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Italian Catholics Look to Matteo Salvini Over Pope Francis on Immigration

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

Many practicing Catholics prefer the immigration policies of Italian Minister Matteo Salvini to those of Pope Francis, according to a series of recent polls.

The German daily Die Welt reported last week 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.

Luca Comodo, the director of the Ipsos research institute, said recently that according to surveys “at this time, there is a clear distance between a significant part of Catholic opinion and the hierarchy of the Church.”

Among the faithful who attend Mass at least once a week, approximately one third of all Italians, support for Salvini has doubled in four months, from 15.7 percent in March to 31.8 percent in July, Ipsos found.

At the same time, Pope Francis has been steadily declining in popularity among the Italians. At the outset of his pontificate in 2013, the pontiff enjoyed an approval rating of 96 percent among weekly Mass-goers and 91 percent among Catholics who attended Mass only periodically. Since then, his approval ratings have dropped by 10 and 18 points respectively.

Italian media attribute the pope’s “collapse” in popularity to his insistence on welcoming more and more migrants, which has led many to believe that he is out of touch with the reality of Italian society.

Oliviero Forti, who is in charge of immigration at Caritas in Italy, lamented that “many Catholics no longer perceive the Holy Father as a spiritual leader, on the contrary, in some cases, he is even accused of being too far from the problems that people face.”

One online journal went so far as to suggest that Matteo Salvini is positioning himself to be elected “the next pope” because of his hardline stance against illegal immigration and his unapologetic promise to put “Italians first.”

Mr. Salvini is currently the most trusted politician in Italy, which has earned him the title of “superstar” among the Italians. The support of the Italian people have further fueled Salvini’s willingness to stand alone against pressures within Italy and from the European Union on questions of immigration.

Despite his support from the majority of Catholic citizens, Mr. Salvini has suffered ongoing insults and criticism from prominent Church figures, who have called him everything from Satan to the antichrist.

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