Cardinal stirs political waters
Mar 24, 2006
A speech given by Italy's highest-ranking cardinal just three weeks before elections has sparked a debate over what sort of guidance, if any, the Catholic Church offers voters.
(ANSA) - Rome, March 21 - Cardinal Camillo Ruini said the Church would take no side in the electoral campaign, but advised Catholic voters to consider carefully the church's position on life issues and family values when casting their ballots .
Monday's address to the Italian bishops' conference led several newspapers to talk about an implicit preference for the centre-right alliance of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, which includes the Catholic-oriented UDC party .
Many highlighted his opposition to so-called PaCS contracts, sometimes dubbed 'gay marriages' in the media. The centre right rejects them outright, while the centre left is open to some form of legal rights for unmarried couples, including same-sex unions .
Corriere della Sera highlighted four issues raised by the cardinal as crucial for Catholics: abortion, euthanasia, the traditional family and unmarried couples .
"On all four points his words are closer to the programme of the centre right than to that of the centre left," said the daily, which supports the centre left .
The centre right's electoral programme states specifically that it sees the family as the "natural community founded on marriage between man and woman". Berlusconi said that he was in "absolute agreement" with Ruini's speech. He also said his own Forza Italia party had always been firmly convinced of the "centrality of the family and life values" .
Other centre right parties also said they shared Ruini's concerns wholeheartedly. "It's clear that a Christian can't vote for the centre left," said one leading Northern League politician .
Agriculture Minister Gianni Alemanno, a member of the rightwing National Alliance, welcomed Ruini's call. "We need a Church which is active and present. Obviously then it's up to everyone to decide themselves what to do," he said .
But opposition leader Romano Prodi, a Catholic, said he too agreed with Ruini's priorities. He dismissed charges from the far left of his coalition and from elsewhere that the Italian prelate was interfering with national politics .
"I applaud the invitation to talk about concrete things and to tone down polemics. His words give a lucid list of political and moral priorities which I agree with," he said .
Francesco Rutelli, leader of the opposition Daisy party, also defended the Church's right to voice its opinions on politics. In any case, Ruini's speech would not "shift votes", he added .
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Left, chose to highlight the cardinal's call for a less polemical political debate ahead of elections. Leader Piero Fassino also underlined Ruini's declaration of neutrality. Cardinal Ruini, who heads the Italian bishops' conference, used his speech to touch on other questions as well as family values and life issues .
He expressed cautious openness to the idea of Islamic religion classes in Italian schools, while warning that a series of constitutional conditions needed to be met before this could be put into practice .
He also referred to the international scene, talking about the risk of civil war in Iraq and Iran's apparent bid to become a nuclear power .
But it was his negative comments on PaCS and unmarried couples that drew most attention. "Ruini's words offend four million Italians who live without any recognition for the value of their unions," said LIFF, a group campaigning for the rights of families without a married couple at their centre .
In recent days Catholic nuns and priests have publicly objected to a booklet sent to them by Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, in which it says the present government has approved laws inspired by the Gospel .
"What laws? The ones that protect the rich from justice?" said two nuns in a letter cited on Monday by the Adista Catholic news agency .