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No one has the right to occupy the Vatican

The police’s zero tolerance policy on demonstrations in St Peter’s Square is the only one possible

By on Tuesday, 17 January 2012

One snippet of news from Italy that seems to have been overshadowed by the cruise liner disaster is the recent incursion of the Occupy movement into St Peter’s Square. The Guardian has a report here which is in broad conformity with the reports in the Italian press. Some Indignados, as they are known, who are mainly Spanish and French, tried to set up a camp in the piazza, but were ejected by the police. One of the protestors climbed the Christmas tree (which will be in place until 2nd February, feast of the Presentation), and had to be forcibly removed from it.

The police who removed the protestors were not the Swiss Guard, nor the Vatican gendarmes, but the Italian police. The piazza is Vatican territory, but it is policed, by long standing arrangement, by the Italian forces of law and order. The action of the police was fully supported by the Vatican itself. As Fr Federico Lombardi is reported to have said: “Considering the actions undertaken and the language used, these Indignados evidently wanted to use the piazza in an improper way, not in keeping with the spirit of the place and it was therefore considered just and opportune to move them out with the co-operation of the police.”

The actions in question are presumably the assualt on the Christmas tree, the fact that one of the protestors was dressed up in a mock-papal costume, and that the Indignados were shouting things like “The Pope is a criminal!” and “The Vatican should pay taxes!”, as well as “The Church is corrupt!”

Fr Lombardi’s point is one that all Catholics should share. The piazza is a sacred space, frequently used for religious worship, and as such no place for political demonstrations. In fact any attempted political demonstration in either the piazza or the Aula Paolo Sesto, the huge audience hall nearby, is routinely quoshed.

Back in 1978, when John Paul II was about to be elected, some supporters of Archbishop Lefevre attempted, or so the story goes, to unfurl a banner that read “Questa volta, un papa cattolico.” (“This time, let it be a Catholic Pope.”) They did not get very far. More recently a well known female British theologian tried to smuggle a placard into a Papal audience with the words to the effect that British Catholics wanted female ordination: she was jumped on by the Swiss Guard, or so I was told. Again, another Catholic feminist whose name escapes me wished to demonstrate on the occasion of some Synod, and she and her supporters were allowed to put a banner across a street some blocks away in the Prati district, but not in the piazza itself. When the late Georg Haider turned up at the end of the last Holy Year, so did some protestors, but they were barred from entering the Via della Conciliazione (the road that leads up to the piazza); an ugly stand off ensued.

It seems to me that the zero tolerance policy of demonstrations in the Vatican is the only one possible. If it were not in force, given that St Peter’s Square is the world’s most famous piazza, then it would never be free from protestors. Incidentally, the Indignados have set up camp outside the Lateran, which is Rome’s Cathedral. Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano is the usual locus of left wing demonstrations in the city. Rome is the focus of many manifestazioni (as they are called): when I lived there many a Saturday was taken up by busloads of people from all over Italy coming to march through the capital, much to the indignation of the locals who found the disruption irritating. Not only did the traffic come to a standstill, but the demonstrators would routinely deface buildings with their slogans, using their spraypaint under the very eyes of the police. (Rome and graffiti, don’t get me started…..) My guess is that most Romans will see the Indignados in a similar light.

What do the Indignados want? According to the Italian press, one of the few to speak Italian said:

“Siamo venuti a manifestare qui per riappropriarci di una piazza che come tutte le altre deve essere del popolo. Il nostro è stato anche un gesto simbolico per sottolineare che ‘l’istituzione-Vaticano’ ha tante ricchezze e non paga le tasse, non paga la crisi”

This translates as: “We have come to demonstrate here to take possession again of a piazza which like all the others ought to belong to the people. Ours is also a symbolic gesture to underline that the Vatican institution has great wealth and does not pay tax, and is not paying for the crisis.”

This is standard Spartism, but it is the last bit that puzzles me. Why should the Vatican pay for the crisis, and what does that mean in practical terms, anyway? It is also highly ironic because if people had listened to the Vatican , there would not have been any debt crisis in the first place.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    These indignatos can go beggar off with their platinum standard ignorance!

    Don’t these eejits realise that the Roman Catholic Church – and her head, The Pope – have warned the world time and time again about a situation we are all going through now which was entirely preventable?

    Well done the Swiss Guards and the Italian police for their swift action. Keep it going! Show them who’s boss!

    The Vatican had itself been in debt for a while but is now in the black… they did something about it and, with wisdom and commonsense, they succeeded in balancing their books.

    They are NOT a business in the corporate giant sense.

    I’d like to see these people occupy Mecca at Hajj time, or the Golden Temple of Amritsar, or the Western Wall in Jerusalem… and see how far they get!

    As the good father said in his last paragraph, why didn’t governments and financial big-wigs open their minds and listen to the Vatican and do as they did?

