Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Bishop backs police who beat pro-Palestinian youth, wants journalist ‘attacked’

A retired Catholic bishop has generated controversy in Italy for comments not only supporting police who recently used truncheons against a crowd of largely peaceful pro-Palestinian youth protestors, but also expressing the desire that a female news presenter who criticized the law enforcement response would be “attacked while police look the other way.”

“Young people have to follow the rules,” wrote Bishop Adriano Tessarollo, who’s well known in Italy for his active use of social media.

“The police do their duty, and when someone acts violently they have to be stopped with force,” he wrote in a Facebook post.

In that context, Tessarollo referred to prominent Italian journalist Bianca Berlinguer, who had gone on television to express opposition to the use of force against youthful protestors in Pisa on Feb. 23. Video images of police officers swinging truncheons against the crowd have generated a national debate, with Italian President Sergio Matterella saying that “with young people, truncheons are an expression of failure.”

Tessarollo, however, wrote that he wishes Berlinguer, whose father was the longtime leader of Italy’s communist party, would be attacked and that police would “look the other way,” calling her comments “the usual mischief.”

Asked for a response, Berlinguer expressed an ironic thank-you to the bishop “for his witness to Christian love.”

The Facebook post in which Tessarollo made the comments has since been deleted, but has nonetheless drawn wide commentary in the Italian media. 

Now 77, Tessarollo led the northern Italian diocese of Chioggia from 2009 to 2021.

A former mayor of Chioggia, Fortunato Guarnieri, called the comments “unworthy, all the more so because they were spoken by a prince of the Church who should have the duty to understand and to comprehend.”

This is not the first time that comments from the feisty Tessarollo have stirred reaction.

In 2016, the bishop defended a tobacco shop owner from Padova who was sentenced to two years in prison and a $350,000 fine for shooting a thief who attempted to rob his store.

“What the thief wasn’t able to steal in the moment the judge has taken away, completing the robbery of the family,” Tessarollo wrote in an editorial in his diocesan newspaper. “It risks transmitting the message: ‘Aggressors, burglars and thieves, continue your criminal activity.’”

In 2018, Tessarollo publicly criticized the widely read magazine Famiglia Cristiana (“Christian Family”), which had published a cover photo of Italian politician Matteo Salvini, known for his populist anti-immigrant stances, with the headline “Get thee behind me, Satan!”

At the time, Tessarollo mocked the idea of comparing a politician to the devil and insisted that the magazine didn’t speak for all priests. 

Later, however, he would also criticize Salvini for his use of religious symbols, including nativity sets, for political purposes.

In 2019, when a left-leaning government minister suggested that crucifixes should be removed from Italian public school classrooms as an expression of separation between church and state, Tessarollo responded that perhaps the mandatory portraits of Mattarella, a veteran leftist politician, should be taken out instead.

In 2020 he brushed off objections to allowing mobile phone companies to install antennae on the top of the cathedral in Chioggia, as well installing an electronic payment system inside churches to collect donations, saying brusquely “we’ve got bills to pay.”

With regard to the present controversy over his comments on the violence in Pisa, Tessarollo appeared largely unrepentant.

“If a policeman tells me that I’m not authorized to pass that way, I stop and go back,” he told reporters. “Does the fact that there are a lot of us give us the right to disobey?”