A crowd covered under an umbrella blanket chanted Matteo Salvini in the Piazza del Duomo in Milan on May 18. The leader of the League, after roaring some slogans against Islam with the European partners that accompanied him, took a rosary and rammed for the first time against Pope Francis. He started criticizing his vision on immigration. Digging into the wound, his team projected on the giant screens photos of John Paul II and Benedict XVI so he could praise his figures, in contrast to the current pontiff. He did the same with the conservative Guinean cardinal, Robert Sarah, one of the favorites in the sector ultra for the next conclave and antagonist of the current pontiff. But the script is not original. It is the obstinate leitmotiv of the growing opposition wing to Francisco, organized from the USA and with a certain muscle in the College of Cardinals. The novelty is that that day, when Salvini pronounced the name of the Pope, the parish of the League, today the party with the most Catholic voters in Italy, began to whistle, spreading the unusual division to the street.
On either side of the Tiber nobody hides a confrontation that also reaches the Italian Episcopal Conference. Francisco and the Vatican – the part that remains compact – have become the dam of the social and migratory policies of the current Government. The relationship with the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, and the other Vice President, Luigi Di Maio, both Catholics, is excellent. This is a social, ethical issue, they point out in the Holy See. The Pope, however, does not shy away from a certain type of policy. Although she often paraphrases Kissinger by assuring that the Italian is too complicated and does not understand her, but ends up saying that a "politician should not sow hatred and fear" when asked by Salvini (at the plane's press conference back from his trip to Romania last Sunday).
The League is already the favorite party of practicing Catholics in Italy: their voters are 27%
The sequence is usually of action and reaction. When the Minister of the Interior attacks a family of gypsies besieged by the neighbors, Francisco receives them in the Apostolic Palace. If he closes the ports, the Pope embraces the NGOs and their leaders like the Spanish Óscar Camps (in total harmony with Francisco). Even the Italian Episcopal Conference, aligned with Francisco on this front, authorized a parish priest to embark on the last ship that was patrolling the Mediterranean, something that greatly annoyed the Minister of the Interior who, as always, bases his strategy on a studied electoral calculation. And the numbers square.
Today the league is the favorite party of Catholics. In one year, since Salvini first appeared with a rosary and a Bible at a rally, voters who declare themselves to be practitioners and go every Sunday to Mass have gone from 12% to 27%, according to a survey conducted by Demos & Piper for The Repubblica. The people who know Salvini, however, do not remember that he was Catholic. If he was more or less devoted, they point out, it was not a public issue. Salvini, a divorced man who has had two new partners since he is in government, has seen an unattended electoral space among right-wing voters who do not quite tune into some of Francisco's ideas. "Catholic? As far as I know, it was not. But he has the house full of virgins that his fans give him since he appears with a rosary in his hand in each act ".
In Italy, where the Christian Democrats ruled monolithically for 44 years, it is rare to see clashes between the Executive and the Vatican. It is true that Pius XII, who in 1949 decreed excommunication for those who voted for the Communist Party -he refused to do so with Mussolini-, also had frictions with Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi, recalls the historian and former director of L'Osservatore Romano, Giovanni Maria Vian. Especially when the Vatican pushed a right-wing list to Rome City Council in what became known as Operation Sturzo (by the priest who would head it) and the now revered leader of the DC refused. Now, however, the opposite happens.
On May 18, those attending a Salvini rally whistled at Francisco when the leader of the League criticized him
The shock bothers the most conservative sectors of the Church, traditionally accustomed to being close to power and the right. Cardinal Gerhard Müller, until two years ago at the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, criticized two weeks ago that "at this stage the Church is too political and takes too little care of the faithful." "To say that Salvini is not a Christian (said one of the Pope's main advisers, Antonio Spadaro) is a mistake, a bestiality. It is a political trial, "he said after defending the leader of the League for his struggle in favor of the Christian roots of Europe.
A month ago the Vatican wrote another chapter that outraged Salvini. Polish Cardinal Konrad Krakewski snuck into the meter room of a busy building where 400 people had lived for weeks without electricity and plugged it in again. He immediately became a hero for the left and a traitor for the right. "We will pass on to the Vatican the bill of 300,000 euros that this building owed," challenged the Minister of the Interior. But there was no response. Nor disavowing the gesture of the Polish. Some in the Pope's environment believe that it was not accidental. "I had to know. They talk often and it would be odd if I had not told you before. It is a very powerful symbol politically that risked alienating the Vatican with the Executive. " But in the government, again, only Salvini interpreted it that way.
The Pope has never received Matteo Salvini. In the first place because, as the Interior Minister acknowledged, he has never asked for the hearing through official channels. After being asked about it last Sunday on the flight back from his trip to Romania, Francisco took the opportunity to praise the figure of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and make it clear that the problem is confined to a single member of the Executive. "I have not heard anyone from the government, except the premier, have requested an audience. No one. With him it was a nice audience, an hour or something more. An intelligent man, a teacher who knows what he is talking about. "
This last controversy, which Salvini tried to deactivate by assuring that he would be delighted to be received, came to be moved to the pages of Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian bishops, completely aligned in this battle. "It would be wise for the deputy prime minister to follow the institutional channels and refrain from feeding with ambiguous behavior in social networks the voices that say the Pope does not want to receive him."
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