Pope Benedict XVI has warned the Catholic Church to resist temptations of power, even as it emerged that ecclesiastical figures in Milan had moved to canonise Don Luigi Giussani, the founder of the Vatican’s controversial political campaigning wing.
The Pontiff told his weekly audience on Ash Wednesday this week that the Church was faced with temptations of power just as Jesus was in the desert. “Jesus found himself exposed to danger and faced with the temptation of the evil one who offered him a Messianism far afield from God’s plan, through success and power and dominion,” he said, adding that the same was faced "by the Church and us believers”.
But critics swiftly contrasted Pope Benedict’s warning with news that moves were now underway in Milan to make a saint of Don Giussani, whose teachings gave rise to Communion and Liberation, the Catholic, anti-Marxist political group, which consistently supported former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The ultra-conservative, lay organisation has other important supporters in Italy’s richest area, Milan/Lombardy, including the regional president Roberto Formigoni. Its political influence allows the pursuit of a right-wing social agenda on topics including stem cell research and assisted dying.
Moderate catholic groups have opposed its aims and methods. But Pope John Paul II backed the organisation’s political campaigning. And its current, central position in Italian society was underlined last year when a key Communion and Liberation figure, Cardinal Angelo Scola, became the Archbishop of Milan.
As archbishop, Cardinal Scola, who had been a close friend of Don Giussani until his death in 2005 aged 82, received the official Communion and Liberation request to begin the beatification and canonisation processes.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise: the Vatican has always been about power,” said James Walston, a politics professor at the American University in Rome. “But if Don Giussani’s the sort of person they’re going to be canonising, then Heaven help us.”
Another prominent Church figure - the Milan priest, tycoon and hospital director Don Luigi Verzè, who died last year - was accused of being too close to the rich and powerful as result of close friendships with Silvio Berlusconi and disgraced former Italian prime minister Bettino Craxi.
He left a €1.5 billion black hole in the accounts of Milan’s San Raffaele teaching hospital and faced allegations of fraud.