A strategy of resistance to secularism is unfolding in Europe among Catholics that bears some resemblance to the Christian right in the U.S., according to the National Catholic Reporter (July 1).
In June, the Catholic Church in Italy, under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and with the support of Pope Benedict XVI, mobilized at all levels to persuade Catholics to stay away from the ballot box in order to squelch a referendum that would liberalize the country’s laws on in vitro fertilization. Only 25.9 percent of eligible voters turned up for the vote (a vote lower than 50 percent invalidates a referendum).
While there are a number of factors for the low turnout, “in the court of popular opinion, Cardinal Ruini and the Catholic Church emerged as the great victors,” writes John Allen. Church influence could be seen in the city of San Giovanni Rotondo, home of the shrine of Padre Pio. The church urged greater commitment to the “cause of life.” It seemed to work, since the city registered the lowest voter turnout (8.5 percent) in the country The outcome reverses the church’s “dismal track record” in overturning Italian referenda, such as on abortion and divorce.
Also in June, a more significant instance of conservative church activism took place in Spain. Close to 500,000 Spaniards took to the streets of Madrid to protest the socialist government’s proposed gay marriage law. “The most galvanized participants seemed to blend a robust, uncompromising defense of their country’s Catholic roots…with the grassroots political savvy of America’s religious right,” Allen writes in another article. Ignacio Arsuga, an architect of the rally who runs an organization called HazteOir.org (“listen up”), says that he and his Catholic friends dream of building something like the Christian Coalition in Spain.
Supported by influential Spanish bishops, the protest may mark an important turning point in the Catholic Church’s capacity to use “the street,” or large-scale demonstrations, to get its message across. But critics fear that the activism will divide the church and politicize its message to Spanish society. The Vatican has keen interest in Spain due to its high status among Latin American Catholics, hoping it will be in the vanguard of working to desecularize Europe.
(National Catholic Reporter, 419281, Kansas City, MO 64141)