By Hilary White

ROME, January 29, 2010 ( – Political and Vatican watchers in Italy are expecting an interesting fight for the governor’s seat of the province of Lazio, the province of Rome and the Papacy, as a virulently anti-Catholic, hard-left candidate takes centre stage. Senator Emma Bonino is the darling of the far-left feminist movement and a leading member of the anti-clerical Radical Party in Italy. But despite her positions supporting abortion, contraception and divorce, Bonino counts among her supporters many in the Italian Catholic leadership and laity.

In 1975 Bonino founded the Information Centre on Sterilization and Abortion and was first elected to the Italian Parliament in 1976. As a Deputy, Bonino promoted the referendum that led to the legalization of abortion in Italy.

Bonino’s main focus as a parliamentarian and a Member of the European Parliament has been to champion a variety of “libertarian” issues, including relaxation of abortion and divorce laws, support for euthanasia and the legalization of drugs. Her run for the governorship of Lazio is being supported by a coalition of leftist parties in the wake of the collapse of the Communist Party of Italy and its apparent inability to re-group.

Despite Bonino’s being a major player in the abortion movement, Sandro Magister, Italy’s leading Vatican-watch journalist wrote today that “many of the Catholic clergy and laity” support Bonino, “and the hierarchy is giving her free rein.” Two prominent members of the leftist Partito Democratico, Franco Marini and Maria Pia Garavaglia, welcomed Bonino’s candidacy, saying she will be “capable on issues and initiatives that are at the heart of Catholic voters.”

Quoting an article that appeared in the Italian Bishops’ newspaper, Avvenire, Magister wrote that some believe a Bonino win in Lazio would constitute the “ultimate hypocrisy.” Bonino, he said, has promised to work “with and for Catholics,” while having spent her entire life fighting against the Church.

The newspaper il Foglio canvassed priests and laity in Lazio and found widespread support for Bonino among Catholic voters. Il Foglio noted that the “grassroots Church is with Emma.” Their survey in Viterbo, they said, found that Catholic opinion “firmly, sometimes fervently, [lies] in favor of the pro-abortion, pro-divorce, pro-euthanasia candidate, who has called the embryo 'an inert lump'.” Objections, they said, are “rare, and timid.”

Lazio’s regional elections are to be held in two months’ time.

In related news, the head of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) said this week that political reforms are an “urgent objective” and urged politicians to put aside “individual political calculations.” Angelo Cardinal Bagnasco said at a meeting of the Permanent Council of CEI that he has a “dream” of a new generation of Catholic politicians whose consciences would be formed according to Catholic teaching. The current system, he said, “results only in mutual denigration.”

“I would like this session [of the CEI] to contribute to the emergence of a new generation of Italians and of Catholics who, while being part of the struggle of today's culture and equipping themselves to inhabit it sensibly, feel that the republic is something important and exalted, since it is capable of marking the destiny of all, and who for its sake are willing to give the best of their thoughts, their plans, their days. Italians and believers who feel their responsibility before God as decisive in political activity.”

Bagnasco called for a “sustainable disarmament of factions and groups” in the political world and a refocusing of energies on working for the common good. The Italian bishops, he said, have highlighted the need to overcome “any separation between faith and life.”

Italy must “raise responsible citizens who can bear the difficult process of social and economic integration, as well as the themes of life and family, which are now especially jeopardized by recurrent anthropological deviations.”

He particularly warned against efforts to begin marketing the deadly abortion drug RU 486 that he said “is likely to introduce a practice of further trivializing the protection of human life.” He asked Parliament and the Ministry of Health and the Regions to “circumscribe as much as possible” the spread of the drug which has been approved for sale by the Italian Drug Agency, the AIFA.