Edward Maltby spoke to Marco Tranchino, organiser of the 14 February London demonstration “No Vatican — London for a Secular Europe”
EM: Why did you organise the march? What are your demands?
MT: This demonstration is organised by “Facciamo Breccia” (a coalition of Italian secularist associations) every year the no VAT (i.e. not Vatican) demonstration sees thousands of Italians marching in Rome to protest against the power of the Vatican and its undemocratic interference in Italian politics.
However, the Vatican's influence is such that the mainstream media hardly report this event. It’s surreal. You come home after marching together with twenty thousand people after a huge colourful demonstration, you switch the television on and there is nothing reported about it.
This is because Italian public television “RAI”, the equivalent of the BBC, has signed agreements with the Vatican and is bound to respect the Catholic Church and its teachings. The pope is in the news almost everyday. Sadly, the other most important TV channels are owned by the Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who colludes with the Vatican. Needless to say, those stations also don’t dare give space to this protest.
At the same time, the Italian mainstream media report everything that happens in London, rightly recognising this town as one of the most important cultural centres of the world. If you listen to the Italian radio or watch the news on TV, the chances are high that there’s something reported from the English capital.
That’s why I realised that I could contribute to the Italian secularist fight from London, joining forces with the secularist and humanist associations in the UK, asking them to march in solidarity with Italians who are painfully affected by Vatican interference. I am deeply grateful for the support of the humanist and secularist associations, and I have enthusiastically joined them in their activities here.
EM: What are the problems faced by the secular movement in Italy?
MT: Our demands include an end to the interference of the Vatican in European politics and especially in Italian affairs. At present Italy is a country with sovereignty limited by this theocratic artificial state.
The secular movement in Italy is marginalised by almost all political parties’ cowardly fear of alienating the votes of the Catholic people.
Those who talk openly about the undue influence of the Vatican are attacked violently, together with those who talk openly about issues that should not be controversial at all: human rights issues.
There will be Italian regional elections soon and the Vatican has attacked Nichi Vendola, a left wing candidate for the Puglia region [Rifondazione per la Sinistra], for being openly gay. Left wing Italians recently chose Nichi Vendola as their candidate in primary elections, showing that they admire his honesty and his views and are not bothered by his sexual orientation; an important sign that all politicians should acknowledge.
The Vatican is also against the left wing candidate for the Lazio region, Emma Bonino [Radical Party], an internationally recognised high profile politician who served in the European Commission. Why? Because she supports women’s rights and public secular education.
These ones, sadly, are only recent examples of Vatican interference: the list is huge and it started in the fascist years.
EM: Do you think that political religion has become more assertive in recent years? Why do you think this might be?
MT: I agree that political religion has become more assertive in recent years, trying to hold on to its power and privileges, managing to get even more powerful. It is disgraceful that the recently approved Lisbon Treaty binds the European Institutions to “an open, transparent and regular dialogue with Churches and religious organisations”.
The British public was shocked at the pope’s attack on the equality laws, all the headlines were about it. This kind of interference doesn’t shock the Italian public, because the Italians are taught to respect those attacks as pastoral guidance.
The European Institutions have warned Italy on several occasions about Italian injustices. I can list a few examples: the lack of civil rights for homosexual couples, the lack of protection against homophobia and transphobia, the financial advantage given to Catholic businesses — tax exemptions even for non religious businesses owned by the Catholic Church. More recently, the crucifix exposed in public schools and buildings.
I think the Vatican is afraid that the European Union might help Italy to free itself from the Vatican power and is reacting to this.
EM: Some people on the march told us that they were “not interested in politics”, but had only come to the march “to make a point about gay rights” or “to make a point about secularism”? Do you think that it is possible to separate out a concern for “secularism| or the rights of a particular minority from a broader political analysis of society? What do you think the best way is of combating the influence of religion in politics?
MT: I am very glad that we managed to attract the people you mention. I think that if we want to get the silent majority to stand up and be counted in the fight against the influence of religion in politics, we do need to focus on human rights. The religious influence in society creates painful injustices, which we need to fight. We need to promote a strong, open society in which the protection of human rights for all is well embedded. We can win hearts and minds if we are able to let people understand that these demands are for everybody’s interest and not only the rights of a particular minority. Other considerations that concern society can also be derived by these demands.
The values of humanism and secularism, for which human rights are paramount, are well expressed in the Brussels Declaration [www.iheu.org/ v4e/html/the_declaration.html]. That contains a clear vision of the society we would like: a society with equal treatment and opportunities, that upholds social responsibility, that rejects racism and promotes equality. Readers of Solidarity, I am sure, share all these values. But if we want to change things and make this vision for Europe come true, we have to talk to all the others as well. If we got all conservative voters in Italy to agree that human rights are paramount, that children’s right are not negotiable... how could Berlusconi's Government get away with fingerprinting the children of the Roma population?
If we all agreed on human rights, if we all agreed that xenophobia is wrong, how could left wing and right wing governments of Europe reject people at our borders as if they weren’t human beings?
If we managed to expose the link between the Church’s stigmatization of homosexuality and transexuality and homophobic and transphobic attacks and killings, how could good-hearted people, the majority of the Catholics in Italy, not condemn this stigmatization?
The political debate is divisive, clearly, but we shouldn’t feel animosity towards people that are influenced by religion, or vote for the opposite faction or another political party: they are our brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers and they almost certainly do it in good faith. It’s them we need to talk to.