Don’t worry, every story I post from now on won’t be a terror suspect story….but you will be seeing more of them…
Italy now knows the answer to the joke “How many comedians does it take to infuriate the Vatican?” The answer is one, and his name is Andrea Rivera, although according to the Holy See he is not a comedian at all but a “terrorist”, who could yet encourage Italians to take up arms against the church.
A day after the former street busker poked fun at the Pope with a series of May Day jokes in front of 400,000 mostly young people, the Vatican indicated it was deeply unamused in a strongly worded article in its daily newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. Accusing the comic of taking advantage of an “easily excitable crowd”, the article warned that it considered his antics a dangerous affront.
“It’s terrorism to stoke blind and irrational rage against someone who always speaks in the name of love, love for life and love for man,” it wrote of Pope Benedict.
Rivera’s jokes seem rather prosaic by comparison. During the show, broadcast live on state television, he trained his wit on the Vatican’s stance on evolution and euthanasia. “The Pope says he doesn’t believe in evolution. I agree, in fact the church has never evolved,” he said. He launched into a routine about the church’s denial of a funeral to Piergiorgio Welby, a muscular dystrophy sufferer who decided to have his respirator switched off in December.
“I can’t stand the fact that the Vatican refused a funeral for Welby but they didn’t for Pinochet or Franco,” he quipped.
The unusual Vatican retort highlights acute sensitivities in Italy to issues of freedom of speech, religious tolerance and domestic terrorism. Both sides in the argument have their supporters. Paola Binetti, a senator from Romano Prodi’s centre-left governing coalition, called Rivera’s routine “dangerous” and “incredibly serious”, while trade union organisers of the May Day concert also distanced themselves from the comedian.
Jumping to his defence, Nobel-winning playwright Dario Fo said it was “Stalinist” to “brand anyone who speaks the truth as a terrorist”. One of Italy’s most popular comedians also sided with Rivera. “We need to be worrying about the people who show up with a machine gun, not a guitar,” said Rosario Fiorello, who has previously been scolded by the Vatican for imitating Pope Benedict’s tennis-playing assistant Father Georg Genswein. Rivera himself appeared to backtrack, claiming he was a good Catholic and had not meant to offend Pope Benedict, while Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi also tried to calm the waters, claiming the incident was “no tragedy”.
But the episode comes at a time when home-grown Italian terrorism has returned to the front pages. Archbisop Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian bishop’s conference, received a bullet in the post last week accompanied by a five-sided star, the logo of the Red Brigade which killed and kidnapped people in 1970s Italy and has recently shown signs of stirring back to life.
“Death to Bagnasco” graffiti also appeared after the archbishop seemed to suggest a draft Italian law awarding rights to unmarried and gay couples could ultimately lead to the acceptance of incest and paedophilia. He now gives mass at his cathedral in Genoa with police guards.
“Right now slogans supporting terrorism are appearing at demonstrations and messages are appearing on the internet from Red Brigade members in prison, an offensive which seeks fertile ground in anti-clerical hate,” stated the editorial in L’Osservatore Romano.
As the final Senate vote on the civil unions bill nears, the Vatican does not appear to want to give up its resistance to what it sees as creeping godlessness. With Mexico voting to legalise abortion, the Vatican’s attention could now be more strongly focused on Italy. “Italy is not Spain,” Italian Bishop Domenico Padovano told La Stampa. “If we give way on gay unions here, it will be a worrying message for the rest of the Catholic world.”