“The Last Liberal Catholic”

Those who may not know the blog, Palazzo Apostolico (“Apostolic Palace”), authored by Paolo Rodari and run by the Italian newspaper, Il Foglio, may want to take a look.  One of Rodari’s recent posts deals with liberal Catholicism in Italy.  A phenomenon of the nineteenth century, Rodari writes that liberal Catholicism consisted in the position that it was a good thing that the Church lose its temporal power inasmuch as it could devote its energies exclusively to its spiritual vocation.  Most interestingly, Rodari writes that liberal Catholics of that era believed that they owed obedience and allegiance to the Pope and to the Church’s core precepts (as Rodari says, this distinguishes them from the “liberal” of today), even as they also believed that individual conscience had an important role to play and that they were not obliged to “bow their heads” to the wishes of bishops and cardinals.  The heroes of the liberal Catholics were Cardinal John Henry Newman, Alessandro Manzoni (author of The Betrothed), and Antonio Rosmini.

The referent of this post’s title is former Italian President and liberal Catholic, Francesco Cossiga (a controversial figure in his own right), whose party was the Democrazia Cristiana (now gone), and who recently passed away .  Below the fold, a translation of some of Cossiga’s thoughts about liberal Catholicism from Rodari’s post.  — MOD

I am a Christian Democrat of the liberal Catholic variety, who tried, and who still tries, to internalize the lesson of Antonio Rosmini and Alessandro Manzoni.  A Catholic soldier who obeys the Church when she [the Church] expresses herself on questions of public ethics.  Unable — as instead are able with great facility both the populist Roman and the permanent secretary of state of the Holy See, that is [Giulio] Andreotti — to be a malleable instrument of Vatican politics.  Not that I don’t wish it.  I am not capable of it by temperament, by formation, because Newman tells me to follow my conscience, and conscience means obedience to the Church and the Pope: not to the political program of the curia or the Italian bishops’ conference, which is altogether worldly and therefore debatable, and which has no theological authority to claim obedience.  For this reason I permit myself to discuss and, alas, sometimes to be rude to (“insolentire”) secretaries of state and presidents of the bisops’ conference.  Another matter entirely are the Pope and my bishop, who, indeed, being Roman, is even still more the Pope. 

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