Desmond O'Grady, our correspondent in Rome, examines how Italian Catholics spurred by the recent synod's mandate for the laity to become 'the leaven in the lump,' are taking on political responsiblity
A CONTRAST between a Paul VI—style and John Paul H— style approach to the Church's social teaching is emerging in Italy.
This has become evident with a decision to begin courses on Catholic social doctrine in 70 Italian towns. This initiative was announced at a meeting in Rome which concluded on December 13.
Courses for adult Catholic socio-political education are being launched throughout Italy, sometimes in competition with one another. For instance the new courses seem to be in competition in Milan with those recently established there by the Archbishop, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.
Reportedly the organiser of the new courses did not request Martini's permission to start activities in his archdiocese. This probably explains the reminder Bishop Fernando Charrier, President of the Italian Bishops' Conference Social Affairs Office, gave at the same meeting that new initiatives must be approved by local bishops. The previous Jay John Paul II recalled that the recent synod had underlined the
need for movements to cooperate with residential bishops.
Before the synod some movements' officials had said that the Pope's support for them was sufficient but now there is more emphasis on their need to co-operate with the bishops in whose dioceses they work as well as with the Pope.
There is fear, in particular, that the lively Italian-founded Comunione E Liberazione movement will get out of hand. Comunione E Liberazione's political arm, the Movimento Popolare (MP) founded the new Catholic social studies courses together with the Christian Workers' Movement (MCL), the pro-life movement and the Catholic Co-ordination Committee. The umbrella organisation for this enterprise has the snappy title Association for Permanent Education in Catholic Social Doctrine (APE CSD).
It was only after the second world war that Catholics achieved political power in "Catholic" Italy. The Catholic Christian Democrat Party has been the main party in all postwar governments. Initially it was heavily identified with the church which intervened to stop the communists gaining power.
Although the Christian Democrats have been in power since the war, not only have divorce and legal abortion been introduced but corruption is widespread. One motive in the founding of Catholic social doctrine courses is the feeling that something is wrong with the Christian Democrats.
Another motive is the feeling that Marxism, which enjoyed cultural dominance in the first three postwar decades, no longer provides answers.
Since 1984 Italian Catholic Action has run about 100 courses annually for political education. The Italian Catholic Workers' Association (ACLI) has social doctrine courses for 3500 people plus another course run in conjunction with the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.
Two years ago the Jesuit Father Bartolomeo Sorge established in the Sicilian capital Palermo the Pedro Arrupe Institute for Political Education. Sorge has often explained that it is not a school to train Christian Democrat leaders. He wants to train competent people to take a more ethical approach to politics.
Sorge's assurances have not stopped Socialists and others making accusations of Jesuit manipulation of local politics. These accusations were repeated after the recent abrupt termination of Catholic Democrat—Socialist collaboration in the Palermo Administration.
The approach of the new APESCD courses seems more combative than that of the Catholic Action and ACLI courses. The Catholic Action and ACLI courses (between them the two organisations have almost a million members), aim to prepare Catholics to be a "leaven in the lump".
The Catholic Action and ACLI courses do not push students towards any particular political party, whereas the Comunione E Liberazione group involved in the APESCD initiative is allied to the Christian Democrats. Indeed Comunione E Liberazione's political arm, the Movimento Popolare, seems to be trying to assume its leadership.
However the Catholic Action—ACLI approach has tended in the past to favour collaboration with the communists. This may seem surprising but the communists no longer pose any threat of taking Italy into the Communist Bloc. Some Catholics have always seen the second largest Italian party (The Communists poll about 30 per cent) as a non-corrupt and popular group which is one of the healthiest elements in Italian society. The Movimento Poplare, however, tends to partial agreements with the Socialists, who have 14 per cent of the vote.
The Catholic Action—
ACLI—Sorge approach denies the apocalyptic vision of the contemporary world favoured by some APSCD leaders, Catholic Action members would say that the church does not have readymade answers to society's problems but that Catholics have to grow along with the rest of Italian society which, for all its defects, has matured since the
They point out that Catholic individuals and Catholic groups have been trailblazers in responding to problems such as terrorism and organised crime. ACLI members cite the result of recent opinion polls which showed that people found it and a Communist—Socialist association the most satisfactory organisms.
APECSO has a more dramatic outlook. Its president, the philosopher Augusto Del Noce, argues that modernism is radically errant but has almost run its course. Catholics, he claims, have a cultural cringe about their socio—political projects. He applies this criticism also to the Christian Democratic Party.