Rorate Caeli

De Mattei: The historical background of the abortion law in Italy

Abortion in Italy forty years later (1978-2018)
Roberto de Mattei 
Corrispondenza Romana 
March 21, 2018

Recently the attention of the media in Italy has been focused on the fortieth anniversary of Aldo Moro’s kidnapping. On March 16th 1978, in an ambush on Via Fani in Rome, the Christian Democrat politician was kidnapped and his bodyguards murdered by the Red Brigade. On May 9th, after a captivity of 55 days, his body was found riddled with bullets in the boot of a car in Via Caetani. No-one has yet to recall though, that, during that same springtime of 1978, the law n.194 on abortion was debated and approved by the Italian Parliament and that since then, it has been the cause of six million victims in our country. 

In 1991, the Honorary President of the Movement for Life, Francesco Migliori, revealed that it had been the then Secretary of the Christian Democratic Party, Aldo Moro, who, “at the National Council in 1975 had said that  - in order not to hinder the encounter with other parties (i.e. the Socialist and the Communist Parties) these issues should be left to individual consciences.” So it was precisely Moro’s intervention that convinced the Christian Democrats not be involved in the battle against abortion in the 1970s. The Honorable Aldo Moro was the strategist of the historical compromise with Enrico Berlinguer’s Communist Party and the agreement anticipated the disengagement of the Christian Democrats on the matter of abortion.

While Moro was in captivity, on April 15th 1978, the law on abortion was passed in the Chamber with 308 votes in favour and 275 against “a tiny majority formed by Communists, Socialists, Liberals, Social-Democrats, Republicans and Independents of the left, and supported, it is said, by votes from a group of Christian Democrats, who, in this way, forestalled the referendum.” (La Repubblica, May 15th 1998). “The numbers of the final vote – wrote Francesco Damato in Il Giornale of May 10th – show that the pro-abortionists, even if configuring the greater number on paper, would have lost the battle if the opposite side had totally remained in its place.”

Once the text arrived at the Senate, it was approved on May 18th, with 160 votes in favour and 148 against, out of a total of 308 senators. Once again, the determinants were the defections in the Christian Democrat Party.  On the Gazzetta Ufficiale of May 22nd 1978, the n.194 law authorizing homicide was promulgated and signed by all the Christian Democrats: the President of the Republic, Giovanni Leone, the President of the Council, Giulio Andreotti and the ministers: Tina Anselmi, Francesco Bonifacio, Tommaso Morlino and Filippo Maria Pandolfi -  all Christian Democrats.

Andreotti defended himself in a letter to Padre Rotondi, saying his decision had been a “duty”. A duty perhaps according to the principles of juridical positivism, but certainly not according to Catholic morality, for which the only absolute duties we have are those regarding the Divine and natural law and which, in this specific case, forbids the killing of innocents. The President of the Council, however, didn’t confine himself to this: his government officially took on the responsibility for the law before the  Constitutional Court of Italy: in fact, at the audience of December 5th 1979, The Government Legal Services, by mandate from the government, despite having the possibility of raising objections, defended the constitutional legitimacy of the law.

At the beginning of June, the President of the Republic, Giovanni Leone, who hadn’t felt the need to resign when the law had been signed, was then compelled to, following the controversies on the Lockheed Scandal. After some weeks, the Socialist, Sandro Pertini was elected to that same office. Andreotti, on the other hand, had a long political career, blemished however, by stains, that the absolution of the courts didn’t ever erase. Such as the accusation of having been the mandant for the homicide of Mino Peccorelli as well as his collusion with the mafia. We have doubts regarding the veracity of these accusations, but even if they were true, we are certain that the responsibility of having signed the abortion law is enormously greater than complicity in mafia killings. These killings in fact, like the murder of Moro by the Red Brigade, don’t constitute a negation of the principal of the right to life and are thus not as grave as the introduction of mass-murder into our juridical order.

On May 20th 1978, in an editorial, La Civiltà Cattolica wrote: “Certainly the shocking and terrible events around the Honorable Moro and the brutal killings of his body-guards, attracted the attention of everyone  in such a strong way that other problems were overshadowed: but if we reflect a little deeper, it is manifest that what happened in the Senate recently with the definitive approval of the legalization of abortion is much graver from a general standpoint, than what happened on March 16th in Via Fani. In that case a horrendous crime was committed, but the principal of the right to life and liberty was not damaged, for the fact that that crime was unanimously condemned; on the other hand, in Parliament, for the first time in the history of our country, the principle of the right to life was damaged, that is, the foundation upon which not only society stands, but also the Italian juridical order.” (quaderno 3070, 20 May 1978, p. 313).

