Italian Government near collapse
ROME, Jan. 22 (AFP) - A row over a cancelled university speech by Pope Benedict XVI has taken a fresh twist as the Italian Government rejected church suggestions it had advised him to pull out, officials say.Interior Ministry had suggested Pope feign illness on day of speech
The 80-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church cancelled a planned speech at Rome's La Sapienza University last week after dozens of professors and students protested his presence at the secular school.
Speaking to bishops gathered in Rome, the head of the Catholic Church in Italy, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, says the decision to scrap the visit was taken by the Vatican "necessarily taking into account suggestions [made by] the Italian authorities."
However, the Italian Government has categorically denied that claim, saying in a statement issued shortly after that it "never suggested to the Vatican authorities that it cancel [last Thursday's visit]."
On the contrary, it says, government officials including the Interior Minister had issued guarantees of security "and the smooth passage of the pope's visit."
The Vatican judged delaying the event "opportune," despite strong criticism against the protesters on the part of the Government, the Vatican said in a statement.
Several top politicians, including with Deputy Prime Minister Francesco Rutelli and former justice Minister Clemente Mastella, joined over 100,000 supporters at a Saint Peter's Square rally on Sunday on behalf of the Pope.
At the start of his address, in a paragraph dedicated to the Pope's cancelled visit to a Sapienza University, Bagnasco authoritatively confirmed previous unofficial reports: The decision was taken by the Pope and his closest associates after a telephone call from the Interior Minister in the afternoon of Monday, January 14.Now, Prodi's government is on the verge of collapse and notice the implication of Vatican influence. From The Guardian
Speaking to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State, Minister Giuliano Amato, with the agreement of Prime Minister Prodi, had suggested that it would be better to recommend to the Pope to cancel his visit, because 'incidents' could not be ruled out.
Beyond this, Il Giornale also learned, the minister had even suggested that the Pope cite a 'diplomatic' indisposition, that is, to announce only on Thursday morning that a flu-like ailment would keep him from giving his lecture that day.
Therefore, those who had consulted with the Pope about the cancellation (Bertone, Ruini and Bagnasco) were taken aback on Tuesday with news reports of Amato's public statements saying he had assured not only the personal safety of the Pope (a risk no one had ever thought to question) but seemed to belie as well the existence of any concern for the ability of the police forces to maintain public order.
It had been precisely because of Amato's suggestion that the Vatican had taken the decision to cancel in order to avoid any incidents that would put at risk - not the Pope - but the demonstrators and the police.
Yesterday, Palazzo Chigi (the Prime Minister's office) issued a note contesting the statement made by Cardinal Bagnasco - an unprececented act [in the relations between the Holy See and the Italian government].
arely can the long arm of the Vatican have been more easily discernible in Italian politics than in the crisis that blew out of nowhere on Monday night.
The man who brought it about is one Clemente Mastella, who leads a tiny, Naples-centred party called the UDEUR. Until last week, he was the justice minister in Romano Prodi's centre-left government.
He left the cabinet after learning that he and his wife, also a politician, had been made suspects in a corruption inquiry. So far, so normal - at least for Italy.
From the outset, however, there were fears that Mastella's departure could put an end to Prodi's 20 months in office. He has positioned the UDEUR so it is as near as possible to the dead centre of Italian politics. And, having lost office under the centre-left, he had little to lose from throwing in his lot with Silvio Berlusconi and the right. Back in the 1990s, he was a Berlusconi minister.
What is more, Mastella had something to gain from prompting new elections. The UDEUR, like Italy's other tiny parties, is at risk from electoral reform. A referendum to endorse a new voting model is due to be held by the spring. But the vote will have to be scrapped if an election is called.
Despite all this, Mastella decided to continue backing the Prodi administration. On January 17, he said it clearly: the UDEUR would vote with the centre-left even though it no longer had a seat in cabinet. Then, just four days later, he changed his mind.
Why? Well, for a start, Mastella is a Christian Democrat, and one of the Vatican's most prominent political "trusties". It is known he has been in contact with the leadership of the Italian Roman Catholic church over the past few days.
Indeed, several papers reported yesterday that the people he first informed of his change of mind were - in order - his wife, Berlusconi and Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the head of the Italian bishops' conference.