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Things That Happen in Italy

Ego Te Absolvo

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Something quite serious happened yesterday in Italy, but it seems to have gone unnoticed. To be more precise, the event has received partial coverage on the media, but I think a very superficial and slightly instrumental one.

The Pope received yesterday, in the Vatican, a delegation of members of the Italian Civil Protection. The event was meant to celebrate the Civil Protection’s work, particularly in the recent earthquake in L’Aquila on 6th April 2009.

During the meeting, the Pope addressed especially Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Civil Protection. Bertolaso is currently at the centre of a massive scandal hinging on corruption and prostitution. The Pope stated “I thank [Bertolaso] for all he does for civil society and for us”. The Pope also praised all the volunteers of the Civil Protection for their effort in helping the relief operations after the earthquake that hit L’Aquila 11 months ago.

The praise to the volunteers is deserved, even necessary. The work they have been doing to help the affected population of L’Aquila is truly admirable. It is important that the institutions, and the Vatican, acknowledge the country’s gratitude and appreciation for this work. What I think is somewhat shocking is the presence of Bertolaso at this event.

Guido Bertolaso, who has been mentioned in this blog before, is at the moment one of the dodgiest persons on the Italian scene (and this says already a lot.) An inquiry over the way he used to award  contracts for relief operations, for important events such as the G8 and for the Swimming World Championship in Rome two years ago, revealed a system based on pure corruption. There is evidence that one of the ways in which Bertolaso used to award contracts involved being offered prostitutes in health centres in Rome. In phone tapping records, Bertolaso is heard calling the manager of the health centre to ask whether Francesca, a girl to which he would “like to give a ripassata (a good going-over)”, was available that evening.

Another key individual in this sleazy affair is Angelo Balducci, the head of the state public works office, who is actually under arrest in connection with this story. Balducci was the person Bertolaso appointed to realise the G8 in Sardinia, then in L’Aquila, last year. It has emerged in the last few days that he (Balducci) is allegedly involved in yet another scandal at the Vatican. Balducci has worked as an usher since the 90s at the Apostolic Palace in Rome, being a member of an elite group within the Vatican called The Gentlemen of His Holiness. You can read about this story here.

Back to the Pope. How on Earth can the Pope welcome a person like Bertolaso? It is certainly true that one is innocent until proven guilty, and I am not hereby condemning Bertolaso. But he might be guilty. He might have gone with prostitutes, sold contracts to incompetent people, accepted bribes, etc. Though it is important, as I said already, that volunteers of the Civil Protection be thanked, isn’t it at least inappropriate to celebrate a person involved in such a massive scandal?

At the end of the day, we are talking of the Church. Catholic values, the values that no one can touch because they are the values that define our identity, our history! Pope Ratzinger has even written a book about Values!

Yet, at the same time in which the veil may be lifted over a system relying on bribery, greed (especially about the earthquake in L’Aquila), and sexual exploitation, one of the biggest suspects is welcome by the Pope in the Vatican!

Ratzinger did the same thing last year, when he met the Italian PM while the latter was at the centre of a very similar scandal. How can a religious leader let individuals who are publicly under inquiry for immoral behaviour inside a place that is meant to be the sanctuary of morality?

What surprises me most is that no one is pointing out how strange this is. Italian Catholics jump from their chairs as soon as someone mentions  removing crucifixes from public schools, or allowing homosexuals to get married. No one dare criticise a religious leader who not only meets publicly with a person of seriously dubious morality, but also celebrates him for “the good things he has done for us”. The Pope has basically absolved Bertolaso publicly, in spite of the serious evidence against the latter’s innocence. “It’s time to stop talking about scandals” – an emotional Bertolaso commented after meeting the Pope.

One might find this slightly revolting. Where are the Catholics now? Do they all agree that it’s time to stop talking about scandals?

Read this for a suggestion of why the Pope may be interested in forgiving “some” Italian sinners.

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Written by TheItalianist

07/03/2010 at 16:21

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