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The European question and the Catholic question: Italy at a crossroads

Even the Church has her responsibilities: she has been unable to educate her faithful to choose and perhaps she has not supported enough those who, in spite of everything, were exposing themselves for the common good, leaving too many brave women and men alone. Now she is faced with a neo-pagan challenge that is no longer based on theological terms, but in post-ideological ones, as if history were irrelevant. Law & Order are the perfect slogan to silence all anxieties and especially to absolve many devoted atheists. The Christian community must not allow the plundering of the Church's heritage of humanity and solidarity, and reinstate the religious - not clerical - roots of Italian civil history, which has hitherto been the root of other great secular political cultures. The Gramscian hegemony, the religion of the freedom of the Cross or the defence of De Gasperi’s moral foundations of democracy represented a common political doctrine of unity based on genuine Community values. For De Gasperi, striving for Catholic civil and political unity, in the distinction of roles between the clergy and the laity, meant responding to the need for that unity that our country had been seeking for centuries and that the Republic Constitution proved possible in a pluralist and personalist key.

The European train did not derail, but the locomotive is panting and there is no emergency engine. The European parliamentary majority area will necessarily be enlarged. However, the major political problem is not whether to involve the Greens or the Liberals in the popular-socialist alliance, but to develop a clear policy on the reform of the Union within the large European families. Hence, the role of Catholics needs to be rethought, – for the Church’s ever-increasing openness to the challenges of contemporary humanism must no longer be unvalued, confined to unsuccessful electoral manifestos. The socialists and the leftists thought that they could continue living off policies repeatedly defeated by the popular vote; the EPP group is plagued by ideological contradictions which in many cases have caused disloyalty to the values of the fathers of Europe; the Liberal family is no longer able to defend the principles of democratic liberalism from economic liberalism. The Greens have been very successful in some countries, but their political platform is unclear. In the vacuum of European politics, while the Union is struggling to meet the challenges of integration, the Catholic Church is becoming one of the few entities capable of expressing thoughts that transcend self-interest and challenge the decline of the European Community spirit. The Union has made irreversible choices in the direction of peace, freedom, social justice and sustainable development and has definitively freed itself from the temptation to protect citizens from their political choices. But the paradox is that, as opposed to what we would expect, she finds itself isolated and sometimes mocked precisely when all the political forces are competing to win the Catholic vote, which, while now a minority vote, remains decisive.Thus over the next few years, the issue of the redefinition of relations between the Church and the European Union is set to arise, in the light of the fact that their destinies have always been intertwined. The Catholic Church is a universal institution and the European Union a “glocal” institution, but what matters is the profound relationship between the symbolic function of the former and the cultural and economic strength of the latter. A Europe without a religious soul would no longer have moral prestige and a Church without the concrete support of a social democracy would not be able to perform her work of evangelisation. Without a broad democratic space the Church today would be silent, a democracy without moral principles and binding rules would be prey to totalitarian drives. The dialogue between religion and politics is critical to the creation of a non-individualist and non-technocratic European citizenship. The Church and the Union must perceive themselves in a new way for a new world and must rethink the integral humanism that underpinned the European project. The Church through a more sincere internal confrontation and a more solid evangelical conversion, European politics through the redefinition of 20th century political traditions. Italy has a great responsibility and a decisive role in the broader redefinition of the Catholic contribution to the reconstruction of Europe. Thus the way in which the political forces – and in particular the League – deal with the Catholic question is not a secondary issue. Italy is at a crossroads, in terms of its economic survival and its dignity as a nation. The sovereignism of the League will finally have to reveal its true face. It could become a moderate force and guide the country towards social and economic security within the EU regulatory framework or become radicalized and thus lead it to isolation. If its element of protest and resentment becomes a reforming factor aimed at making the financial and budgetary rules of the Union less “stupid”, then it might reconnect with the deep feeling of a country that aims at simplification and social order. If, on the other hand, Salvini intends to continue his “futurist” electoral campaign and move forth – without any respite, against anyone standing in the way- so as to accumulate further electoral consensus with a view to sever the government alliance and call early elections, then the country is in great danger. There are no other options, notwithstanding the Five Star Movement, who has not realized that its political history is yet to be written and it cannot cling to transient improvisations. The Democratic Party fluctuates between a lucky escape and the ambition to return to act as the bonding agent of new coalitions, but in this case it shows once again that it intends to reiterate outdated proposals. Nor is it enough to present oneself as a peaceful force in an era in which rational passions have been replaced by strong drives and feelings of revolt. The problem of the Democrats is learning to be genuine and popular.

We all have the reasons to be concerned as a community of believers. Salvini’s displayed rosary is the emblem of a profound anti-religious choice. All right-wing political parties have God and the Country among their symbols, but no one, much less Le Pen in secular France, is displaying the rosary. In fact it is common European culture not to make religious symbols a provocative ostentation. The League clearly wants to spark off a controversy inside the Church in order to weaken or intimidate it. It uses the vote of many Catholics as a shield, men and women with fears just like everyone else. Instead of revitalising intelligent communication with the religious sentiment, not necessarily only Catholic, in the country, the League has targeted the Catholic media and the Church in an attempt to drag it into a power competition, challenging it on the grounds of a flaunted Catholicism. It is a typically “pagan” strategy that transforms religious symbols into a depository of shadows available to all according to convenience. The grossest attempt is to separate Italian Catholics from their exclusive pastor, Pope Bergoglio, trying to exploit the opposition of a certain conservative world: it is as if he were saying that His Holiness can do as he pleases, for Salvini can always turn to his followers and win them over with some slogan that is more effective than the Gospel.

Moreover “the Catholic question” is a serious matter that gauges our political system’s ability to emerge from the quagmire. In the sixties and seventies the question was mainly stirred by the Left to free believers from the obligation to vote for the Christian Democrats, and this is the scheme adopted by the League today. But the question of the relationship between politics and faith was not an anticlerical invention, it was rather a necessity posed first of all by democratic Catholics to free the faith from the clerical fascism on which the Church had rested and to recover its spiritual unity on a loftier level. The Republican constitution required Catholics to play a leading role in a new, free and pluralistic form.

The Catholic question thus became a question of autonomy and respect of the democratic conscience and constitutional secularism.

Even the Church has her responsibilities: she has been unable to educate her faithful to choose and perhaps she has not supported enough those who, in spite of everything, were exposing themselves for the common good, leaving too many brave women and men alone. Now she is faced with a neo-pagan challenge that is no longer based on theological terms, but in post-ideological ones, as if history were irrelevant. Law & Order are the perfect slogan to silence all anxieties and especially to absolve many devoted atheists. The Christian community must not allow the plundering of the Church’s heritage of humanity and solidarity, and reinstate the religious – not clerical – roots of Italian civil history, which has hitherto been the root of other great secular political cultures. The Gramscian hegemony, the religion of the freedom of the Cross or the defence of De Gasperi’s moral foundations of democracy represented a common political doctrine of unity based on genuine Community values. For De Gasperi, striving for Catholic civil and political unity, in the distinction of roles between the clergy and the laity, meant responding to the need for that unity that our country had been seeking for centuries and that the Republic Constitution proved possible in a pluralist and personalist key.

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