    If they did, the world would not be in financial doo-doo and take their financial and fiscal incompetence on the most sick and vulnerable in society by attacking their welfare benefits!

  • Fr D Spart

    totally predictable, and…er…characteristic rant shows us the
    lengths to which the parasitical capitalist boss classes and their
    clerical stooges are willing to go in order to silence the legitimate
    struggle of working class protesters.
    The piazzas of the Vatican are literally streaming with the blood of the
    workers who have come from the four corners of the globe to manifest
    their righteous rage against the clerico-fascists who, not content with
    oppressing women and other minorities, unashamedly support the blood
    suckers of international finance in their totally cynical repression
    of…(ctd. p. 94)

  • Ken J

    What on earth are you talking about?

  • Clodius

    I’m with Ken: what on earth is this about? Well, what on earth is any of this ephemeral protest about? Peter Finch did it once – and with more style – but I could never figure out what his beef was either. Occupy what to what purpose? I well remember demonstrating against the Vietnam war and the coherence of arguments against Australian involvement. I can remember other demonstrations to good purpose (e.g. to save sections of my city). But I’m at a total loss to understand the point of the Occupy movement and its incomprehensible hangers-on.

  • Lunchtime O’Booze

    Well said Father Spart.

  • Designduo08

    Just because you say so?

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Oh, I don’t appear to understand the language you have written… is it bull-hooks?

  • Tiddles The Cat

    … and you can go fly a kite, too!

  • Parasum

    Tiddles The Cat purred:

    “They are NOT a business in the corporate giant sense.”

    ## But neither can they say:

    King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.  (Acts 3.6)

    I’m sure the Papacy does not actually *need* Castel Gandolfo, the Swiss Guard, all those classical mosaics & statues & what-not. As Jesus is reputed to have said (in Matthew 6):

          19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 “But
    store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor
    rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
       22“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23“But
    if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then
    the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!       24“No
    one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the
    other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot
    serve God and wealth.

    One expects the no-good so-secular laity to be rolling in wealth, but shouldn’t a Christian bishop set an example of something better ? St.Francis did not need to be rich as Croesus – why do Popes ? Are the things of this world so important that the Vatican has to house them ? What happened to the NT confidence that this world was passing away ? Where’s that gone ? St.Paul said Christians should not give even the appearance of evil – but the current set-up at the Vatican makes the Popes look stinking rich. And ordinary Catholics – not the Popes – are left to field that objection; they cause the problem – but we have to clean up after them. This is not desirable. The Queen pays tax – does the Pope ?  If he behaves true to Papal form, the answer will be a clear “no”.

    That the Papacy may not be a business like Tesco, is not really a defence. It may be a condemnation.

  • Fourth Norn

    Do you know that the Pope lives like Croesus? The word on the street is that he doesn’t and I haven’t had to field a bigoted Protestant taunt about Vatican wealth in decades. As for the erstaz secularists, true, there is something to answer. I try to point out that the Vatican’s visible wealth is an act of custodianship; that when you dig up Rome for a metro, you find valuables and that some of these rightfully go to one of the best sculpture museums in the world, which just happens to be in the Vatican. But yes, a paleo-Christian church would not have such a role. I’m just glad we are not that Church. I’m glad that the Church famous for persecuting Galileo was also responsible for producing excellent scientists and a culture of enquiry from the Jesuits to Mgr. Lemaitre. This is not a pure Church, but a glance at Centesimus annus makes its position on private property pretty clear. I don’t want to belong to a chapel, a gospel group or any congregation that eschews art, science, philosophy and human excellence. I don’t think that these things are the point of the Church, but I haven’t said that. The Church has a historical position within the civilised world and I hope it doesn’t ever embrace a life denying rigourism. 
    By the by, to whom should the Pope pay taxes? The Vatican? There was the small matter of THAT concordat, you will recall.

  • Anatinus Sapientiae

    I believe I speak for the sober people when I say… huh..?

  • Anonymous

    I take it, parasum, that you are a very poor man, without any means to provide for your family?  No home, no money, no car, no clothes, no TV, no computer, etc.  Hypocrite!

  • Anonymous

    I take it, parasum, that you are a very poor man, without any means to provide for your family?  No home, no money, no car, no clothes, no TV, no computer, etc.  Hypocrite!

  • Anonymous

    Well said, my ass.  Can’t you see that this is a complete send-up!?
    You’ve been well and truly suckered, L O’B!

  • Sschultz47

    My thanks to the Italian police officers and the Swiss Guard for preventing the occupation of the Vatican piazza. Why do people do this?  Instead of protesting, get a job and live your life for Christ and his people.  Most of the people occupying this place and that, don’t know what they are protesting for the most part. The attempted occupation of the Vatican piazza just reinforces my faith in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.  Jesus said that if they hated Him, they would hate us.  Hate us all you like, we will never abandon the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church that Jesus came to found!  Shirley from San Antonio, Texas