Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops' conference, talks with Pope Francis during a prayer vigil for the Synod of Bishops on the family in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican in this Oct. 3, 2015, file photo. Cardinal Bagnasco said Italy's bishops are united in reaffirming the rights of children to be raised by a mother and father. His comment came as the Italian Senate is set to vote Jan. 28 on legislation that would allow civil unions for heterosexual and homosexual couples. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
pressure to subvert traditional ethics on issues pertaining to life,
the family and education, which has been sweeping through the European
Union from West to East, is currently being halted by the former “Iron
Curtain” countries, and in Italy, where the struggle has been pitting
grassroots movements against the European Establishment for at least a
dozen years now.
As befits the country that has hosted the papacy
for almost all of the twenty centuries since Saint Peter took up
residence in Rome, Italy is the last remaining nation in Western Europe
to hold out against the recognition of civil partnerships.
this may change in the next few days, as Italy’s Parliament is once
again confronted by prospective legislation that would grant an official
status to civil partnerships, notably including same-sex couples, with
the accompanying right to adopt each other’s progeny.
ethical issues involved are not of concern solely to Catholics, the
spotlight is nonetheless on the Bishops Conference, which, after leading
a successful campaign against a similar bill of law in 2007, has lately
been sending mixed messages.
Now it is the rank-and-file families
who are taking things into their own hands and as a result seem to be
forcing the bishops, and perhaps even Pope Francis, to speak up.
last time a governing administration attempted to pass a law
recognizing non-wed couples, it was torpedoed by a massive demonstration
of families summoned to demonstrate in Rome by the Bishops’ Conference,
with the approval of Pope John Paul II. The government, a
Catholic/Communist coalition led by Catholic Romano Prodi, caved to the
resounding “no” from what has remained known as a historical “Family
Day” (while quietly retaliating by excluding the main organizing body,
the “Forum of the Families”, from all further meetings and
At the time, the issue appeared to be settled. But
in the following years the grassroots associations came to be even more
aware of a paradigm shift being mainstreamed under the guise of “gender
equality” in education, the media, the courts and the legislature. At
the same time the Bergoglio revolution, tasked with cleaning up the
Curia, has unexpectedly been redefining Catholic priorities and watering
down the prominence given to what under the two preceding Pontiffs had
become known as the “non-negotiable principles”.
So it is that
eight years after “Family Day”, with Parliament once again being called
upon to vote on a very similar measure to the proposition defeated in
2007 (aggravated by a provision allowing for “stepchild adoption”), the
view from the top has become completely different. The advent of Pope
Francis, whose focus is prevalently on economical and environmental
issues, has changed almost everything. His pick for the post of
Secretary General of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Msgr Nunzio
Galantino, has led to a sort of double leadership of the Bishops’ Conference,
where Bishop Galantino, who is viewed as the de facto spokesman for the
Pope, has been tugging in quite a different direction than his boss, the
President of the same Bishops Conference, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.
who is from a tiny diocese in Calabria and lived in the seminary (and
encouraged his flock to call him simply “Don Nunzio”), has the hallmark
of the kind of “shepherd that smells of sheep” that Pope Francis has
been singling out in his quest to present the Catholic Church as a “poor
Church for the poor”. But the Pontiff probably hadn’t bargained for
Galantino’s frankness to include statements such as this: “I don’t
identify with the inexpressive faces of those who recite the rosary
outside the clinics where they interrupt pregnancies”a controversial
remark he was later to explain away as being quoted out of context.
Since then, the Secretary General has continued to remain center stage,
accepting invitations to the most prestigious secular talk shows,
conveying his view on everything from immigration to “Western
fundamentalism”, and expressing his concern about “the violent
attitudes, including verbal violence, with which values are defended” by
Catholics, in apparent autonomy from President Bagnasco, who has
correspondingly kept away from the footlights.
