Philosopher finds speaking his mind may be unwise

Europe Correspondent Ann Cahill profiles the controversial Italian, Rocco Buttiglione.

ROCCO BUTTIGLIONE is a philosopher of world standing who has helped shape the Catholic Church's doctrine as well as the Bush administration's policy.

But while Italy's European affairs minister's views have been much respected in the rarified atmosphere of the Vatican and the White House, they have triggered a crisis in the European Union.

In the raw battlefield of European politics, one MEP summed up the situation: "We have a Justice Commissioner who appears to believe that refugees belong in camps, women belong in the kitchen and gays belong in hell."

The incoming Commission president, Jose Manual Barroso, is also in the dock, accused of a lack of judgement in appointing a man known to hold such strong, controversial views to one of the key posts in the Commission.

The 56-year-old's hearing for the job of Justice Commissioner in front of the

Civil Liberties committee of the European Parliament earlier this month catapulted him into the headlines.

The Professor of Political Philosophy gave full and frank answers to the leading questions put to him, quoting philosophers like Immanuel Kant with ease.

But questions from MEPs who are aware of the Catholic Church's teaching on abortion, homosexuality, marriage and babies led to him delivering a University style lecture on moral philosophy.

The man, who speaks half a dozen languages and can debate the finer points of theology with the Pope in Polish, however, proved illiterate in grass-roots political-speak.

He walked himself straight into a furore with headline grabbing phrases such as: "I may think that homosexuality is a sin," and marriage is for women to have children and have the protection of a male.

At the weekend he was quoted as saying that single mothers were poor mothers and the uproar reached new heights.

It has all led Mr Buttiglione to declare: "There is a hate campaign against me everything I say is wrongly interpreted."

A full review of what he has said shows he has certainly been loosely interpreted. The full quote on gay people was the need for a clear distinction between morality and law: "Many things may be considered immoral which should not be prohibited. I may think that homosexuality is a sin, and this has no effect on politics, unless I say that homosexuality is a crime."

He added: "Nobody can be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation. This stands in the Charter of Human Rights, this stands in the Constitution and I have pledged to defend this constitution," he said.

A member of the neo-con think tank, the American Enterprise Institute credited with helping formulate President George W Bush's foreign policy, Mr Buttiglione insisted he would not be influenced by the US. He was "a friend of the US but not an American".

He also said he believed a person could be a "good Catholic and a good European at the same time," giving Robert Schuman, Konrad Adenauer and Helmut Kohl as examples.

The outgoing Commission has suffered from being led by another intellectual Italian, Romano Prodi, who has also been given to speaking the truth but not being political enough in the way he did it.

Mr Buttiglione is also suffering from being caught up in a battle between the new Commission President Jose Manual Barroso and the Parliament over who will be boss for the next five years.

Mr Barroso may tell the presidents of the Parliament political groups on Thursday he will relieve Mr Buttiglione of responsibility for anti-discrimination and transfer it to the Commissioner for Social Affairs. Just ten years ago another Commissioner, Pádraig Flynn, had a similar area for women removed from his Social Affairs portfolio.

Meanwhile, both the second and third largest political groups, the Socialists and Liberals, are threatening to vote against the entire Commission on October 27.

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