With my post today I venture into dangerous territory. One should be very careful when approaching both religion and politics (although I already crossed that line at the time of the US elections) – especially if you care to remain friends with your readers. Yet I feel a need to throw my ten cents into the forum.

Today an event is coming to pass which has not occurred in 600 years: a reigning Pope is stepping down while still breathing. When the news came out on February 11, it made my jaw drop. This most conservative (perhaps an understatement?) Pope, Benedict XVI, was prepared to take an unprecedented step and  relinquish – seemingly voluntarily – his moral influence over millions of Catholics across the Earth.

His reasons for doing so, the Pope has been coy about, thus allowing room for all manner of speculation. This ranged from simply being too old and infirm, to not being able to cope with all the scandals currently besetting the Church. Regardless of which factor (or a combination of same) might be the real cause,  I congratulate him on the wisdom of conceding his throne to a younger man. Yes, a younger man. For as we all know, the Roman Catholic Church is NOT an equal opportunity employer. Also, images of the late Pope John Paul II, struggling to fulfil his duties as a suffering octogenarian, are a heart-rending reminder of what usually happens at the Vatican.

Whether this “younger” man – perhaps in his seventies – will possess the foresight to push through reforms of the teachings preserving the Church as an institution that has not evolved since the middle ages – this is a question that must be asked.  For everything from pedophilia, homosexuality and celibacy must be addressed. And isn’t the later a huge factor in the two former problems? And women? In an age where it’s very hard to recruit new priests (due to celibacy?), how can they keep refusing to allow women into the job?

As a young person, I was quite well versed in the Bible and I suppose that is why one thing particularly bothers me about all this:  the Bible did not command the early Christians (many women!) to found the Church as it has become. Jesus said that Peter would be the rock upon which his church should be built. No where was it written that gargantuan cathedrals were needed for the faithful to come and worship. Nor does it say that one infallible male should stand at the top, also equipped with earthly power, and gather in treasures and property all over the world. Have you ever been through the Vatican Museums? And St Peter’s? That is one helluva rock!

The question bothering me is: Is this Church relevant in our 21st century? And if it is going to continue on its previous path, how long can it survive? Obviously my opinions are, just that, my opinions. Come what may, a new Pope will be chosen and he will have a lot on his plate.

Simultaneously in Rome, another crisis is ongoing, a much weightier one. Regardless of what political beliefs you may hold, the national Italian elections have led to a completely unsatisfactory result. The idea of Beppe Grillo’s protest movement is not bad. Disillusionment with Italian politics is rampant and not new. But would taking Italy out of the Euro Zone, or even completely out of the European Union solve the existing problems? Not one bit. That would only deepen them. And now that Sg. Grillo has won 25% of the vote, his party is not prepared to actually take on any government responsibility. How realistic is that? So much is screaming to be reformed in the country, and Beppe sits on all those votes. He has completely abused democratic processes for who knows what purpose.

Where does one begain to comment on Berlusconi’s fine qualities? You’d have to have lived under a rock for the last 20 years not to know about his use of the Italian State as a self-service market. Even if he’d never held public office, his media empire alone would still be responsible for the complete dumbing-down of the Italian population.

I pray to the gods formerly in the Roman Pantheon that both Church and the Italian State soon find enlightenment and get their 21st century act together.



Filed under Politics


  1. Sarah Lake

    Well said, on both scores. While I wait with interest to see whether this is the beginning of a new movement in Italian politics I do realise that sudden change is deeply unlikely and mostly, impractical. I wonder whether Grillo with come to realise that change in bite sized pieces is better than no change. Or could he be hoping for the “Italian Spring” and full revolution?

    • Thank you, Lyn! Italian politics is in general unbelievably frustrating. Don’t imagine that will change any time soon. But when elements such as the two gents mentioned above thwart progress so blatantly, it really gets my dander up! dch

    • Hi Sarah, thanks for stopping in for a read. Heaven forbid that an Italian version of the Arab spring comes to pass. We are seeing how ineffective that has become for those countries. Cheers, Debbie

  2. Great post Debbie, I always learn so much more from your writings thank you Lyn

  3. stanito

    Dear friend,
    thank you for your post.

