An Italian bishop has blasted Matteo Salvini for another “unspeakable” and “indecent” parade of religious symbols at a political rally.

The condemnation came as the controversial Italian politician was forced to defend his Catholic credentials and to play down rumours of a rift with Pope Francis, whom the politician said it would be “an honour” to meet.


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Driving the news

At the conclusion of a rally in Syracuse at the weekend, Salvini flaunted and kissed a rosary and holy card.

It was not the first time Salvini has made use of religious imagery in political events.

But it is an early piece of controversy on the new Italian campaign trail, after Salvini last week declared he would call for a no-confidence vote in the country’s current government.

The current Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister thus kicked off a process that could lead to a visit to the polls as early as October.


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Go deeper

The Bishop of Mazara del Vallo, Domenico Mogavero, lashed out at Salvini for his latest show in Syracuse.

“Exploiting devotion and the purest popular feelings for base electoral interests is unspeakable behavior”, Mogavero told the news agency adnkronos.

The bishop added: “On September 1, we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of the tears of the Madonna of Syracuse; who knows, perhaps the Madonna is preparing to cry again in the face of these most indecent acts”.

Mogavero has shown in the past that he has no fear of calling Salvini out for his hypocrisy.

In May, for example, the bishop warned “we can no longer stay silent over the bragging of an ever more arrogant minister”.

“We can no longer allow (people) to appropriate the sacred signs of our faith to peddle their inhuman, anti-historic views, diametrically opposed to the Gospel message”, insisted Mogavero.

The bishop added at the time that “[t]hose who are with [Salvini] cannot call themselves Christian because they have reneged on the commandment of love”.

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The big picture

But in a new interview, Salvini brushed off criticisms from the Italian Catholic hierarchy, as Crux reports.

“I’ve never made a secret of being the last one to be a good Christian”, Salvini told the magazine Oggi.

“I’m divorced with two children from different women, so why would I risk preaching morality to somebody else?”

“However”, the politician explained, “like millions of other Italians, I’m Christian and Catholic, no more and no less”.

“Unfortunately, I mainly go to Mass for funerals, but fortunately also for weddings and baptisms”, Salvini added.

The politician had some advice for those who criticise his religiously ostentatious campaigning.

“I dare say that if they did a tour on the street they would notice that for so many people to show a small religious sign is a source of daily pride”, Salvini shot back.

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For the record

In his interview with Oggi, Salvini also defended his harsh anti-migrant policies, saying that “[m]illions of Italians voted for me – for the most part, I believe, Catholics – [so that] I’ll defend the borders and suppress the traffic in human beings”.

The politician called it his “duty… to make decisions, sometimes painful and difficult, but necessary to establish rules that benefit everyone”.

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