIPE is a French acronym: Office Catholique d'Information et d'Initiative pour l'Europe, which is slightly deceptive in that we are not just about information on whatever initiatives might be. It is the Jesuit office working on those aspects of the European Union which are most important for the Church’s mission of social justice, and those aspects of the life of the Church which come most effectively, and most helpfully engaged with the European Union and its officials. So we will have some work of research, of advocacy, but also of spiritual conversation and accompaniment of decision makers in Brussels (officials and parliamentarians etc.) We have this tradition and we will try to build on it.

Z.D.: Next year OCIPE will have an anniversary.

Fr.T: It happens, that the 50th anniversary of the foundation of OCIPE will fall in December 2006, because OCIPE was founded in the archdiocese of Strasbourg on 11th December 1956. We want to mark the 50th anniversary also by re-launching OCIPE and its new form. We have to discuss what activities we will do, but one thing that is clear is that we will have a celebration in Strasbourg: a liturgical celebration possibly with a colloquium. We will also have some event to mark this in Brussels – though it isn’t the 50th anniversary of the work in Brussels (where we only moved in 1963). So we want to re-launch as well as to celebrate.

Z.D.: The year 2006 marks significant Jesuit anniversaries as well.

Fr.T: One of the contexts of our celebration is the Ignatian anniversaries that fall in 2006 by coincidence. 2006 is the year of the 500th anniversary of the birth of Francis Xavier and Blessed Peter Favre, two of the first Jesuits, as well as the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius, the founder.

Z.D.: Would you make comments on present problems of Europe?

Fr.T: This is a difficult question to focus on. The European Union has many problems at present: some linked with complex discussions about accession, or possible accession of Romania, Bulgaria on the one hand, and on the other hand big decisions to be made about Turkey and Croatia etc..

A second set of problems is about what is the legal future of the European Union after the rejection of the constitution in France and in Holland. The legal basis at present vests on the Treaty of Nice, which is not an adequate instrument to conduct the affairs of the Union, because it was agreed without the participation of the accession countries. It doesn’t cover every topic at all of the life of the Union. So the Union has legal problems, which are not especially OCIPEs problems We are obviously interested in the constitution for many reasons, but we are not going to solve these questions, and it isn’t our job to solve them.

The problems of the European Union we are more interested in are the opportunities and the dangers. The opportunities: the Union at its best could enrich our sense of what it is to be European, could make us less nationalist, could give a grater sense of solidarity between richer and poor countries. But power is always dangerous, and as the Union gets more power, we have no guaranties that power will be well used. Therefore OCIPE would need to have a critical approach to the policies of the Union, and especially to their impact on more powerless nations and communities inside or outside of the Union. So for example, we often hear the phrase ‘Fortress Europe’, by which Europe sees itself as a rich alliance of nations that can potentially compete effectively with the United States, with the emerging great economic powers of China and India, and therefore needs above all economic efficiency etc. And there is a real danger that that aspect of Europe could develop at a great cost in social justice.

Z.D.: What is the purpose of your present visit to Hungary?

Fr.T: At present as the General Director I try to animate a process by which we clarify our future mission.

Before this week my perspective was entirely that of Brussels. I am exploring how the three offices can work together, and shape the future together. This visit to Hungary will be followed next week by a similar visit to Warsaw. The purpose of my visits is to learn two kinds of things.

One is about how the European Union and its policies affect Hungary and of course Poland, or how the European Union looks from Hungary and from Poland. The second is the same kind of question, but not about the Union, but about OCIPE itself. So the second question is how OCIPE looks from Hungary: both in the terms of the work of the national office, and looking to the future of what work we can do together.

I’ve been very encouraged by the fact that subjects which seem to us in Brussels to be central and to be clear priorities for us, are also relevant and urgent in Hungary. Those two questions: what does solidarity mean if it is not reduced to an empty slogan, and how can the Church most effectively engage with public authorities, with the wider society, especially where influential social movements believe that the Church has no authentic mission. You can sum up that in the relationship between the state and the Church, or the state and religion.

The next stage for me is the visit to Warsaw, but for us together is a meeting in Brussels in January, where we will again try and plan future work together. But before that I have the chance to meet the Jesuit Provincials of Europe to learn their views, to find out what they think, and to seek their support for this new development of OCIPE.

D.Z.: Thank you very much.