Italian Cultural Catholicism

Here’s an opinion piece from a few weeks ago in one of the leading Italian newspapers, Il Corriere Della Sera, by Ferruccio de Bortoli, titled, “The Mission of Catholics.”  The piece is a nice example of the power of cultural Catholicism as an intellectual and political force in Italy — and the demands that are being made of Catholicism in a country whose political, cultural, and economic fortunes are under threat (or, at least, are so perceived).  The piece is in Italian, so I will try to summarize. 

De Bortoli, who is a non-believer, calls on Catholics to reinvigorate the Italian political culture.  “The country needs Catholics,” he says: “Civil and moral reconstruction will not be possible without their diverse and renewed political work.”  But de Bortoli is not talking about the revival of Christian parties, let alone the failed Christian Democratic Party.  Neither does he want a return to what he calls the fractured and “bi-polar” situation in which some Catholics defended the state’s values and others searched for the core of Christianity in everyday, non-political life.

What does he want? 

It would be enough if [Catholics] set for themselves some simple but ambitious goals: reviving community spirit and the desire to participate, and to throw the seed of duty [“impegno”] to others . . . . In his essay on the Geography of Catholic Italy, Roberto Cartocci writes that ‘the Catholic tradition appears as the most ancient glue [“collante” — a binding, cohesive agent], the most solid path of continuity among the diverse components of the country.’  Not only this: it [Catholicism] is the bringer of an inclusive culture, which does not divide and destroy society.  It has the sense of the limits of political action and the presence of the state in people’s private lives.  These are important qualities.  Appreciated by everyone.  Even we non-believers.

What is interesting to me about these sentiments is not as much the substance as the turn to Catholicism itself.  De Bortoli talks about Catholicism as a conversation stimulator — a kind of conciliating interlocutor and Charlie Rose-type figure among different political/cultural traditions.  Not much more than a word in this piece (apart from the comments about the limited state) about Catholics’ substantive and policy views.  Desperate times surely call for desperate measures, and Italians do seem to be in desperate times.  But I wonder whether de Bortoli has quite taken the measure of what it is that Catholicism has to offer Italy.  — MOD

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