Italian Church Scrambles to Stop Racist Salvini

Italian Church Scrambles to Stop Racist Salvini March 1, 2018

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Swift and harsh have been the Catholic reactions to the spectacle of Matteo Salvini, head of the racist Northern League party, swearing on the Bible and a rosary  to apply “the teaching in the sacred gospels” should he win the Italian general election on March 4. The archbishop of Ferrara, Gian Carlo Perego, has even gone so far as to accuse Salvini of a “serious exploitation of two important symbols, fundamental to the Christian experience”, and of having fallen into a “Catholic fundamentalism”.

Last weekend, Salvini – who has promised to rid Italy of 100,000 migrants in the first year of his term – promised at a rally in Milan, on copies of the Scriptures and the Italian constitution, to serve “my people” and to bring to bear “what is envisaged” by the laws of the country “and… to do it according to the teaching in the sacred gospels”. Calling them “apostles”, Salvini asked his audience to go out and spread his message, promising them too that “this Easter will truly be about resurrection”, convinced as he is that the right-wing coalition he has formed with former Prime Minister and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi will win the upcoming ballot.

For these blasphemous displays, the leader of the League – who dropped the word “Northern” from the party name in order to win wider appeal – was swiftly chided by the Archbishop of Milan, Mario Delpini, who reminded the ‘Italian Trump’ that “at political rallies one should talk about politics”. The influential Italian editor of the Jesuit review La Civiltà Cattolica, Antonio Spadaro, chimed in on Twitter, too, and accused Salvini of using the Gospels and the rosary as “propaganda tools”. But among all the other attacks on the racist politician from journalists, theologians, economists, sociologists, priests and other assorted TV talking heads, it was Archbishop Perego’s that was perhaps the strongest.

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To present oneself with the sacred texts and a rosary while at the same time refusing to welcome the stranger is “contradictory”, thundered the Archbishop of Ferrara in the pages of La Repubblica. Salvini is guilty of having engaged in an “instrumentalization” of the Christian religion with the cheap aim of building up his electoral base, and of trying to make a “last-minute dash” to the ballot box, continued Perego, but – even worse than that – he has been betrayed by a “certain inability to distinguish between the real needs of the people and the fundamental instruments of the experience of faith”. What’s more: “with regard to religious pluralism, acceptance [and] solidarity”, the League, with Salvini’s stunt, “has absolutely distanced itself” from the social doctrine of the Church.

“It is right that Christian inspiration should move Catholics engaged in politics”, concluded Archbishop Perego, “but this must never lead to the exploitation of symbols, people [or] places for electoral purposes”. Those who choose to go down the road of such stunts only show “that they have no means or arguments to deal with the serious social and political crises that have engulfed the country, starting with two fundamental challenges: youth and immigration”, warned the prelate.

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