Both men appear to
be doing their part to keep up an appearance of harmony. But with the
mounting ethical challenges to be met, the top bishops can’t avoid
giving answers and these answers can differ only so much.
became apparent last June when, confronted with the spread of gender
theory and other educational distortions in the schools, the concerned
laity planned a “no-gender” protest in Rome, thinking they would once
again find leadership or at least support from the bishops. On the
contrary, as La Bussola Quotidiana has analysed, Bishop Galantino did
his best to oppose the initiative. The grass roots organizations brashly
and bravely decided to go ahead anyway and the event, held on June
20th, turned out against all odds to be a great success, chalked up at
one million participants. Disappointingly, its resonance was greatly
toned down by the marginal attention it got from Avvenire, the bishops’ daily newspaper, while Sat2000, the bishops’ television, totally ignored the exploit.
the family movement, made up of a swarm of different aggregates, is
still not giving up. For next week, as the political parties, and
particularly Matteo Renzi’s ruling Democrats, are feverishly negotiating
the facets of the bill of law, slated to come up for discussion on
Thursday, they have organized another massive demonstration, reserving
the space of the entire Circus Maximus, the biggest possible area in
Rome, for Saturday, January 30th.
All this despite the absence of a
leader, despite the unhelpfulness of the municipal authorities who
never grant these initiatives the same facilitations they normally grant
to other protests, despite the toll a trip to Rome can take on
families, often in economic straits, despite the disavowal of the 2007
event by the newly elected head of the Forum of Families, and, last but
not least, despite the conflicting messages coming from the bishops.
the bill of law about to be debated Galatino has spoken out firmly
against the stepchild adoption part, but his attitude towards the issue
of civil partnerships itself gets drowned in a sea of foggy statements.
Consider his most determined comment:
has in itself an increasing presence of different kinds of couples. The
State’s duty is to give answers to all, with respect to the common
good, above and beyond the welfare of single individuals. We are all
learning that when confronted by such a complex reality as this, if
positions are radicalized, whatever the good will, one ends up with
fragmented and disorderly solutions which are often the product of the
prevailing of one lobby over the other.
After months of a low
profile, Bagnasco has decided this month to speak up, saying no to the
bill of law and exhorting Catholics to attend the Family Day in Rome in
defense of the traditional family. On January 6th he said, “No other
institution should obscure the reality of the family by accosting it
with similar situations because this would real mean really compromising
the future of humans. No other form of cohabitation, however
respectable, may in any way overshadow or weaken the centrality of the
family, either on a sociological or an educational level.”
January 20th, in an interview, he described the Family Day initiative as
having “absolutely necessary objectives. …. It is an initiative of the
laity, under their responsibility, as stipulated by the Vatican
Council.” He added that its objective is “decidedly good because the
family is the foundation of all society”. The Cardinal also attacked the
policies of the promoters of the bill of law, calling them “a great
distraction of Parliament’s attention away from the real problems” of
poverty and unemployment.
One can sympathize with the predicament of the Bishops’ newspaper Avvenire,
which initially tucked the words of the Cardinal away in a back page,
under a heading dedicated to the issue of immigration, while giving
prominence to the negotiations of Catholic MPs in the Democratic Party,
in attempting to whittle away the most objectionable parts of the law.
Ultimately, Avvenire has placed the President’s pro-demonstration stance on the front page.
Italian daily La Repubblica
underlined the division between the Cardinal and his Secretary General,
but warned that Bagnasco had gotten the support of Secretary of State
Parolin, which is to say of the Pope:
Angelo Bagnasco has again donned the helmet he wore as Spiritual
Advisor to the army. Thus has the president of the Bishops’ Conference
given the green light to the January 30th Family Day protest, against
the bill of law on civil partnerships and adoptions. With the support of
Secretary of State Pietro Parolin. This is a decisive consent to a new
policy towards the event , with respect to the rather lukewarm attitude
expressed by the Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference Msgr
Nuncio Galantino: the consent of the Pope.
