Edward Pentin began reporting on the Pope and the Vatican with Vatican Radio before moving on to become the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register. He has also reported on the Holy See and the Catholic Church for a number of other publications including Newsweek, Newsmax, Zenit, The Catholic Herald, and The Holy Land Review, a Franciscan publication specializing in the Church and the Middle East. Edward is the author of “The Rigging of a Vatican Synod? An Investigation into Alleged Manipulation at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family”, published by Ignatius Press. Follow him on Twitter @edwardpentin
After choosing not to back two recent pro-life demonstrations, the Italian bishops' conference has now agreed to participate in an upcoming "March for Amnesty, Justice, Freedom" organized by the anti-clerical Radical Party.
The Nov. 6 Rome march, dedicated to Pope Francis and Marco Pannella, the party’s long-serving and recently deceased leader, will end in a call for a prisoner amnesty and coincide with the Pope’s Jubilee of mercy for prisoners that day, according to Italian media reports.
A spokesman for the Italian bishops' conference, Father Ivan Maffeis, said its general secretary, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, gives his "steadfast commitment" to the march because the bishops see it "as an opportunity to raise awareness" also in the "political world" about the country's prison system. The president of Italy's bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, also supports the initiative, he said.
Father Maffeis pointed out the "grim reality" for prisoners today, such as the "long list of suicides", "broken lives", and "frail people detained for minor offenses."
"Often in these places we lack a support network," he said, and because the issue is uncomfortable, it is often "invisible" or greeted with silence.
Francis has urged governments to consider granting a Holy Year amnesty to prisoners, find alternatives to incarceration and to abolish the death penalty.
Next month's protest, which will begin at Rome's Regina Coeli prison and end at St. Peter's, will also coincide with a hunger strike on Nov. 5-6 by 720 inmates to demand prison reform and a promised re-education program that has yet to materialize.
The Sant'Egidio lay community will also be taking part in the initiative, the Radical Party's 4th march for "amnesty, justice and freedom."
News of the Italian bishops' participation has surprised and disappointed many Catholics here, especially as the Radical Party has long opposed the Church on a whole range of issues from abortion and sterilisation to euthanasia and homosexual rights.
Until now, the Italian bishops conference has never lent its support to any events organized by political parties, “much less shown particular sympathy for the radicals' slogans and battles,” according to the Rome publication Roma Giornale.
But it said that with Pope Francis, “things have changed”, and in recent years the radicals and Church leaders have “publicly exchanged declarations of esteem and affection.”
The advent of a "new course" opened by Pope Francis has apparently “cheered the radicals who welcomed the Argentine pope with sympathy and renewed hopes for change” in the Church, the newspaper reported.
They have also been warmed by the fact that Pope Francis recently praised the Italian pro-abortion campaigner and Radical Party member, Emma Bonino.
The Italian bishops’ conference participation comes after it purposely chose not to give its wholehearted support to a "Family Day" in Rome in January against same-sex civil unions legislation in order not to interfere in the political debate at that time (out of hundreds of thousands of protesters, only one bishop turned up). In June 2015, no bishop took part in a million-strong rally upholding marriage that took place in Rome’s Piazza San Giovanni.
On hearing the news of the upcoming march and the bishops’ "steadfast commitment" to the march, RAI journalist Costanza Miriano wrote on her blog that she felt pained by the news "because I have a filial love for the Church, the bride of Christ” and asked what is going on with the Church's leadership in Italy.
She wrote that it is “obvious that the CEI [Italian bishops’ conference] and Christians are all in favor of the dignity of the prisoners”, but questioned why the bishops should march with leftist radicals who, above all, have the blood of so many unborn children on their hands.
Miriano noted that the Pope cautions the faithful “not to be violent against anyone who does not have the gift of faith”, and that probably the bishops' decision to support the march comes from the desire “to obey the Pope.” But she wondered if the Pope’s direction in this area “has been correctly interpreted.”
“It is one thing not to be violent,” she wrote, but another to “join in the conviction of that march."
"For me the greatest violence that you can do to someone is to leave him in his darkness, in his lie, in his error,” Miriano wrote. There must be “the charity of truth," she added.