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Pontifical councils are wary of the government’s policies, and Pope Benedict has asked the faithful to pray for a ‘world built on authentic justice and true peace.’
BY Edward Pentin
“Italians aren’t becoming fascists, they already
are,” said one Roman citizen.
was only half joking, but like a minority of Italians, uneasy about recent
security policies relating to beggars, Gypsies and immigrants.
government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, which is made up of a number of
former fascists, has come under fire for its allegedly heavy-handed treatment
of these minorities, leading to criticism from some Vatican officials, human
rights organizations and the European Union.
government’s policies have included plans to fingerprint all of Italy’s 150,000
Gypsies (including all children), to make begging illegal in some regions
(including outside some churches), and to clamp down on illegal immigration.
August, the government has even ordered soldiers to patrol the streets of major
cities to give a heightened sense of security.
most Italians fully support the government. Berlusconi’s Christian-Democratic
government was elected in April on a platform of tighter security, and his
personal ratings have soared.
of petty crime among some Gypsies and reports of increasing violent crime
perpetrated by foreigners, Italians see the government not only coming to their
rescue, but also sorting out problems that the Roma and immigrants themselves
living among rats, as Gypsy children do in their camps, respect their rights?”
asked Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. “As Italian citizens, we should be
ashamed of this situation, which should not be allowed to continue.”
Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, secretary of the Pontifical Council for the
Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, has led Church opposition to
cannot make poverty a crime,” he told the Italian daily newspaper La Stampa
in June. “We should be giving financial aid to Gypsy parents instead, to
encourage them to get educated and to become cultural mediators.”
officials have also been privately expressing concerns that plans to clamp down
on illegal immigrants are promoting xenophobia. Many Italians believe Pope
Benedict XVI has made his feelings felt on this issue, albeit indirectly. In
his Aug. 17 Angelus address, he called for an end to racism and encouraged hospitality
as an “instrument of communion” for every race and culture. The Holy Father
observed that many countries, as a result of social and economic problems, are
experiencing protests linked to racial discrimination, and he asked the
faithful to pray for the building of a “world built on authentic justice and
comments followed heated reaction to an August editorial in the widely
respected Catholic magazine Famiglia
Cristiana. Citing a report on
racism in Italy in the French magazine Esprit, it concluded: “Let’s hope the suspicion is
unfounded that fascism is resurfacing in our country under another guise.”
senior political figure said he would sue the Italian magazine’s editor, while
another denounced the publication as the “publicity arm of the Catholic left.”
irony is that the right is traditionally the closest political ally to the
Church, particularly when it comes to family and pro-life issues. Now, however,
it is the political left that is leading the cheers for the Church.
some officials, such as Cardinal Renato Martino of the pontifical councils for
justice and peace and migrants, are vocally wary of the government’s policies
(he has spoken out strongly against the banning of begging), the general
response has been low-key.
Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian bishops’ conference, has held secret talks
with Maroni, but he has said little on the matter. Leftist politicians would
like the Church to speak out more, as it does on pro-life issues.
Church considers the details of how to effect a just immigration policy involve
a prudential decision. Abortion and same-sex “marriage,” by comparison, are on
a different level, involving more black-and-white criteria.
Sant’Egidio lay community also agrees something must be done with regard to the
Gypsies. Since the 1970s it has cared for Italy’s Roma, many of whom come from
the former Yugoslavia. However, it opposes the government’s methods.
principle, the [government] idea was not bad because closing the makeshift
camps where people have no water, no sewerage facilities, no health-care
facilities, is something we’ve been calling for all along since we started
working with Gypsies,” said Claudio Betti, Sant’Egidio’s chief spokesman. “The
problem is that they went a little bit further, and frankly too far, by
accepting what can be seen as a way of discriminating against Gypsies because
they are different from the rest.”
added that the policy brought back memories of discrimination in Nazi Germany,
which is “not something any Christian can accept.”
advocates a census rather than fingerprinting, and managed to pressure the
government into softening its position slightly.
you start defining people according to their religion or racial belonging, then
you are on a path where the end isn’t known,” Betti warned. “We do not want to
walk that path again. It has happened before in Europe, and we definitely do
not want to walk down that path again.”
the real problem, he believes, is not the Gypsies or illegal immigrants, but
that society is losing a sense of mercy and compassion.
live in a society where more and more the poor are judged and not helped, and
so the weak are judged and not helped,” he said. “This is the real emergency we
have to worry about, and addressing this is the task of all Christians and
especially of us Catholics.”