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Church slams politics in southern Italy

Bishops urge residents to mobilize for change

24 February, 18:20
Church slams politics in southern Italy (ANSA) - Vatican City, February 24 - The Italian Bishop's Conference (CEI) on Wednesday said it had no confidence in the ability of Southern Italian politicians to heal the region's ills and urged its people to mobilize for change.

The first step in bridging the north-south gap, it said, was to "get past the inadequacies of today's political class".

The CEI's rallying call came in an annual report on the Catholic Church's role in Southern Italy.

It said the best remedy for the widespread crime, corruption and unemployment in the area was to "foster civil values" among the local population and reclaim a sense of "national solidarity" with the south and its problems.

It also chided elected officials for seeking votes in the region while ignoring it between elections. "The south is seen as a reservoir of votes, which end up serving political ends unrelated to its needs".

However, the report said social malaise shared in the blame for southern Italy's underdevelopment and that residents would have to become more active in public life if they wanted to see change.

"The region will never realize its full potential until the men and women of the south understand that they cannot expect from others that which depends on them," it said.

The importance of Italian unity in the face of reform was an underlying theme throughout the report with the CEI warning that decentralizing trends in government would "do more harm than good" if they ended up dividing the country.

The CEI also called on southern Italy to "shake off the chains" of organized crime, which it said had "bound its creative energies".

"The Mafia is the basest expression of evil and sin. It poisons society, perverts the hearts and minds of the young, suffocates the economy and deforms the true nature of the people it holds captive".

But it warned that the Mafia's influence extended well beyond regions of the south, undermining democracy in the nation as a whole.

The CEI cited increasingly visible cases of "collusion, corruption and graft" throughout Italy as evidence of the Mafia's expanding base of power.

The report also expressed concern about women's rising stake in organized crime, which it said was no sign of a narrowing gender gap.

It said women in Italy were still largely "the victims of a rigid culture of familism" that refuses to see them as anything other than homemakers, a condition which limits their prospects and makes them vulnerable to violence.

It denied, however, that their growing clout in the mafia marked a departure from this trend, saying that it stemmed instead from a "perverse vision of their role as mothers".

Southern Italy's importance as the point of arrival for thousands of immigrants was also addressed by the report, which said the Church needed to make an even bigger effort to reach out to them.

It said condition of hunger and misery in which immigrants often land on the shores of Sicily called for "greater solidarity".

The CEI went on to describe the south as a "laboratory for interfaith dialogue" where the Church could impart its values by extending "hospitality and care" to immigrants of other religions.

CEI REPORT MET WITH BIPARTISAN APPROVAL.

Despite a hint of irritation from the devolutionist Northern League party about the CEI's reservations about decentralization, the report met with approval from Catholics on both sides of the political divide.

The pointwoman on equal opportunities for Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party, Barbara Saltamartini, said the CEI was right to be alarmed about women in the Mafia.

"The barriers facing southern Italian women in civil society and the conditions of violence in which they live are prime causes behind their rising prominence in organized crime," she said.

A Senator for the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party and vice-chairman of the Senate finance committee, Sergio D'Antoni said the CEI's indictment of southern politicians was "right on target".

"Southern Italy is nearing economic collapse, organized crime is eating away at it like a cancer and it couldn't be truer that addressing those issues is not the government's priority".

According to the Bank of Italy, the country's southern regions represent over a third of the population while producing less than a quarter of its gross domestic product.

Photo: The head of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco

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