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Matteo Salvini more popular than the Pope on immigration

Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's League Party and Interior Minister, is more popular than the Pope on the issue of immigration.

Published: August 26, 2018, 12:42 pm

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    Italian Catholics prefer Salvini to Pope Francis, according to a series of recent polls.

    According to German daily Die Welt, Salvini has become the de facto leader of Catholics in Italy because of his firm stance against migration. Fewer and fewer Catholics support Pope Francis’ view that immigrants should be welcomed with open arms.

    Almost one third of Italians go to church regularly. Within this group, support for Salvini has doubled in four months, from 15.7 percent in March to 31.8 percent in July, Ipsos revealed.

    The director of the Ipsos research institute, Luca Comodo, pointed to the outcomes of several surveys “at this time, [showing] there is a clear distance between a significant part of Catholic opinion and the hierarchy of the Church”.

    Pope Francis’ popularity has steadily declined: In 2013, he enjoyed an approval rating of 96 percent among those who attend Mass weekly and 91 percent among Catholics who attended Mass only from time to time. Currently, the pontiff’s approval ratings are down by 10 and 18 points respectively.

    According to reports in Italian media, the pope’s “collapse” in popularity is because of his persistent pleas to welcome migrants, which has led many to believe that he is totally out of touch with the realities facing Italian society.

    One online journal even suggested that Salvini was trying to get himself elected as “the next pope” because of his growing popularity after he promised to put “Italians first”.

    Salvini is currently the most trusted politician in Italy, polls show. But despite his support from the majority of Catholics, Salvini has endured a constant stream of insults and criticisms from prominent Church figures. He has even been called Satan and the antichrist.

    In July, the leading Roman Catholic weekly, Famiglia Cristiana compared him to Satan on its front cover.

    Salvini responded on Facebook: “They are comparing me to Satan? I don’t deserve that. I am comforted by the fact that I receive daily support from many women and men of the Church.”

    When Gianfranco Formenton, a priest in Italy’s central Umbria region put a sign up on the door of his church in Spoleto, saying: “Racists are forbidden from entering. Go home!” Salvini tweeted in response: “Perhaps the priest prefers smugglers, slaveholders and terrorists? Pity Spoleto and this church if this man [calls himself] a priest.”

    Oliviero Forti, who is in charge of immigration at Caritas in Italy, complained that “many Catholics no longer perceive the Holy Father as a spiritual leader, on the contrary, in some cases, he is even accused of being too far from the problems that people face.”

    Pope Francis himself has spoken out against Salvini after he blocked the migrant vessel the Aquarius from docking in Italy in June.

    But after a close adviser to Pope Francis strongly condemned a proposal by Salvini to make it obligatory for crucifixes to be displayed in all public spaces, including ports, schools, embassies and prisons, the Vatican lost some credibility.


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