Breaking Ranks, Italian Bishop Blasts ‘Collective’ Trashing of Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right party 'Lega' speaks to journalists after a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella on the second day of consultations of political parties, on April 5, 2018 at the Quirinale palace in Rome. Italian President Sergio Mattarella begins key talks with parties on forming a …
TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty

The bishop of Chioggia has criticized Catholic attacks on Interior Minister Matteo Salvini for his efforts to curb illegal immigration, noting that people’s frustration with Italy’s immigration situation “is not irrational.”

Addressing a recent cover story in Famiglia Cristiana, Italy’s largest Catholic publication, which compared Mr. Salvini with the devil, Bishop Adriano Tessarollo said he thinks it is “stupid” to identify the magazine with all Catholic priests.

“Let’s stop this collectivizing mentality,” the bishop said in an interview with Corriere del Veneto. “Broad categorical judgements are the most malevolent and offensive thing there is.”

Famiglia Cristiana “is not the voice of the Church,” he said.

In an online interview with Vanity Fair, the director of Famiglia Cristiana, Antonio Rizzolo, indeed made it sound as if his magazine was presuming to speak for all Italian clergy.

What we sought to do was “underscore how the presidency of the Italian Bishops conference, many individual bishops of north and south, and Catholic religious and laity are reacting to certain scornful and aggressive tones from the deputy prime minister regarding the migrant crisis,” he said.

As Breitbart News has reported, there is indeed a growing divide between Church officials and the rank-and-file members of the faithful over the immigration crisis and over Minister Salvini in particular.

While a number of prelates have publicly criticized the new government’s attempts to rein in rampant illegal migration, polls indicate that Mr. Salvini is the most trusted politician in the country, and his immigration policy has garnered broad support from a largely Catholic population. A number of bishops meanwhile are engaged in a scorched-earth policy against the minister.

One outspoken Italian bishop said recently that he would be willing to “turn all churches into mosques” to help migrants, while a priest called Salvini “the antichrist” in a homily in Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The former bishop of Caserta, Raffaele Nogaro, said that politicians who speak of deportations with the rosary in hand are “taking the name of God in vain, a very serious sin,” in reference to a famous image of Salvini holding rosary beads at a rally.

For a new clerical movement opposing Italy’s populist government, especially regarding its efforts to curb the illegal immigration that has run rampant in the country since 2014, Matteo Salvini is the personification of everything evil, with one priest going so far as to publicly call him “the antichrist.”

When Salvini denied permission to debark to the NGO vessel Aquarius that was carrying hundreds of African migrants in late June, the Italian bishops were among those protesting most loudly.

“It is Jesus coming to us on a vessel, he is in the man or child who drowns, it is Jesus who fishes through the garbage in search of a little food,” said Sicilian Cardinal Francesco Montenegro in a homily shortly afterward.

The more the Italian Catholic hierarchy throws its support behind unchecked immigration, the more a substantial portion of the flock is pushing back in an effort to retake national sovereignty.

Meanwhile, a trickle of prelates and priests like Bishop Tessarollo are beginning to swim against the tide, reminding the faithful that Mr. Salvini is, in fact, not the antichrist or the devil, but a realistic politician dealing with a grave problem.

Writing last week for the Catholic Herald, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith said he was disturbed by Famiglia Cristiana’s likening of Matteo Salvini to the devil.

“This represents a quite astonishing personal attack, especially as the Church has been nothing but nice to some politicians noted for their anti-life stance, like Emma Bonino, for example,” the priest noted.

“Thus we have a dangerous situation,” Father Lucie-Smith said, “a church hierarchy pulling in one direction, but lots of laity (and possibly some priests and even bishops too, who, for the moment are keeping quiet) pulling in the other.”

For an important Catholic publication (usually assumed to be a Vatican mouthpiece) to call the Minister of the Interior Satan, “does not help,” the priest observed. “Indeed, it is irresponsible.”

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