In October, workers in the Italian port of Trieste launched a series of strikes and demonstrations in protest at the government’s decision to make the country’s Green Pass mandatory for workers.

A Green Pass proves that the holder has been vaccinated, tested negative every 48 hours, or recently recovered from COVID-19.

The Trieste workers were not protesting against the vaccine itself. Indeed, the majority of them (about 60%) are vaccinated. Instead, they were taking a stand against the principle that to work one has to either be vaccinated or bear the costs of a test every two days. The workers argued that, in principle, it was unfair to have to pay to be able to work.

The Trieste protests were not an isolated incident. Rome and other cities have seen similar events. Some of these demonstrations, particularly in Rome and Trieste, were met with a forceful police response.

The Van Thuan Observatory for Social Doctrine has criticized the police interventions. The observatory, based in Trieste, northeastern Italy, said that the police had intervened against “peaceful demonstrators who are defending the right to work, the [Italian] constitution, democracy, the right to demonstrate, and freedom against the discriminatory and unconstitutional Green Pass, and the liberticidal measures of the current government structure.”

The observatory was named after the Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who spent 13 years in a communist prison before serving as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome.

The organization was founded in 2003, the year after the cardinal’s death, by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, then secretary of the Pontifical Council. Crepaldi has served as bishop of Trieste since 2009, hence the observatory’s location in the city,

The observatory, which publishes an annual report on the social doctrine of the Church in the world, is one of the few Catholic institutes in Italy that has addressed the issue of anti-COVID measures from the thorny point of view of government overreach.

In Italy, bishops have generally limited themselves to encouraging Catholics to receive the vaccine. In very few cases have they dealt with broader issues relating to personal freedom raised by government measures. The Van Thuan Observatory is something of a voice in the desert, with a point of view based on solid academic and empirical references.

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Stefano Fontana, the observatory’s director, told CNA in an email interview that he believed the measures fell within the framework of “a health dictatorship that many intellectuals, from Illich to Chesterton, from Huxley to Foucault, had foreseen.”

Referring not only to the events in Trieste, but also elsewhere in Italy, Fontana suggested that workers were being “blackmailed with the threat of losing their jobs if they do not agree to get vaccinated.”

He added that this neglected “the fact that no one is morally required to get vaccinated as long as the vaccine is experimental and as long as there is no such situation between life and death.”

Yet, Fontana said, the picture is that of a health dictatorship when it appears that “the entire public and the private persuasive system is coordinated towards the sole objective of inducing vaccination; that the system appeals to science to impose behaviors for which there is no consolidated scientific support; and that the professional orders dismiss doctors and health personnel who demand freedom of judgment if those who ask questions are condemned as subversives.”

Addressing the events in Trieste, Fontana argued that the police reaction, in an oppressive general framework, “has shown that ordinary people, simple people, workers have kept the light of reason in the face of obviously illogical and forced measures.”

He went on: “This is the universal aspect: there is a system that curls up like a hedgehog when it wants, but there are important sectors that fortunately are still exempt and give hope.”

For Fontana, “the management of the pandemic is political and not technical.”

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“The proof is that governments (i.e., politics) use science and ‘experts’ according to their interests, publicly condemning those who ‘do not believe in science.’ But they are the first to use only a certain science and not Science,” he said.

“If by ‘technocracy’ we mean the government of technicians, no, this is not the case. If by technocracy we mean the politics that exploit science and technology, then, yes, this is the case."

Fontana also suggested that amid the pandemic “politics is killing politics.”

“Ideas of new centralisms prevail, of new decision-making processes, of a permanent state of emergency, of control from above on people’s movements and ideas, of new ‘men of providence,’ of the freezing of parliaments and political opposition, of new ostracisms, and new censure of ideas that do not conform to those of the apparatus,” he said.

He added that “politics has been blocked for two years in Italy.” He described Mario Draghi, the country’s prime minister since February, as “the son of the permanent emergency,” adding that “as such [he] will probably be the future president of the Republic."

“Politics becomes oppressive while it should be liberating,” Fontana said, “favoring the use of reason, moving people and social bodies towards the common good, which is an organic concept. Many weak subjects have been sacrificed to the fight against the pandemic, and others will follow in the future.”

The Van Thuan Observatory has long decried what it sees as a totalitarian drift around the world. Indeed, its latest report on social doctrine examines the Chinese model, a capital-socialist model of social control, and how this profoundly attracts the West.

“Let’s take a practical example,” Fontana said. “The Chinese model has implemented the one-child policy, causing a fall in births (although now it does the opposite), but Western democracies have taken the same approach through state abortion. So there are more significant links between the Chinese model and Western democracies than we think.”

Within Italy, there is little talk of government overreach. Fontana suggested that the reason is that “the Italian system has rolled up like a hedgehog,” showing “connections, silence, very close collaborations, even if manifested ‘in the Italian style,’ that is to say with an apparently good-natured attitude.”

Although the Italian Church has taken a clear position on the need to vaccinate and has not addressed the question of overreach, several voices in Italy have raised the issue.

Martina Pastorelli, a journalist and founder of Catholic Voices Italia, has collected them and, since the beginning of the debate, undertaken to present their point of view.

Speaking recently with Pastorelli, the philosopher Carlo Lottieri argued that “we are now in the sovereign state which places itself as God on earth. It is modern totalitarianism based on the control operated by the controlled themselves (this is the purpose of the Green Pass), on accusatory moralism, and on fear used as a means to domesticate.”

But there is also a Church that speaks. In a lengthy homily on Dec. 9, Bishop Corrado Sanguineti of Pavia, northern Italy, stressed that concentrating all mass media communication on “faith in science” risked simplifying reality.

This is also a danger for the Church, the bishop suggested, speaking on the solemnity of St. Syrus, patron saint of the northern Italian city.

He said: “A Church that limits itself to repeating words of wisdom, to giving advice on good social behavior, perhaps adapting, in certain fields, to a generic and ‘inclusive’ language, or simply echoing recommendations of the state and the WHO, perhaps it will be heard.”

“At least in appearance, it will enter the circle of politically correct. But in the end, it will be confused with other agencies of thought and customs and will lose its attractive force and its ability to be a creative minority.”