The head of Italy's bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, painted a dire picture of the current state of Italian public life and politics in a recent speech. Despite the difficulties created by the "present situation," Italians must not give in to pessimism but should shift their attention to "change for the better," he said.
In Cardinal Bagnasco's address to inaugurate the Italian Bishops' Conference's winter gathering in Ancona, Italy on Jan. 24, he celebrated the announcement of John Paul II's coming beatification and voiced support for Pope Benedict XVI's push for more attention to religious freedom in the world.
Most evident, however, was his intense description of the decadence of Italian culture and religion's loss of influence on the national identity and public life.
It is an openness to God that gives man "the ideals and that moral strength that materialism does not guarantee," he said. "Most of all, it makes him able to choose good instead of evil, which for a society is the fundamental and irreplaceable direction."
He cited a lack of ethical behavior in financial and economic dealings, a culture among the young of snubbing physical labor and a "culture of seduction" resulting from a widespread consumerist ideals as contributing to problems in Italy's current direction.
A "bizarre idea of life, where everything is at one's fingertips just by demanding it," has been created, he said. It is a "type of intoxication, to whose flattery - in fact - only a part of society has ceded."
Young people, he said, must be aware of the nature of sacrifice and suffering. Although they are often kept away from these experiences with the "best intentions," such actions amount to "the most fatal self-deception," explained the cardinal.
"Attempting to preserve them from the difficulties and the harshness of existence, we risk raising fragile, unrealistic and ungenerous people," he said.
If Italian youth are taught to seek a "bogus representation of life ... meant to pursue success based on artificiality, shortcuts, easy earnings, ostentation and commercialization of oneself," the country headed toward an "anthropological disaster," he said.
He called for a "conversion of lifestyles" fed by increased "ethical literacy" and a "cultural rehabilitation" of the family in the face of the "great powers who have often ignored it."
Policies to promote the family—based on marriage between a man and a woman and open to life—must be supported "as the base for relaunching the country," said the cardinal.
He spoke of the "convulsive phase" the country is now facing in which weak ethical policies and uncoordinated institutions are mixed together in “an increasingly threatening way.”
Politics has been ruled by a "logic of conflict" for too long and the nation and its image are affected negatively as public figures are investigated for acts of indecency and lifestyles "incompatible with sobriety and correctness," he said.
The current situation, he said, goes from "one abnormal situation to another."
While the cardinal did not refer to any public figures by name, he said that Italians regard the public arena "with dismay and live in clear moral distress."
There are "too many" people contributing to this atmosphere of "general disturbance, to a certain confusion and a climate of mutual delegitimization" which "could leave deep marks on the collective soul, if not true and proper injuries," he said.
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has been under heavy media scrutiny for a week after an investigation was launched into parties he hosted in which he allegedly paid "call girls" to take part.
It is still unclear if Berlusconi elicited sexual relations for money. A minor may have also been on his payroll, according to allegations.
Again, without citing names, Cardinal Bagnasco called for clarification of matters in the "appropriate fora." If they do not act quickly, he said, the effect could be the insertion of "subtle poisons" into the Italian psyche, thus affecting generations.
The Italian people, he said, "ask to be accompanied with far-sightedness and effectiveness ... beginning on the front of the ethics of life, family, solidarity and work."
On behalf of the bishops, he called for the nation's people "not to give in to pessimism, but to look ahead with confidence."
It is necessary, he said in closing, that “the country as a whole be rejuvenated,” that Italy rises again from its cultural, social and economic catastrophes.
"We can and we must change for the better."