Things have cooled off between Italy's two super powers and one may go down in flames. It won't be the one in white.
Silvio Berlusconi, the embattled Italian Prime Minister is having scandalous issues again. Seems he may have a predilection for sex with under age teenage girls. This latest scandal may or may not have prompted both Cardinal Bertone and Pope Benedict to speak on public personages and rediscovering the moral roots of society. If true, this would be very close to a pot calling the kettle black kind of thing.
Rediscover moral roots of society, Pope urges
CatholicCulture.org - January 21, 2011
In a January 21 meeting with police official of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI said that it is crucial to uphold clear moral principles at a time when the public fears “that moral consensus is breaking down.”
The Pope’s comments, calling for a revival of public morality, were interpreted by many reporters as a subtle reference to the personal scandals plaguing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. But in fact the Pontiff’s remarks were addressed to a broader sense of turmoil in society—a sense that all ethical standards have been called into question. The Pope spoke of “a sense of insecurity, primarily due to social and economic instability, but also exacerbated by a weakening of the perception of ethical principles that underpin the law and personal moral attitudes, which always give strength to the rules that govern society.” This is especially true when the lack of personal moral attitudes and ethical principles is at the heart of major religious institutions. People expect to get snowed by politicians. They don't expect to get snowed by bishops.)
In such a climate the public witness of the Church is especially important, the Pope argued. He observed that many people today think that all morality is subjective, “because modern thought has developed a reductive view of conscience, according to which there are no objective references in determining what has value and what is true; rather, each individual provides his own measure through his own intuitions and experiences, each possesses his own truth and his own morals.”(It might be better if the Church found a different person to give that public witness. Unfortunately Mother Theresa and Padre Pio are dead.)
The result of this subjective approach, the Pope continued, is that “religion and morals tend to be confined to the subjective and private sphere; and faith with its values and its modes of behavior no longer merits a place in public and civil life.” The importance of faith is “progressively marginalized,” he said, at precisely the time when the witness of faith is most important. (That's actually a pretty good description of what happened with clerical sexual abuse. The importance of the Faith got progressively marginalized until it wasn't a factor.)
I can easily imagine that Silvio Berlusconi is paying scant heed to anything coming from a Vatican spokesman about sex with under age teenagers, especially in view of the fact the age of consent in the Vatican City States is twelve. Perhaps Berlusconi should consider changing his place of residence. He would still appear to be a cradle robber, but he would be a legal cradle robber--not that this would give the appearance of weakening ethical principles or engaging in a personal form of moral relativity or anything like that.
It is really sort of mind boggling that Benedict is lecturing Italian Police on the damage public figures and institutions have done in weakening the rules that govern society and undermining trust in the body politic. It makes me wonder if he really has a grip on just how damaging the sexual abuse crisis has been to his ability to project any kind of moral voice in the West. I really don't think he understands the' do as I say, not as I do' days are long gone. There really isn't much difference between actively engaging in immorality or protecting those that do the engaging. Police have to deal with both kinds of perpetrators because both have their role in the victimization of others. At least in Berlusconi's case, he is alleged to have paid up front. Not that that makes him some sort of moral giant--relatively speaking.
I also find it really ironic that Benedict is lecturing to Italian police at the same time the Vatican is attempting to spin the 1997 letter to Irish bishops. This was the letter which instructed said bishops not to talk to the police at all when it came to criminal sexual activity. I'm aware that John Allen says that's not what the letter says in his piece for the NCR, but I doubt seriously that any of the bishops who read that letter took it the way Allen has spun it. I feel pretty safe in that statement because no bishop turned an abuser over to the police until after 2002. Things may have changed, but they didn't change voluntarily or because the Vatican suddenly found a 'true' moral compass.
It will be interesting to see how Italy's version of a Teflon Don weathers this latest scandal. Berlusconi has done the Church a number of favors, mostly involving tax breaks and other concessions while pushing the Vatican's culture wars. Losing the support of the Vatican will not help Berlusconi's chances at keeping a workable coalition together since it would probably cost him his last remaining conservative supporters.
Maybe this will start a novel concept amongst right leaning people. Maybe they will start to demand that their leadership actually walk their talk. This might mean that a three time marriage adulterer like Newt Gingrich will never again be able to say anything along the lines that it only matters that he says what people need to hear not that he actually lives it. Maybe the Vatican will get that message as well.