EDITOR'S NOTE: This religion-news piece ran recently at the website of The Media Project, the global network that supports GetReligion.
It was written by veteran New York City journalist Clemente Lisi, who is now one of my journalism faculty colleagues at The King's College in lower Manhattan.
ROME -- The soap opera that is Italian politics has taken a dramatic turn in recent weeks as two populist parties on opposite ends of the spectrum have decided to join forces as the Catholic Church opposes the wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that has engulfed the country over the past year.
While the outcome of the hotly-contested March 4 election was a victory for populism, there was no clear winner that day. A coalition that included Matteo Salvini of the right-wing League party featured Trump-style campaign promises such as deporting thousands of undocumented immigrants out of the country. The party -- formerly the Lega Nord that had called on the wealthy northern provinces to break off from the rest of Italy -- largely appealed to Catholics.
Another populist party, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, founded by comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009, also won big. The party’s platform, which leans left, also included campaigning against the European Union and anti-immigration. With no party reaching the 40 percent threshold needed in parliament to form a ruling government, the deadlock caused three months of negotiations and backroom dealing that resulted in the recent appointment of Giuseppe Conte as prime minister. A relatively unknown to the political scene, Conte, a law professor, is now tasked with leading a divided country.
The League has faced widespread criticism for its xenophobic policies -- primarily from the Catholic Church -- after vowing to deport 500,000 illegal immigrants from Italy. An estimated 600,000 people have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. As part of the compromise over Conte’s appointment, Salvini was sworn in as Italy's new interior minister, while Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio will serve as labor and economic development minister, a position that allows him to fulfill his campaign promise of giving Italians universal basic income.
One of the battles to emerge from all this is between the League and the church. For a country that is 88 percent Catholic, the vow to deport so many has put them at odds with Pope Francis and the church’s mission to provide services to the poor and homeless regardless of race or faith. Many of them are newly-arrived migrants from Africa and the Middle East. Critics have said that Salvini’s plans are nothing but a cover for Islamaphobia and that it limits the religious freedom of Muslims living in the country.
Pope Francis has been vocal about inclusion and opening arms to refugees from Muslim nations -- something that has put Salvini voters, many of whom are Catholic -- at odds with the church. The notion that police would round up people and remove them from the country has brought back fears that Italy could be plunged into a situation reminiscent of the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini during the 1930s and ‘40s.
While the pope did not address Italy’s new government in his weekly message this past Sunday, the church hasn’t held back when it comes to taking on the issue. While many in Italy remain devoted to the pontiff, some do believe the Vatican should not be involved in the country’s internal affairs and whether Salvini decides to deport people living in Italy from outside the European Union.
Continue reading "Italy’s new government and the Catholic Church increasingly at odds over migrant crisis," by Clemente Lisi.