Politics and Ideology in the Italian Workers' Movement: Union Development and the Changing Role of the Catholic and Communist Subcultures in Postwar Italy

By Gino Bedani | Go to book overview

9
Values and Perspectives in Transition

The Changing Religious Climate

The transformation of Italian society into a predominantly industrialised economy by the early 1960s was accompanied by a profound secularisation of attitudes and practices, a process encouraged by the theological upheavals promoted by the Second Vatican Council, which took place between 1962 and 1965. Although Vatican II was a Council of the Universal Church, the traditional involvement of the Holy See in Italian affairs gave its proceedings an immediacy and relevance which were peculiar to the peninsula. Pope John XXIII was not altogether representative of the Italian hierarchy, among whom he soon became widely regarded as a devout and well-meaning, but dangerous Pontiff. Before the opening of the Council, in 1961, he issued an encyclical, Mater et Magistra, which contained a reassessment of Catholic social teaching. Its discussion of social issues displayed an awareness of economic and labour problems which departed quite markedly in tone from the spirit of lofty detachment characteristic of previous Papal pronouncements. One of the areas on which it touched was that of greater worker participation in industry and the commanding heights of the economy. 1 This was combined with a more detailed attack than in the past on unregulated forms of market behaviour. Although the encyclical was thus generally seen in Italy as reflecting greater sympathy towards the left, it nevertheless contained a reminder that earlier teachings had 'emphasised the fundamental opposition between communism and Christianity'. 2

The condemnation of communism was, however, restrained by comparison with previous ecclesiastical documents. In another

____________________
1
See New Light on Social Problems, encyclical letter of Pope John XXIII Mater et Magistra (1961), paragraphs 51-121.
2
Ibid., par. 34. The frequently repeated assertion that the encyclical omits any such condemnation is mistaken.

-118-

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