Italy: Not Yet Hale, but Hearty

  • Share
  • Read Later

(3 of 3)

John Paul's doctors expect—and hope—that he will spend at least a month convalescing in the hospital, and much more time than that before resuming his duties. He may not be able to travel again for six months. When he does, or when he appears at St. Peter's, the Cardinals who know him best feel certain that the Pope will once again want to plunge into the crowds of admirers and worshipers. Says Carlo Cardinal Confalonieri, the dean of the College of Cardinals: "The good shepherd offers his life for his sheep. Because of this, the shepherd will not detach himself from them. It would imply that he is abandoning his flock."

Although he was careful not to talk about the referendum itself, the Pope had made clear his opposition to abortion as last week's vote drew nearer. Said he: "The church considers every legislation in favor of abortion as a grave offense against the fundamental rights of man and against the divine commandment 'Thou shalt not kill.' " Consequently, John Paul was criticized by liberal and moderate politicians and newspapers for transgressing the boundary between church and state.

To the consternation of the church, and to the surprise of many who had expected a sympathy vote for the wounded Pope, the voters in 97.5% Roman Catholic Italy turned down the restricting referendum by a 2-to-1 margin. The result leaves intact Italy's controversial three-year-old law that allows women over 18—and minors with the consent of parents —to receive abortions at state expense during the first 90 days of pregnancy. Currently, there are about 200,000 such legal operations every year, and the rate is climbing; there are also an estimated 600,000 illegal abortions annually, mostly because many approved clinics bow to church opposition and refuse to perform the operations. Voters also overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to make the 1978 abortion law even more liberal.

Glum at the outcome, church leaders vowed to continue their right-to-life fight from the pulpit. Canon law holds that abortion is a grave sin and that all those involved in it—doctors, nurses, as well as patients—incur automatic excommunication. Anastasio Alberto Cardinal Ballestrero, president of the Italian Bishops Conference, noted that the church must "never renounce its mission of evangelization and education of the human conscience.'" Said Vittoria Quarenghi, a Christian Democratic member of parliament and a leader in the antiabortion drive: "We have not lost the war, only a battle." —By George Russell. Reported by Wilton Wynn/Rome

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. Next Page