The archbishop of Chieti has joined the growing ranks of Catholic prelates voicing public opposition to the immigration policies of interior minister Matteo Salvini.
Rescuing migrants is not something optional but a “moral imperative,” said Archbishop Bruno Forte in an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera Sunday, in reference to the 49 African migrants currently on board two vessels belonging to German NGOs.
“Alarmism and talk of an invasion are propagandistic lies that are harmful to everyone, except to those who use them for electoral advantages,” the archbishop said in reference to the interior minister’s frequent allusions to Italy’s migrant crisis.
Moreover, Forte said, “Minister Salvini should not start giving magisterial lessons; we have the pope for that and he does it very well and clearly. If you want to be a Catholic, listen to the pope.”
“The Minister of the Interior has important responsibilities, and he should talk about things he is competent in,” he said.
Ethically speaking, the archbishop said, “if something contrary to my conscience is imposed on me, such as refusing help to whole families at the mercy of the sea for days, conscientious objection is justified.”
In point of fact, Italy’s tightened border controls significantly reduced migrant sea deaths in the Mediterranean during 2018, as Italian media reported this past weekend.
According to the United Nations immigration department (UNHCR), there were a total of 2,269 migrant sea deaths in the Mediterranean during 2018, down from 3,139 in 2017 and 5,096 in 2016, when migration across the Mediterranean to Europe was at its peak.
According to a series of surveys last summer, many practicing Catholics prefer the immigration policies of Italian Minister Matteo Salvini to those of Pope Francis.
Luca Comodo, the director of the Ipsos research institute, said that according to polls “at this time, there is a clear distance between a significant part of Catholic opinion and the hierarchy of the Church.”
For its part, the German daily Die Welt reported that Matteo Salvini is becoming the secret leader of Catholics in Italy because of his firm line on migration, while fewer and fewer Catholics support Pope Francis’ call for greater openness to migrants.
Among the Italian faithful who attend Mass at least once a week, support for Mr. Salvini has been steadily increasing, while Pope Francis has been declining in popularity among the same group, Ipsos found.
Opposition to Mr. Salvini — a Catholic himself — from the Church establishment has been growing in recent months, and in his time as interior minister he has been called everything from Satan to the antichrist because of his commitment to curbing illegal immigration.
Asked how he explains the “unprecedented hostility” toward him from the Catholic establishment in Italy, notably the bishops conference and Catholic journals such as Famiglia Cristiana and Avvenire, Mr. Salvini expressed bewilderment.
“Honestly I cannot explain it. So much virulence leaves me truly perplexed,” Salvini said, adding that on the other hand he is “flooded” with mail from Catholics — even priests and bishops — who encourage him to stand firm in his policies.
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