An Unprecedented Pitch to Italian Political Leaders

Vatican Talks of Topics That Concern Catholic Electorate

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ROME, FEB. 20, 2001 ( The Vatican has begun an unprecedented series of meetings with leaders of all political parties to express the concerns of the Catholic electorate.

The move comes at the start of the Italian general elections campaign for members of Parliament and the Cabinet that will govern the country.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state, confirmed the news Monday when he met the press at a reception in the Italian Embassy to the Vatican, in celebration of the Lateran Pacts and the Italian Church-state agreement.

The unprecedented political meetings come in the wake of the disintegration of the Christian Democratic Party. Until the early 1990s, Church leaders felt represented by this political force, which ideologically defended Christian values. But the party´s leadership foundered in a sea of corruption scandals.

In recent years the Church´s relation with Italian politics has changed completely. Now, for the first time, the Vatican has decided to join the Italian bishops in a common strategy, to express clearly the values that Christians expect from politicians, regardless of their ideological hue.

The Church is neutral, Cardinal Sodano clarified, but wishes to help the Catholic electorate to exercise its right to vote with knowledge of the parties´ positions on issues that are particularly delicate.

To the question, «What are the issues?» the Italian Cardinal responded: life and abortion, aid to private schools (Catholic schools in Italy receive practically no state support, and, as a result, many are being forced to close), family (Italy is undergoing a demographic crisis), solidarity.

«These are topics that are heartfelt by Italian Catholics, and even more so by the Pope who, as Bishop of Rome, loves the life of the Church in Italy,» Cardinal Sodano told the press. Therefore, he added, no one should be surprised by the organization of this series of «consultations» with the parties.

Cardinal Sodano had just finished a meeting with Italy´s most important political leaders. He was accompanied by Argentine Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, substitute for general affairs of the State Secretariat; French Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, secretary of the Apostolic See for relations with states; and Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian bishops´ conference.

The Vatican secretary of state met with Francesco Rutelli, leader of the Olive political group last Friday. This group includes parties of the center-left who constitute the present majority in government.

Cardinal Sodano disclosed that he will also meet with Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the House of Liberties, within the next few days. This political force comprises the center-right parties.

The third electoral group Cardinal Sodano will meet in the near future is called European Democracy, which gathers orphans of Christian Democracy in the center. It is directed by Sergio D´Antoni, to date the leader of the Catholic labor union, and includes Christian Democrat Giulio Andreotti, 81, who has been in government Cabinets for more than 40 years.

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