Did you know that the Italian Catholic bishops’ conference receives about €1bn a year from the Italian state through a tax exemption known as the 8×1000? Did you know that the Italian bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, received almost €6m in 2010, and several Catholic magazines have received more than €1m in the same year? Did you know that much of the Church’s real estate is not liable to the “ICI”, Italy’s property tax?
These are just some examples. There are others, too, that I imagine non-Italian Catholics do not know about. But are we aware of what all this means in terms of public life?
Let us grasp the nettle: when we deal with all these media attacks against the Vatican we must consider the power of the Italian Church. Yes, the so-called Vatileaks scandal is part of the internal war between factions of Vatican officials. On the other hand, the reason why so much of the Italian media is keen on it is that many powerful groups want to reduce the influence of the Church in public life. There is a war inside, but there is one also outside.
If you read Italian newspapers and magazines and watch Italian television, most of the news about the Church depicts leakers, scandals, gossip and attacks. Some in Catholic circles just say: “That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” Others put the blame on unidentified demonic enemies who are plotting to erase the Church and destroy the world.
But why don’t we just admit that the Church is a real force in Italy, and the price of that power is to receive robust criticism. If you choose to enter the field you must play by the rules. And the power game is rough. It’s like rugby: you can’t be surprised if someone jumps on you.