    I apprecciate that the Pope is admired for his choice, I think he indeed proved to be human and fair to his followers and colleagues by stepping down when he felt that was the best choice. I’m sure this move triggered a chain of events that will change the conditions for the new Pope. More info: http://stanito.com/2013/02/20/pope-benedict-xvi-and-his-resignation/

    About our government, I have a lot to say and express. All I can think of right now is pray that Bersani-Grillo-Monti work out a deal. Let’s leave Berlusconi to his shameful existence now busy facing an additional trial… my god… another trial, and still wanting to be PM? no way.

    As you can see this is a sensitive topic 🙂 hehehe

    • Dear Stanito,
      Thanks for getting in touch. I read your posts on the Pope and the elections and saw that we share pretty much the same opinions. Because we spend a lot of time in Italy, we really have a vested interest and the country turning itself around. Young people like you will have to be the ones who do it.
      As to the Pope, there too it remains to be seen if his successor is able to chart a new course for the 21st century Church. Let’s hope both the Vatican and the Italian government find their way. Ciao, Debbie

  4. Raymond Gann

    Despite reading your blog twice, I found it hard to disagree with your comments. Are you becoming anodyne ? Your comments on the Roman Catholic Church were spot on without being dispectful. Is it not time for an Italian to be Pope (its been 35 years now since John Paul I – remember him ?) I think italian politicians are underrated: a wily, sophisticated bunch who never quite go over the cliff. Surely Berlusconi is more up front about his sexual peccadlllos than say Bill Clinton or Dominique Strauss Kahn. I am confident that we have not heard the last of Monti.
    I am intrigued at the prospect of a Bundeskanzler Steinbrück meeting his “Amtkollege” Berlusconi.

    • I am so sorry my post has disappointed you, Raymond. I didn’t mean to write something you could agree with. Please forgive.
      Yes, an Italian Pope would be a novelty. I do remember John Paul I, vaguely. He didn’t have much time to make a mark. And I struggled not to be disrespectful at this time. One must praise any movement towards rational behavior, i.e. that Benedict retired.
      As to the poor under-rated Italian politicians, sure, certain ones are openly dispicable. Not that I prefer the Clinton or Strauss-Kahn take on political morality. It would just be so refreshing to have a couple of leaders who were able to control their urges. I think we could use a lot more non-testosterone-driven people at the top. Women, for example!! (Long Live Angela!!)
      Your dream of a meeting between Bundeskanzler Steinbrück and Prime Minister Berlusconi is not going to happen. Neither will make it into power!
      (Sure hope I won’t have to eat my words…) dch

  5. I have to admit my jaw dropped too for a nanosecond then I realised it was just a nascent double chin. Does contiguity or cohabitation equate to causation?. Is everything that is rotten about the institutions that attempt to run Italy so badly, the result of having a very strange and unaccountable institution in their midst whose proponents stumble along a gamut that stretches from venality to halting idiocy ? Or is the reason for the venality and sometimes downright evil that is the catholic church ( via some very good intentions) that its own civil service when not actually Italian has had its heart , soul and brain imbued with the Italian language and has therefore gone native? Allowing the world to be run by old men in dresses surely should be left to the unreconstructed Muslims whilst the rest of us attempt to absorb what’s left of the age of enlightenment. I think I was the first to notice that Grillo’s management style resembles that of an Ayatollah ; pulling the strings from outside a talking shop.

    For those who don’t read the Economist on line here’s my open letter to Monti.