“Cardinal Bagnasco is
not in for suicide. If he has spoken so clearly on the demonstration
it’s because he knows that someone above has his back.” Reminding
readers that Parolin looks on the January 30th event “not unfavorably”, Repubblica went so far as to venture that lately Galantino seemed no longer to enjoy the total and unconditional support of Pope Francis.
support of Cardinal Parolin, who judged the Irish referendum that
sanctioned gay marriage “a defeat for humanity”, would explain why
Bagnasco has felt free to attack, and why even aging Cardinal Ruini, 84,
the mentor of 2007, has been sought out for interviews.
Bagnasco also called Kiko Arguello, the founder of the Neocatechumenal
Movement, who had been the main organizer of the event last June, to ask
him to mobilize his followers for the new Family Day on the 30th. Kiko
himself, who had expressed harsh criticism for Bishop Galantino from the
stage in June, told Zenit of the Cardinal’s call, but not before informing the news agency that he had already asked for the bishop’s forgiveness.
the notable exception of Kiko Arguello’s Neo-catechumenals, the lay
Catholic movements had by and large remained inert, in obedience to the
bishops’ as conveyed by Galantino, while their people clamored and
various faithful organized on their own. But when Bagnasco spoke up they
cheered and have now almost all given it their wholehearted and public
support, one notable exception being, for the moment at least, the
leadership of Communion and Liberation.
At Bagnasco’s words the Bussola Quotidiana
had cheered, “The BC has a President again!”, judging the Cardinal to
be closing a gap between the people and the heads of the Church, which
had opened wide with the June 20th demonstration.
The next day however, il Fatto Quotidiano
headlined that the Pope had not been at all pleased with Bagnasco’s
words and his high profile in publicly contradicting the distancing
expressed by his Secretary General Galantino from the anti-civil
partnerships demonstration scheduled for the 30th. To show his
displeasure, the Pope had eliminated a private meeting with the cardinal
scheduled for Thursday morningan appointment that had appeared on the
internal bulletin of the Papal Household and then had suddenly vanished.
past Friday the opposite kind of news has appeared: Pope Francis has
spoken to the Roman Rote Tribunal and stated, “Along the Synod’s journey
through the subject of the family, which the Lord has granted us to
pursue in the past two years, we have been able to accomplish in a
spirit and style of actual collegiality, a profound discernment thanks
to which the Church has among other things signaled to the world
that there can not be any confusion between the family willed by God and
any other type of union.”
This would appear to boost the position
expressed by Cardinal Bagnasco, but it remains to be seen whether the
bone of contention, which is the open support expressed by the Cardinal
as head of the Bishops for the Family Day protest planned in direct
opposition to the law recognizing civil partnerships and adoptions. The
Pope’s words do not rule out “any other type of union”, but say they
cannot be mixed up with the family willed by God.
Yesterday, in a speech to the Bishop's Council, Cardinal Bagnasco insisted there was no division among the bishops, who are “united … in sharing the difficulties and trials of the family."
dream … of a country...in which respect for all is part of the
lifestyle, and the rights of each are guaranteed on different levels,
according to the law … We must never forget the identity that is proper
to the family, its importance for the country's stability and economic
development, and its key role in the education of the new generations...
he stated, “have a duty and a right to participate in the common good,
with a serene heart and a constructive spirit.”
Discussion on the
bill of law begins in Parliament in two days. Meanwhile, tweets and
e-mails are criss-crossing the peninsula, inviting people to join in
praying the Rosary for the outcome of the vote in Parliament. Which goes
to show that the usual media pressure, based on creating a sense of
moral isolation, is not working. Telling Italy’s Catholics that their
country is the only one in the Western world that hasn’t caught up yet
with the modern world is not creating any inferiority complexes. In
fact, it is engendering an even greater sense of responsibility and a
renewed desire to not cave in.