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By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Feb 18, 2011

No major Western European leader in recent years has been a more stalwart ally of the Roman Catholic Church than Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

That’s the lede of a report from the Religion News Service on how the Vatican views the sex scandal that threatens Berlusconi’s political future. It’s true that—as reporter Francis X. Rocca notes—the Vatican has maintained a somewhat awkward silence regarding the criminal charges that Berlusconi now faces for prostitution. But Catholic prelates and Catholic media outlets have denounced Berlusconi for his stand on immigration, and shown (at best) very little enthusiasm for his economic plans and foreign policies. So where that the Italian prime minister has been the Church’s closest ally on the international scene? Let’s look at the 2nd paragraph in Rocca’s RNS story:
Berlusconi's stands against euthanasia, living wills, in-vitro fertilization and domestic partnerships have put his country in line with Catholic teaching, and out of sync with all other major countries in the region, including traditionally Catholic Spain.

Pause for a moment and think about that line-up of political issues. A generation ago, no practical politician seeking election in a predominantly Catholic country would dare to support homosexuality activity or mercy killing. (And the RNS story doesn’t even mention abortion!) Now Berlusconi stands out because he does not endorse those causes. In fact it’s an understatement to say that he stands out; he stands alone among the leaders of the powerful Western countries that were once collectively known as “Christendom.”

Although I cannot readily explain how Europe moved so far, so fast, away from the precepts of Catholic social teaching, I can make two observations that I think are undeniable:

  1. Whatever Church leaders have been doing to influence political opinions in Europe over the past 40 years, it hasn’t been working. It’s time—past time—for a major change in strategy.
  2. If the political strategy of Church leaders in Europe doesn’t change soon, it will be too late to matter. 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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