    Long after the party Feb 17th, 14:44
    Dear Professor Monti
    I’m probably one of the few Englishmen who read your 25 page ‘Agenda ‘ almost as soon as it was published but, as I live in Italy, I have more than a passing interest. May I congratulate you on virtually re-writing my own critique of the status quo in Italy in such succinct and readable Italian.
    L’Italia della bellezza e del turismo. (p. 13)
    The whole cultural package from Etruscan sites to opera in the Sferisterio via food wine and painting that so delights me is just waiting to be sold to 0.005% of the population of the so called emerging nations. This is Italy’s U.S.P. ( unique selling point) and that’s a lot of tourists. How are we going to do it? Here’s a few ideas.
    The most successful tourist country in Europe is France. Go there and offer the number 2 in the tourist ministry almost any salary he asks for to come and clear up the mess that is Italy’s attempt at self-promotion – lousy unilingual web-sites , crazy opening hours, a non-standardised hotel grading system and worst of all a disparate set of regional organisations each with their own local tsar. Give your Frenchman carte blanche at today’s budget to shut down the regional offices and set up a national system of promotion à la française. When the number of arrivals increases, increase his budget accordingly.
    Italy’s universities (two of which I’ve taught at) are stuffed full of young people doing arts, language , economics, business degrees for whom ‘the road out’ is the best thing about Italy since there’s nothing here for them. Create a Culture Corps and at minimal salaries bring them into the tourist industry. Your Frenchman should be able to devise a coherent career pattern to offer these cadets based on merit alone, since he knows, and is beholden to, no one – on day one. Students at university studying any discipline should get a premium for studying and subsequently offering the ability to explain Italian cultural achievements in foreign languages ; in the following descending order, Far Eastern languages , Russian, Arabic, Hispanic, German , English.
    Rivitalizzare la vocazione industriale dell’Italia (p 7)
    Your expressed need to reform the legal system should, I feel , have stressed the enormous disincentive to F.D.I. ( Italy has the lowest level of foreign direct investment in the EU) that is the result of a legal system that can take 10 yrs to resolve civil disputes. Ten years is way beyond most companies’ investment horizons. This is pretty frightening when the remaining multinationals, including your own FIAT, who elsewhere absorb graduate output and give them modern management skills, are all making for the exit. It’s equally symptomatic that the FMC’s sold in Italy’s supermarkets can be the likes of Colgate Palmolive products made in Greece of all places – rather than here.
    Aperti ma non disarmati sui mercati globali (p. 9)
    There should be more emphasis on fiscal and other incentives for small firms to merge, come out of the tax shadows and achieve the critical mass to be able to market and export effectively. To your ‘consulenza giuridico-economica’ I would add marketing and export strategies. Kids on their second degree in economics/business studies don’t even know about buying and selling currencies forward. Who is going to put these ‘consultancies’ together? Camere di Commercio?
    La crescita non nasce dal debito pubblico (p. 4)
    Congratulations! You are the first person I’ve seen in print presenting the gvt.debt/GDP ratios in the simple way I use for students. E.g 120% ( actually for 2012 I’d say more like 128%) x say 4.2%
    ( for 10yr bonds) = 5% of GDP in interest payments alone. Of course this is shorthand as Italy’s rollover period on average is about 7 not 10 years. But on the other hand my figure of 128% debt/ratio has actually been admitted to. En passant, it might interest you to know that I was teaching the meaning of ‘lo spread’ in 2007 in the face of fairly sceptical but much better qualified colleagues. So it’s a bit unnerving to hear your President Napolitano referring in slightly dismissive tones to ‘lo famoso spread’ as if this were an imprecation rather than a symptom of underlying problems.
    Sfruttare tutto il potenziale dell’economia verde (p. 11)
    OK. Let’s do the green industry bit, but why cover some of the finest alluvial flat soil in Le Marche with subsidised solar cells? And who will clean up the mess in 15 yrs time when the plant is redundant? Another set of subsidies?.
    Despite the above comments, believe me Professor, I am a supporter of yours of long standing ever since your stint at the EU as commissioner for competition when you made a spirited defence of the much needed Bolkenstein proposals on freeing up services

  6. Hey Nic, That was amazing! I only understood about 70% of it, but that’s my fault. Let us know if you hear from Sg. Monti. He could do worse than hire you to be his right-hand man in any government he might one day form. For let’s face it, Italy needs him. And you! Cheers, dch

    • Raymond Gann


      how can you possibly know people like Nic ? I am jealous :-((


      • Hi Raymond, yes, knowing Nic is an experience. We’d be glad to introduce you if/when you visit us down south. Only trouble is, putting you two together, no one else would get a word in edgeways! 😉 We’d just have to leave you to it. dch

  7. Picking up on your comment on women in the early church, Their relative absence from the bible does not bother me. The New Testament could only be compiled by the influential people of the time i.e. men with the contemporary view of a woman’s place in society. Like it or not, that was the way society worked then (and still does in some countries neighbouring the Holy Land). Women had a subordinate place in the family, education and – of course – religion.

    The point the Pope needs to grasp is that we are not living in those times now. Although the fundamentals of Christianity are unchanging, there is absolutely no reason to cling to the social mores of two millennia ago. Women MUST be recognised as equals within the church, or Roman Catholicism will fade into irrelevance.

    • Hi Jacqueline, I couldn’t agree with you more! I suspect it was only the men in the early church who were literate. It was also men who decided which writings to include in what became known as the Bible! There are ancient manuscripts like the Gospel according to Mary Magdalene but they didn’t get a look in.
      As to the relevancy of the Church, I think even for many Catholics, it has already ceased to be. dch

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