Foreign Policy Digital

Papa, Don’t Preach

Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, is publicly attacking the pope in a battle for the country’s soul.

Speaking earlier this month at a rally for local elections in Foligno, a small town in central Italy, Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said he felt like a father to “60 million Italians.” The liberal mayor of Milan, Giuseppe Sala, replied that he wouldn’t want him as an uncle. But Salvini wasn’t speaking as a politician: He was speaking as a religious leader.

In the past few months, Salvini—who is also the interior minister and the head of the far-right League party—has increasingly become the de facto leader of Italy’s governing coalition. As his star rises, he has shifted his rhetoric toward Catholic religious symbols, filling his speeches with references to the Virgin Mary and styling himself as a fatherly, quasi-papal figure.

Ironically enough, in the ghastly emptiness of Italian politics, the only true rival whom he has encountered is the pope himself. Not only has Pope Francis often taken pro-immigrant stances, in direct contradiction to the

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