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Roman Catholic principles of corruption in Italy

JUST Response interviews Domenico Pacitti

JUST Response: The Italian film director and poet Pier Paolo Pasolini once said of his fellow-countrymen: “They have in only a few years, especially in the centre-south, become a degenerate, ridiculous, monstrous and criminal people.”  Would you agree with this?

Domenico Pacitti: Well, the description seems fairly accurate, though I think it can be more succinctly expressed in the term “dead souls”. I have in fact tried to bring this point out in previous articles. But I don’t agree with Pasolini that it’s been a recent development. The recent development was that Italian cinema, television and newspapers began to monitor these grotesque national traits and to present them graphically to a wider public – something that is, incidentally, no longer possible in Italy now that Berlusconi has a firm grip of the media that would do justice to a totalitarian thought regime.

JUST Response: If it isn't a recent development, how far back does it go?

Pacitti: History shows that the ridiculous and monstrous degeneracy and criminality Pasolini was referring to can be traced all the way back through Mussolini, the Counter-Reformation and medieval times to the decadence that set in with the fall of the Roman empire. Machiavelli’s early 16th-century book, The Prince, which is of course the Western world’s first classic on power politics, was once aptly described by Bertrand Russell as a handbook for gangsters. Dante’s 14th-century Divine Comedy assigns appropriate circles in hell and purgatory to an endless line of corrupt popes and politicians. Almost 2,400 years ago Plato condemned the “bios eudaimon” he encountered on his visit to southern Italy, which is pretty close to what we would now call the “dolce vita”. I think this shows that there is some degree of continuity. But I think the most fruitful historical perspective for a correct understanding of Italian corruption is the Counter-Reformation insofar as it crucially reinforced negative Roman Catholic principles.

JUST Response: Can you say what some of these Roman Catholic principles are?

Pacitti: First of all, there’s the total lack of any social or moral conscience, that being the prerogative of the Church. Then there’s loose moral behaviour, since the slate can, after all, be wiped clean at confession. Another important Roman Catholic principle consists in devious methods of obtaining goals – the model there is that communication with God is not direct but via appropriate saints who have to recommend you. Nor does truth do very well – basically it is inaccessible to mere mortals since only God knows the truth. Excessive susceptibility to falsehood and illusion constitutes a further principle – Roman Catholics are indoctrinated into believing that bread and wine are quite literally transformed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ and consumed every single time a mass is held. Yet, incoherently, belief in the miracle does not entail belief in cannibalism. Also, there’s the overwhelming sense of guilt deriving from the doctrine that everyone is born tainted with original sin. And the list goes on.

JUST Response: And how are these Roman Catholic principles applied to corruption in Italy?

Pacitti: I think the principles I've just outlined speak for themselves and I have, as you know, tried to spell out some of the consequences in a whole series of earlier articles, some of which can be read on JUST Response. So, to give a different example, compatibly with this philosophy, tax evasion, undeclared cash in foreign bank accounts, breach of building regulations and other illegal activities are regularly “forgiven” under special amnesties and the transgressor ends up paying the government a fine usually amounting to much less than he would have paid had it been done legally in the first place. Again, able lawyers can take advantage of the labyrinth of Italian laws in order to clear wealthy clients of just about anything. Those who actually go to prison are often petty criminals who simply can’t afford proper legal representation. There are no real deterrents to discourage serious criminals. There have been some rather grotesque examples of gold ingots and wads of bank notes either sewn into the upholstery of sofas and armchairs of high officials’ lounges or else buried in their back gardens, gigantic sums of money in foreign bank accounts, salaries and privileges for politicians that are nothing short of scandalous, and much much more. All of this reflects a level of greed and egoism in Italy’s dead souls that can only be described as pathological. So  Roman Catholicism in Italy has basically replaced the concept of justice with the doctrine of forgiveness. That is really the root of the whole problem.

JUST Response: To what extent is the law able to combat all of this?

Pacitti: Despite the regulation notice in every courtroom which assures that “The law is the same for everybody”, it isn’t. Those who can afford to do so can, as I say, often easily pay their way out of trouble with the right sort of legal advice. In Italy crime is seen to pay and breaking laws has long been an art at which Italians are past masters. The Italian brand of corruption doesn’t just apply to laws but to everything Italians come into contact with – from elections to sports events, from university degrees to the national lottery. At the moment they’re investigating bribes in connection with last year’s San Remo song contest.

JUST Response: What about the principle of truth?

Pacitti: As you can imagine, the very word “truth” is anathema. Italians like to speak of “your truth”, “his truth” and so on but rarely of  “the truth”. It’s so engrained, you know, that it’s almost a grammatical rule. Not surprisingly, but rather shockingly, the Italian penal code often considers truth secondary. For example in defamation or libel cases it’s far less important than the feudal concept of offence to a person’s honour. So even the law itself discourages Italians from speaking out and telling the truth.

JUST Response: Does what you are saying apply only to Italians living in Italy?

Pacitti: I think we should make it clear that we are talking about corruption as it affects both Italians and non-Italians within Italy itself. We are not talking about people of Italian origin living outside Italy. That’s something completely different and they shouldn’t take offence. It was often the case that their ancestors left Italy precisely because they preferred to make an honest living and be judged on merit. To my knowledge there’s no evidence to suggest that corruption is genetically transmitted. So it’s all about social and moral conditioning in Italy.

JUST Response: How do you think all of this will affect Italy's role within the EU?

Pacitti: Well, let me just take this opportunity in order to warn Europeans that Italy’s major contribution to Europe will be to teach their colleagues in other EU member states the two related arts of evading the law and legislating in order to facilitate law evasion at a later date.

JUST Response: And what about the role of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican?

Pacitti: Right now as we’re sitting here talking, the pope and his right-hand man at the head of the EU commission, Romano Prodi, are angling for suitable explicit religious references to be included in the EU Constitution. I think a campaign should be launched urgently in order to avoid this at all costs. If past experience is anything to go by, sooner or later Europeans will pay dearly for any religious foothold in the Constitution. Also, if people wish to believe in things for which there is absolutely no evidence, then that should be their own private affair and should not involve everyone else. The Roman Catholic Church has destroyed Italy both morally and spiritually and I don’t see why we should risk giving them the opportunity to infect Europe.

Note: This interview appeared in JUST Response on August 26 2003.