Recent defeat of an Italian referendum which was supposed to replace ultra-restrictive IVF legislation is interpreted as a great victory for Catholic Church. And it is even greater victory for Benedict XVI who showed that his clout expanded even beyond the walls of Vatican City. Just as he was underestimated in the conclave, he was underestimated in his ability to influence politics in nominally secular country like Italy.
There are already speculations that Benedict’s successful campaign against the referendum represents only a test for even more ambitious attempts to push Catholic agenda in Italian legislation. Some commentators believe that in very short time abortion and divorce might become thing of a past in Italy.
Many tend to disregards those warnings as pure sensationalism and panic. On one hand, it is quite inconceivable to imagine Italy becoming a de-secularised in the 21st Century, especially in times when church attendance continues to fall and Church begins to look more like a tourist attraction than an important factor in everyday life of an average Italian.
But there is one factor few people, except Benedict XVI, took into account.
Reasons why Italians don’t attend Church nor follow Church doctrine have very little to do with ideology or religious convictions. The more simple explanation for the decline of Church is in devout Catholic lifestyle becoming unattractive, bothersome and inconvenient for increasing number of Europeans. In other words, there are fewer and fewer young Italians who would stay at home on Saturday evening only to attend Sunday mass.
Benedict XVI reasoned that most of those who don’t bother to walk to the nearest Church aren’t likely to walk to nearest polling booth either. The very same hedonism and prosperity that drove the Church away from average people in Western Europe is going to prevent those same people from fighting for the secular nature of their countries.
Referendum was easy to defeat – all Church had to do was to call people not to go the polls and thus deprive it of necessary 50 % turnout. And people, whether they agreed with Church positions or not, listened to that call.
By doing that, they established the precedent that could do to European secularism what fall of Berlin wall did to European Communism.