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Embryos Welcome: Ruini Wins the Referendum, and Sets an Example: The Italian Church scores its first victory in Benedict XVI's battle in the defense of life and man
6/16/2005 3:02:00 PM by Sandro Magister - www.chiesa.espressonline.it
ROMA, June 16, 2005 - Eight million at the voting booths, sixteen million at Mass. Already by the evening of Sunday, June 12, the game was over. During the entire day, the promoters of the four propositions in the referendum on the use of embryos were able to obtain the voting participation of a number of men and women only half as large as the number of those who go to church each Sunday in Italy.
There were some among the churchgoers who voted, and even some who voted in favor of the referendum, but the strength of the Italian Church is found precisely in its character as a popular Church, a Church of the masses, a fertile terrain for those who know how to tend it well. And this time it was impossible to keep the seed from taking root. On Tuesday, June 14, the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference [CEI], "Avvenire," opened with a headline in red block lettering: 74.1. This is the overwhelming percentage attained by the non-vote, the "double no" that Cardinal Camillo Ruini had been preaching since January.
Ruini downplayed references to his victory: "I sought only to do my duty as a bishop, a Christian, and a citizen." But it is certain that, from this time forward, he will not dismantle the tank that he used to plow through the political landscape. He has already written his plan of action, giving it an unpalatable title: "the anthropological question." But the crucial points in it are clear: these are the new "models of life" with their consequent "legislative, administrative, and judicial decisions within the areas of the safeguarding of human life, of the family, and of procreation." This implies de facto couples, gay marriage, quick divorce, abortion, and euthanasia. Ruini has already picked out his future battles in each of these areas, so as for freedom in education, help for young couples, support of fiscal policies that encourage reproduction.
As June 12 drew near, the president of the CEI was certain that the boycott would succeed. For weeks IPSOS, a research institute directed by Nando Pagnocelli, had been giving him confidential access to some reassuring data, which showed that voter turnout would not rise above 40 percent. And during the last days, as the citizens understood better what was being put to referendum, their decision not to vote grew as well.
But six months ago, at the beginning of winter, the forecasts were much less certain, and the adversary far more terrible. On January 14, three days before Ruini spoke out against the referendum for the first time, "Corriere della Sera" - the newspaper that embodies secular, rationalist Italy and is immediately imitated by almost all of the national press - had already taken an official position: "the 'yes' vote should win," and "all of the attempts to avoid a popular pronouncement, with predictions that this would only increase confusion, should be dismissed."
At that time, the road for Ruini was all uphill. This was even the case within the Church. The president of the CEI was convinced, and had said on a number of occasions, that "Italy is one of the European nations in which the Church is most lively and most equipped for the new evangelization." But when it came to topics like artificial fertilization and the destiny of frozen embryos, he found the Church sluggish, timid, and poorly informed. This was true of the bishops, the clergy, and Catholic associations. In order to reawaken his Church, Ruini decided to take the helm himself, and to set out the goal and the method: the invalidation of the four points of the referendum through a boycott of the vote.
And the Church followed him with a unanimity that had not been seen during the past half century. Not because it was obedient, but because it was convinced.
This is what happened among the 250 active bishops, who were in continual harmony with their president from January forward.
This is also what happened among the greater part of the faithful. In May, a survey conducted by Demos-Eurisko for the newspaper "la Repubblica" verified that only one out of ten Italian Catholics who go to Mass on Sunday thought the Church's recommendations on how to vote or not vote for the referendum was binding. Most of them, seven out of ten, thought that "in the end, each person must decide according to his conscience," but that in any case, "the Church should be able to set out guidelines."
And halfway down the road between the bishops and the faithful, on his journey to reawaken and illuminate all of their consciences, Ruini made his wager on the mobilization of the Catholic world: priests and parishes, associations and movements.
The engine of the campaign for the "double no" to the referendum and its contents was Science & Life, an ad hoc committee coordinated by professors Bruno Dallapiccola and Paola Binetti. It was created in February and modeled after the Forum of Family Associations headed by Luisa Santolini. This Forum was the real promoter of Law 40 on artificial procreation, which was approved in February of 2004 by almost two thirds of parliamentarians, from both the right and the left. The law forbids the production of an excessive number of embryos, embryonic selection, their use and elimination, and recourse to fertilization outside of the couple.
Science & Life was joined by the heads of all of the major Catholic associations, from Catholic Action to the Italian Association of Christian Workers, from Communion and Liberation to Focolare. And these groups then sprang into action, together their executive boards. All of the dissenters from Ruini's stance, and there were very few of them, were former members of these associations who often had left their group not years, but decades ago.
This grassroots mobilization of the Catholic world received little national media coverage, but it was responsible in great part for the result of the June 12-13 referendum.
For example, Radio Maria, which is directed by Fr. Lino Fanzaga and counts six million faithful listeners, began promoting the boycott of the vote last November, with an impressive intensification coming in the last weeks. The radio network issued an invitation to fast on bread and water the Wednesday and Friday before June 12, in the name of defending unborn life, and on Sunday it suggested that everyone make a pilgrimage to one of the five thousand Marian shrines in Italy.
