Rome, Italy, Feb 2, 2015 / 21:51 pm
Saturday's election of Sergio Mattarella as Italy's president is an affirmation of the social commitment of Catholics in public policy, according Fr. Bartolomeo Sorge, S.J., who has long been close to Mattarella.
"Mattarella and Pope Francis have many things in common in terms of contents of political action," Fr. Sorge told CNA Feb. 2.
The role of Italy's president is largely ceremonial, though he does appoint the prime minister. Mattarella, 73, is an independent and has most recently served as a constitutional court judge. He was nominated by prime minister Matteo Renzi, and was elected by Italy's parliament on Jan. 31; he will take office Feb. 3.
Mattarella's elder brother, Piersanti, was governor of Sicily and was killed by the Mafia in 1980. Mattarella entered politics among the ranks of Christian Democracy.
Christian Democracy was founded in 1943, and inherited the legacy of the Italian People's Party, which was founded by Fr. Luigi Sturzo – the party offered a solid Catholic point of reference, and attracted those formed in Catholic associations.
The party came to an end in 1994 with the Tangentopoli scandal, an investigation of nationwide investigation into political corruption.
Catholics are now said to be increasingly irrelevant in the Italian political landscape, but the election of a Catholic president shows that the Catholic experience in policy may still have an impact.
A former editor of the Italian Jesuit-run magazine "Aggiornamenti Sociali," Fr. Sorge stressed that "Pope Francis' exhortation Evangelii Gaudium dedicates 10 paragraphs to good politics, which have not been taken into much consideration."
Fr. Sorge commented that "almost unaware of it, Pope Francis makes current again Fr. Sturzo's intuition. Like Fr. Sturzo, the Pope does not address only Catholics, but both believers and non- believers, and tells them which are the foundations of the good politics, which is the foundation of Fr. Sturzo's thought, reviewed and updated."
This is why "the election of Mattarella awards Fr. Sturzo's intuition of a strong lay commitment to Christian values in politics."
As Christian Democracy was composed of a huge platform, it was generally divided in wings, and Mattarella was part of the leftist wing of the party.
Though all the wings preserved their Catholic identity, each was characterized by a particular way to act in politics. The so called "left DC" was well known for its social commitment, which also brought it to some merging of interests with Italy's socialist and communist parties.
In his younger years, Mattarella was an active member of Azione Cattolica. As he had no intention to undertake a political career, he started a promising career as a law professor.
His political career started when his brother Piersanti was killed in Palermo by the mafia.
In Palermo, Sergio Mattarella established ties and friendships with Cardinal Salvatore Pappalardo, who is considered a symbol of anti-mafia activism.
Mattarella also became acquainted with the social work of the Jesuits of the "Center Pedro Arrupe" in Palermo, especially with Fathers Ennio Pintacuda and Bartolomeo Sorge.
These latter were the minds behind the "Palermo spring": members of the Church and civil society rose up against bad government and the mafia.
Fr. Sorge recounted that he and Mattarella "have been very close in difficult years. I got to Palermo after Piersanti Mattarella was killed, and Sergio Mattarella started working behind the curtain to create a new political season in Sicily, which was later called the 'Palermo spring'."
According to Fr. Sorge, it was thanks to Mattarella that "Christian Democracy agreed not to follow the national and usual criteria for candidacies to the elections and to back the Leoluca Orlando administration, who was elected as mayor of Palermo and governed with a 'strange' coalition that included many parties."
"Though the party was hesitating, he was able with his reasoning to convince the party's top officials that a new way had to be followed in Palermo," Fr. Sorge said.
In that period, Ciriaco De Mita was the general secretary of Christian Democracy. As expression of the 'Left DC', he was able to unify all the DC wings.
During those years, the DC-led government was in the process of revision of the "Concordate", a pact signed between the Italian government and the Vatican to regulate their mutual relationship.
Giuliano Amato – who represented the Italian side – and Monsignor Achille Silvestrini – who represented the Vatican –played a prominent role in the negotiations.
During his years as a member of parliament, three time minister (for defense, for education, and for relations with parliament), and deputy president of the Italian Council, Mattarella had frequent contact with Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, now prefect emeritus of the Congregation of Bishops, who managed most of the connections between the Holy See and Italian Catholic politicians, thanks to his role in the process of revision of the Concordate.
After Christian Democracy's collapse, Catholics politicians were scattered among several political parties.
Mattarella remained on the center-left, and served from 1998 to 1999 as deputy premier for the first ever Italian administration run by a former member of the communist party, the D'Alema government.
However, his profile of faithful servant of the state has never been brought under discussion. As a juridical expert, he will not take ideological stances when he will have to sign laws. He will most likely look at the juridical framework, and will then deem if this is accurate or not.
"More than a leader, he is a hidden persuader, a moral persuader" said Fr. Sorge.