ROME — Pope Francis has called on Italians not to insult members of their new leftist government but to pray for them.
In St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy, the apostle urges Christians to pray especially “for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity,” the pope noted.
“It is therefore a prayer for rulers, for politicians, for the people responsible for carrying forward a political institution, a country, a province,” Francis said in his homily at the first morning Mass after the summer break at his Santa Marta residence.
“How many of us have prayed for our rulers? How many of us have prayed for our parliamentarians?” Francis asked. Instead, people resort to “disqualifications, hatred, and quarrels.”
“On the contrary, one must pray for them, for those who may have a different opinion from mine,” he said.
As lovely as these sentiments are, Vatican watchers will be forgiven for noting that over an entire 15-month period under a populist coalition the pope never called for prayers for the Italian government, nor did he urge Catholics to refrain from using abusive language in referring to it.
In fact, soon after the formation of the government following national elections in March 2018, authoritative representatives of the Catholic Church in Italy rained abuse upon interior minister Matteo Salvini, going so far as to compare him to Satan and the anti-Christ.
Last May, one of Pope Francis’s hand-picked collaborators said the Vatican would never give a papal blessing to Mr. Salvini (who is Catholic), comparing him to abortionists and Venezuelan dictators.
The papal almoner Cardinal Konrad Krajewski said that parchments conveying the pope’s blessings can be requested for many occasions but they cannot be given to people if this would produce scandal.
“If Salvini asked us for one, we would deny it,” the cardinal said.
Not only did Pope Francis never urge an end to the insults, he even joined in the fray, comparing the sovereignist movement captained by Salvini to Hitler’s Third Reich in Germany.
Now that the anti-establishment Five Star Movement has joined its former nemesis, the ultra-establishment Democrat Party (PD) to form a leftist government in Italy, the pope has deemed that the time is right to make peace and work for dialogue.
It will strike some as puzzling that Francis only chooses to offer support to the Italian government now that conservatives are no longer a part of it. Where was the Church’s dialogue with the government over the last 15 months?
Moreover, the PD, which has been resurrected to share in power, stands in diametrical opposition to the Catholic Church on nearly every social issue. The PD is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, and historically very hostile to the Catholic Church.
“I believe we must convert and pray for politicians of all stripes, all of them! Pray for our rulers,” Francis said.
“Rulers are responsible for the life of a country. It is nice to think that if the people pray for the rulers, the rulers will also be able to pray for the people,” he said.
Judging from the last two years, the Vatican seems to have adopted an informal policy of open dialogue with the left and resolute opposition to the right, a very partisan reading of praying for one’s rulers.