The two hundred thousand Charismatics of Renewal in the Spirit arranged to meet in churches on the evening before the vote for an entire night of prayer.
And that same night, sixty-five thousand pilgrims, many of them from Communion and Liberation, walked from Macerata to the sanctuary of Loreto, led by the patriarch of Venice, Angelo Scola.
For months, the Catholic world was given a thorough education on the difficult topics that were the object of the referendum. There were thousands of gatherings in the parishes to discuss the theology, philosophy, and science involved, all at the initiative of individuals or of existing or newly formed groups. The promoters of these initiatives were decidedly young on the average.
Some speakers who previously had been unknown achieved astonishing success, sweeping through all of Italy: for example, Dominican Fr. Giorgio Maria Carbone, a theologian and bioethicist; Francesco Agnoli, a professor of history in Trent; and Mario Palmaro, a jurist, together with his committee Truth and Life.
The Movement for Life, headed by Carlo Casini, had been a marginal association before this, but now it attained a much more central role, with its thirty thousand volunteers active in 272 help centers for pregnant women in difficulty. It was of them that Ruini was thinking when he said on June 13: "We are certainly against abortion, but we do not want to modify Law 194 [which regulates it]. We hope only that, in its application, as much attention as possible be given to the importance of favoring life." Over 27 years, the help centers of the Movement for Life have led to the birth of 65,000 babies in Italy who were in danger of being aborted. Of the pregnant women considering abortion who come to the centers, three out of four give birth simply because they will receive help and support afterwards as well. But only five percent of these women come to the centers through a referral from public counselors, even though the declared purpose of Law 194/1978 is to promote giving birth. Today, two out of every three mothers that the center assists are immigrants from poor countries.
"Avvenire," the newspaper of the CEI, played a primary role in the education of the Catholic world on the topics of the referendum, especially through a special insert entitled "This Is Life," published in fifty editions beginning February 10. All in all, it comes to two hundred large format pages, with a wealth of articles, interviews, and news.
Other more focused initiatives were carried out by specialists in the life sciences and in law. In January, when the constitutional court still had to issue a decision on the admissibility of the points in the referendum, a dozen Catholic jurists (almost all of them aligned politically on the left) met in a committee and presented to the court to a motion to declare the inadmissibility of four of the five proposals then being considered, obtaining the rejection of the proposal advanced by the radicals for the complete repeal of Law 40. Right up until June 12, one of these jurists, Marco Olivetti, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Foggia, was the staunchest defender of Ruini's pro-boycott stance against the attacks leveled at him. It was partly thanks to him that on June 6 more than a hundred jurists, both Catholic and non-Catholic, released a manifesto expressing their support for the boycott: among these were four former presidents and vice-presidents of the constitutional court, and many prominent tenured professors.
One key element in the Church's opposition to the June 12 referendum is that all of its arguments were drawn from reason, and not from faith: in this way, it gained the assent of secular thinkers like Giuliano Ferrara and Oriana Fallaci, agnostic scientists like Angelo Vescovi, feminists like Eugenia Roccella and Paola Tavella, and Jews like Giorgio Israel.
Another distinctive element was its focus upon winning the contest with the most effective means available - a boycott of the vote - and not simply by giving some symbolic expression of its disagreement. In this, Ruini had the full support of the pope, because for both of them what was a stake was so decisive that it required the greatest possible response.
Benedict XVI said this clearly on May 30 to a meeting of the Italian bishops. For Joseph Ratzinger, the battle fought in Italy on June 12 is part of a landmark struggle whose theater is the entire world: a confrontation between the Church and "that form of culture, based upon a purely functional rationality, that contradicts and tends to exclude Christianity and, in general, the religious and moral traditions of humanity."
But Italy, the pope added, is the proof that "the hegemony of this culture is not at all complete, and much less is it undisputed." There are many in Italy who reject it, "even among those who do not share or do not practice the faith." And "it is above all in Italy that the Church maintains a grassroots presence in the midst of people of every age and condition, and thus is able to propose in the most diverse situations the message of salvation that Jesus has entrusted to it."
Benedict XVI has given the warning, and his vicar Ruini is ready. The Church's battle in defense of the "inalienable dignity of every human being from conception to natural death" continues.
And after Italy, Spain
Cardinal Camillo Ruini's lesson is already being applied in the classroom of Spain. On Saturday, June 18, half a million persons will take to the squares of Madrid to oppose the marriage of homosexual couples and the adoption of children on the part of these couples. These are norms that will be voted on June 21, and they have the support of the government of JosŤ Luis Zapatero.
The demonstration is being organized by the Family Forum, a civic association that joins four million families. But the novelty is that the Spanish bishops' conference is officially joining the protest. It has not participated in protests against the government since 1983. Its announcement of support was issued by the executive body on June 9: "We are facing a question of the greatest moral and social importance, which requires from citizens, and from Catholics in particular, a clear and decisive response through all legitimate means."
On May 30, Benedict XVI told a meeting of the Italian bishops: "What the Church in Italy does justifies the attention and the expectations toward it on the part of many sister Churches in Europe and throughout the world." Spain is the next proving ground.