by de Gondi
Wed Jan 16th, 2008 at 06:32:23 PM EST
The old rule goes that it doesn't matter what they say about you so long as they talk about you. It's common fare in Italy to give the Pope or his government a front-page blurb every day but the past couple of days he's been grabbing headlines by simply doing nothing. I mentioned last Saturday that he had been invited to open the academic year at the University of Rome this coming Thursday. For reasons that may escape most people this particular pope is not well received by large sectors of the Italian population because of his heavy handed meddling in Italian affairs as well as his curious notions of what science out to be. And what makes it all the worse is that the entire political spectrum eagerly grovels at his every call.
In a highly symbolic event last December the Vatican made it perfectly clear that they could topple the Prodi government whenever they wanted. The occasion was the conversion of a repressive government decree into law. The far left had tagged on an article that would have reinstated hate speech crimes after the previous government had rendered the 1975 law ineffectual. Never mind that the "controversial" article had a glaring error that led to the trashing of the entire decree at the end of the year. What counted was that Prodi put a confidence vote on the package and almost lost but for one single vote, generously thrown his way by the ailing and lunatic Francesco Cossiga.
The Vatican is very much opposed to hate speech laws. Not so much because it violates freedom of speech but because they wouldn't like to see themselves denounced by homosexuals for their Sunday sermons. Even worse, there was an explicit yet erroneous reference to the Amsterdam Treaty which empowered the Council in Article 13 to "combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation." A bit too much to swallow for ecclesiastical authorities. Now party discipline by an elected Senator cannot stand in the way of the Lord. So the very Catholic numerary, Senator Paola Binetti, member of Veltroni's new Democratic Party, called upon the Holy Ghost to descend upon the Senate congregation, apparently to enlighten them with tongues of fire.
For those who are not well versed in Catholic mythology, the Holy Ghost is a supernatural bird known for having impregnated a virgin by chattering in her ear. The Italian Senate is hardly the place to prospect for virgins. Apparently there is only one left. Word has it that in the end it was only the Binetti who heeded the call, but to a far more mundane messenger in the Vatican. Many a commentator bluntly wanted to know who was on the other end of the line of Senator Binetti's sacred cell phone. And to what state she owes her allegiance.
But back to our very active pope. In the past few days Ratzinger has managed to say mass with his back to the faithful, alarm all pet owners by asserting that animals will not be found in paradise, and deliberately insult Walter Veltroni, the mayor of Rome and head of the largest Left party, during a courtesy visit. So it was past time to be perfectly idle, much like Deus Otiosus, who once having created the irreparable mess, retired behind the scenes.
It's precisely this absence of papal activity that has caused all havoc today. After the student occupation of the Dean's office and the Academic Senate today, the Dean finally granted that a small way-side demonstration could be held within the university during the papal visit. Within a few hours, a laconic statement announced that the Pope would no longer attend the annual inauguration of the academic year.
He would however send a copy of his intended lecture.
To be read, perhaps, in absentee. By far more effective in this mounting farce.
All hell has since broken loose with every possible public authority from Prodi on down vying for attention to beseech the Pope to back-peddle on his decision. The students and the university professors are being hung in effigy by everyone on the national media, criminals whose names should be publicized for public opprobrium.
Yes, the Pope's right to free speech has been trammelled upon. This is the darkest day of the Republic. The rabble has denied poor citizen Ratzinger his right to express himself as the rest of humble humanity. The nation has been swamped by intolerance and fanaticism. The state has been wounded and humiliated. Liberty and secularism have been defeated. Democracy is in peril.
In this self righteous cacophony, one lucid voice sums it up. Lanfranco Turci, socialist deputy:
"Are we sure the Pope's forfeit is justified? Beside a few voices, by no means decisive, the reaction to the announced visit was expressed with civil contestation over Benedict XVI's well known opinions on scientific research and civil rights... A campaign of victimism is being mounted that appears contradictory and baseless in a phase of clerical invasiveness that has no precedent in the history of the Italian Republic."
January 16th has been a very eventful day in Italy, a fitting chapter for the centuries old Commedia dell'Arte
. There were dozens of arrests for mafia in Sicily. But that news item disappeared when the Minister of Justice and head of the nano-party Udeur, Clemente Mastella
, used the parliament to deliver a hallucinatory and calumnious broadside against the Italian Magistracy and theatrically resign as minister. All but spelling out the end of the Prodi government. He based his speech on events that had yet to happen, the arrest of his wife. How he had learned about it is up to future investigative authorities. Most everyone was taken aback seeing as all eyes were riveted on Vatican silence. And what better context to accuse perfidious magistrates of persecuting Catholics. First the pope, now me. Two destinies intertwined.
But as the day unwound, Mastella's legal situation worsened. Not only was his wife arrested for bribery but 26 members of his micro-party. And last, it was announced that Mastella in person was under investigation for the same crimes. Good riddance.
Meanwhile, the pope played it cool, nary a mention of the university controversy. Why should he? Most newspapers had dedicated the first five pages to the story. Ratzinger was on to mediatic martyrdom, a hero of true secularism, true religion, true science, true truth. The president of the Republic wrote him a letter condemning intolerance and promising to take action. The dean of the university solemnly declared that he himself would deliver Ratzinger's magister lectio and the Vatican daily quickly published the entire lecture.
And in the end his lecture isn't that bad seeing who wrote it. We'll never be sure it didn't enjoy a last minute touch up to appear more humble and learned. But as soon as the English version is published the ET community can unleash their critical acumen on yet another religion diary.