La Civiltà Cattolica rightly emphasized how the legalization of homicide is very much graver than a single homicidal act, such as the murder of Moro and the slaughter of his bodyguards, but omits that the approval of abortion is very grave, not so much as it damages the principle of the right to life upon which the Italian juridical order stands, but most of all because it publically contradicts the Doctrine of the Church and the natural and Divine law. The responsibility of the passing of the law on abortion, furthermore, falls not only on the Christian Democratic Party, but on the Italian clergy who discouraged opposition to it in Parliament and after the introduction of the law, sought to block its complete abrogation by means of a referendum.

Among the memories I have of that time, there is a meeting we had in 1979 with Monsignor Luigi Maverna, Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference,[CEI] to ask for support, even if tacit and indirect but benevolent, for the collection of signatures the Catholic Alliance intended to set up for an abrogative referendum of the recently approved law n.194 on abortion.  As a response, the prelate manifested the complete disinclination both present and future, of the CEI, towards those who intended to promote a referendum against abortion. To our objections, he replied “do it by yourselves” shrugging his shoulders.

The reason was clear. The CEI, at that time presided over by Cardinal Antonio Poma, subtly supported the historical compromise and wanted to avoid “picket politics” or as is said today “opposing walls”. The referendum was “divisive” just as the Marchers for Life are today accused of creating an atmosphere of cultural clashes and the strategy of yesterday till today, follows that of mediation and compromise. The line of the Italian Episcopal Conference was the same as the Secretary of State.  John Paul II, despite his categorical opposition to abortion, was unable to change it.

In the 1980s, thanks  to Dr. Wanda Poltawaska, a close friend of John Paul II, I met the Pope’s Secretary, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz several times, who listened attentively and politely to my pleas in defense of the abrogation of the law 194.  John Paul II hadn’t wanted to interfere however in Italian political affairs and had delegated this task to the Secretary of State.  On the morning of May 22nd 1980, I met Giovanni Cantoni and Agostino Sanfratello of the Catholic Alliance and at Monsignor Dziwisz’s introduction, Monsignor Silvestrini, Secretary to the Council for the Public Affairs of the Church.  Silvestrini had succeeded Cardinal Agostino Casaroli in 1973 in this position of Secretary to the Council for Public Affairs for the Church and was Casaroli’s close collaborator. But above all, he was “a spiritual son” of Monsignor Salvatore Baldassarri, “the red” Archbishop of Ravenna, dismissed by Paul VI as a result of his ultra-progressivism.   

During the meeting we explained the necessity of an abrogative referendum sustained by the indispensible cooperation of at least a proportionate part of the Italian bishops, with the aim of gathering the 500,000 signatures required.  Monsignor Sivestrini, in mellifluous tones, opposed the consideration of the inopportunity of such an anti-abortion referendum, as it would have caused, according to him, a damaging pro-abortion “contro-catechesis”, in the sense that, because of the anti-abortion position of Catholics, the pro-abortionists would have multiplied their efforts in favor of abortion. But doesn’t the Catholic world – we made the Monsignor note -  suffer increasing pro-abortion aggression already today? And if defending the truth and doing good are the occasion for contro-catechesis, should we then abstain in the proclamation of truth and doing good?

Monsignor Silvestrini noted that a second reason for the inopportunity was the memory of the still burning defeat of the referendum against divorce.  But wasn’t it true – we repeated – that that battle had been lost because it hadn’t been adequately and generously fought? And if the memory was still bitter of that defeat, shouldn’t the memory of the inertia which had caused it be even more bitter?

Mons. Silvestrini said that “also the party” (he was referring to the Christian Democrats) would have been adverse to the idea of an anti-abortion referendum. Why be surprised, we responded, if such a party favoured the law in parliament and some of its most important exponents signed that  law, taking on full moral and political responsibility for it?  Actually we were talking two different languages and no dialogue was possible. In the end, the Secretary of State and the Episcopal Conference gave weak approval to the Movement for Life’s request for the referendum, which accepted therapeutic abortion and contraception.

In the referendum which took place on May 17th 1981, the law proposed by the Movement for Life didn’t exceed 32%. Abortion continues with its heavy toll of victims in Italy, and Monsignor Silvestrini, made a Cardinal in 1988, maintained his powerful influence during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, until he became part of the St. Gallen’s “mafia–club”, which prepared for Cardinal Bergoglio’s election to the Papacy.

The moral decadence in the Church and in Italian society are not questions only of recent years, but go way back and their remote causes should be analyzed, if remedies are to be found.

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana