Rorate Caeli

"Francis Effect"? - Catholic moral influence collapses in Italy as parliament approves "Quick Divorce"

1970: Communist daily Avanti celebrates the approval of divorce in Italy

The "opening up" of the Church following the Second Vatican Council had terrible consequences for the influence of Catholic moral doctrine in Italian legislation -- the most astouding examples being the legalization of divorce and of abortion under Paul VI. John Paul II had as one of his most difficult tasks that of rebuilding Catholic presence in Italian political life, which he gradually did, with the great help of Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Ruini, Vicar of Rome and influential president of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), despite the intellectual sabotage of men such as the Jesuit archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Martini.

The symbol of this new rise of Catholic influence in Italian legislation was the 2005 referendum on fertility laws, in which the right and moral Catholic view prevailed, with the support of Pope Benedict XVI.

Now, the united Catholic front painstakingly formed under the Wojtyla and Ratzinger pontificates has just collapsed like a house of cards, and attacks on morality are advancing with virtually no opposition in the Italian Parliament. Could this be what is usually meant by "Francis Effect"? Sandro Magister explains it in his Italian-only blog regarding the new Express-Divorce Law -- with the help of professors of Catholic universities themselves!

Catholics and quick divorce
Sandro Magister
Settimo Cielo
April 27, 2015

Greeted enthusiastically by the chorus from the mass-media, quick divorce shows itself to be a pitiless test and perhaps a definitive end of what was considered for years “the Italian exception”: i.e. this country’s ability through political Catholicism in the public forum, to go effectively against the mainstream on the key issues of life and family.

“Avvenire” the Italian Episcopal Conference’s daily newspaper, with its editorial, commenting on the law in words of unequivocal condemnation, carried the headlines “Quick divorce, an uncivilized goal. A devastating, anti-family slippery-slope”. Yet, this “wingding” in the secular news-media was indexed as “the wrath of Catholics” and immediately dismissed.

Indeed, the numbers of the votes that approved the law are eloquent in themselves: 398 voted yes, 28 voted no and there were 6 abstainers. This, in a parliament crammed with Catholics; in a government where numerous ministers and the Prime Minster are Catholics and the proposer of the new law, Alessia Morani, a lawyer specializing in marriage law, defining herself as a “mature, democratic Catholic.”
In a letter to “Avvenire” on April 26th, the PD (Democratic Party) Delegate, Franco Monaco, former President of Catholic Action in Milan and at one time Cardinal Maria Martini’s main adviser and political ghostwriter, listed the many negative factors in the new law along with his personal concern for the agnostic, individualistic and libertarian shift that it represents. Nevertheless, he says he voted ‘yes’ anyway. In a comment “about Catholics in politics” he writes:

“Today they are less pressured by the ecclesiastical world to take on the weight of “the non-negotiable principals”. This is not a good reason to lower the threshold of responsible, discerning criticism. If anything – it is the opposite: now that we are not pressured from the outside, we have to carry this responsibility ourselves.”

But if the ‘yes’ to quick divorce is a sign of this autonomous “critical discernment” of Catholics who are no longer under pressure from the hierarchy, it is equally interesting to understand the reasons that brought about the support of this new Catholic direction. The most revealing indication on the subject was found in a little column published in the “Corriere della Sera” on April 24th.

The writer, Mauro Magatti, is a regular contributor for “Avvenire” but even more so for the famous secular Italian newspaper. He holds the chair of Sociology at the Catholic University in Milan and was the Dean of the faculty from 2006 to 2012. He teaches also at the Theological Faculty of Milan. He is, most of all, a leading intellectual consulted by the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) - not the combatant one of yesteryear - but the weak one of today, represented by its Secretary General, Nunzio Galantino.

So, as the CEI has lost all relevance in the political realm, the same goes for Catholic thought which should have some influence politically. Magatti’s comment on quick divorce illustrates the state of things perfectly.

He writes:

“In an age where we celebrate speed and flexibility and where the brightness of “new beginnings” is so much called for, quick divorce conforms perfectly to the spirit of the times.”

No criticism at all. He notes:

“Human-beings have an extraordinary ability to adapt. They will adapt even to a social model where marriage for life passes over to marriage with limits: i.e. more freedom for individual choices, fewer social binding-forces”.

Only a vague uncertainty about the future is raised:

“Time will tell if this decision makes us truly happy. We should all be able to survive unstable relationships, by making an effort to measure up [to the situation].”

He finishes this way:
“We will see what happens. For today, as the poet says: “Let those who want to be happy - be, tomorrow, none can see” (Lorenzo de’Medici)

[A Rorate translation by contributor Francesca Romana.]