Political Significance May not be Marked
THE conviction last Saturday of Mgr. Fiordelli, Bishop of Prato, by a Florence court of defaming the baptised Catholic couple whom he had named as "public sinners" for marrying outside the Church has caused the profoundest grief to the Holy See and to Catholics, priests and people, in Italy.
customary celebrations anniversary of his coronat decision to cancel the next Wednesday on the ion.
An official statement from the Vatican referred to " the present condition of bitterness, sadness and outrage created in Italy ". At the same time the Vatican paper Osservatore Romano, announced the automatic excommunication of the couple who had brought the action against the Bishop.
On Sunday young men and girls gathered in St, Peter's Square, sang "Christus vincit",
and after cheering the Pope as
he appeared to bestow his blessing at a window of the Palace, issued a statement confirming their "affection and devotion to the sacred person of the Vicar of Jesus Christ and to the Church, so hard hit these days by the violent anti-religious arid anti-clerical campaign unleashed by the lay forces and the Cornmenists."
On Wednesday. the Pope appeared beforc a mass audience of about 10,000 people in St. Peter's and spoke of "these sorrowful moments" for the Choral. Making no direct mention of the Prato case, His Holiness referred to the sorrow the Church Was experiencing, and added that the Church was full of hope.
The Christian Democratic newspaper, 11 Popolo, has expressed surprise over the Florence verdict, but said that Italian Catholics had full "confidence in magistrates and democratic institutions."
It is generally agreed by Italian observers that Church-State relations are at their lowest ebb since 1929. when the Lateran Treaty regularised the position, which had been brought about by the invasion of the papal territories 60 years before.
The Italian Communist Press has been rejoicing over the Bishop of Prato's conviction, which it calls "a victory for the Republic of Italy Over Church interference in State affairs".
In Prato itself, a small industrial town north of Florence with a Communist voting majority, Cardinal Lercaro, of Bologna, visited the Bishop to express his solidarity. The Cardinal declared a period of official mourning in his Archdiocese because of " the attack against the liberty and dignity of the Church ".
The Holy Father, whose personal grief at the outcome of the trial is noticeable, continues to receive
numerous messages from all over the world of the fervent feelings I and devotion to the Holy See on the part of Catholics. The Aposlone Delegate in Great Britain. Archbishop O'Hara, has sent a mesSage of sympathy to the Bishop of Prato.
That the Bishop of Prato had given the fullest thought to the I matter of his denunciation of the defaulting couple is made clear from the following statement in his letter to the Florence judges. He had, he said, warned the woman in the case, • who was a practising Catholic. and who therefore came under his spiritual jurisdiction.
" I pointed mit to her with the heartfelt affection of a father what a grave sin it would be for a Catholic to refuse religious marriage. No ear was given to my entreaties. and because of the widespread publicity which was being given. and the grave scandal it was causing among the faithful, I found myself obliged to declare in public the sad consequences of such an action in the face of the Church, and the canonical sanctions they would incur."
The Bishop made a dramatic appearance in his Cathedral on Sunday. and said to a packed congregation: " You and I must pardon those who brought me before a court. Despite our prayers God has not wished that the liberty of the Church in Italy should lac officially recognised ".
Cries of "Long live the Bishop" echoed his words.
Cardinal Micara, the Pope's Vicar-General, said in a speech to the Lateran University in honour of the Pope's birthday last Saturslay "that forces of evil" were resorting to "lowness and slander" in their campaign against the Church in Italy,
" It is a campaign made of systematic defamation which exploits everything to hurt religion," he said. "These forces resort to lowness and slander. They spare not even the most sacred things, including the holy ministry."
There appears to have been some confusion in reports of the automatic excommunication of the three judges who tried the case.
According to the Osservatore Romano, the kook who had brought Mgr. Fiordelli to trial left themselves open to excommunication under Canon Law. in accordance with Canon 2341 which reads: " If anyone has dared to bring before a lay judge a Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church, or a Legate of the Apostolic See, or a major official of the Roman Curia for business pertaining to their office, or his own Ordinary, he ipso facto incurs excommunication specially reserved to the Holy See."
But no excommunication has in fact been pronounced.
EFFECT ON ELECTIONS?
DR, PIF.TRO DELGUIDICE, a well-known Italian international lawyer in London, speaking to the THE CATHOLIC HERALD about political repercussions of the Prato case, called it "an unpleasant affair from which much good can come."
" The elections are to he held later in the year," he said, " and even those who have taken objection to what they have been pleased to call the tactless handling of the matter by the Bishop of Prato in actually naming the de1-.iulting couple and qualifying them simply as concubines, though at least civilly married, may realise, as the result, that Italy is engaged ill a struggle between the Church .iiid the forces opposed to it, the anti-clericals as well as the Communists.
"The voting by convinced Catholics will not. in my opinion, be greatly affected by what has happened: Catholics will vote according to their conscience, and Communists will not find it easy to make use of the Prato incident to win them more votes. The Christian Democrats are, however, a political centre party as well as a Catholic party, and they might lose support to other parties, apart from I.eft Socialists and Communist N.
" Many will certainly feel that the Bishop of Prato was motivated by the decline of morals. often the result of the cinema and the private
Continued on page 10.