ROME — A number of prominent progressive Catholics assailed Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini on Saturday for invoking God at a massive populist, pro-sovereignty rally in Milan.
At one point during the rally at the Piazza del Duomo, Salvini, a practicing Catholic, took up a rosary in his hand and said he was entrusting the European elections to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which earned him the wrath of Catholic groups that have already compared Salvini to the anti-Christ.
In a tweet that same day, Salvini wrote: “I entrust Italy and my life to the immaculate Heart of Mary!” While ordinarily such an expression of piety would win approval from Catholic pastors, Salvini was excoriated by the Catholic establishment.
Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, who waded into U.S. politics in 2017 with an essay slamming conservative Christians in the United States as politically ambitious racists who promote an “ecumenism of hate” and wish to impose a theocratic state, was quick to accuse Salvini as “taking the name of God in vain.”
Although Father Spadaro sought to give the impression he was criticizing Mr. Salvini from a merely theological perspective, he wound up slipping back into his own partisan politics by saying that Salvini’s values “have nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus,” despite the minister’s opposition to abortion and gender ideology, as well as his vocal support for the traditional family.
The liberal Catholic magazine La Famiglia Cristiana, which had already done its own cover story on Salvini comparing the minister to Lucifer, also jumped into the fray Sunday, saying that Salvini had “brandished the rosary” Saturday in an “umpteenth example of religious instrumentalization staged to justify the systematic violation of human rights in our country.”
“While Matteo Salvini held up the gospel as an amulet and entrusted himself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a ship laden with shipwreck survivors was told it could not land in Lampedusa and the U.N. condemned us for human rights violations,” the magazine declared. “What else is needed to ignite the indignation of Catholics?”
One might be tempted to respond that the United Nations has often shown itself to be a poor arbiter of human rights and has often criticized attempts by Catholics to guarantee the rights of unborn children in the womb and to defend the traditional understand of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
For Father Spadaro and La Famiglia Cristiana, however, Matteo Salvini means one thing: opposition to illegal immigration and a stop to the mass influx of migrants into the country.
Perhaps the sharpest criticism of all came from the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, because of the authority he represents.
“I believe that the partisan politics divides, but God is everybody’s,” the cardinal said of Salvini’s gesture. “Invoking God for oneself is always very dangerous.”
It is hard to see why the Vatican’s number-two man would have a problem with a politician entrusting the European elections, his country, or even his own life to the Virgin Mary, but such are the nuances of Vatican diplomacy in the Francis era.