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Is a showdown between the Vatican and Rome’s new mayor imminent?

is Monday morning, the Vatican is getting used to the idea of a new Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, a member of the protest Five Star Movement, founded seven years ago by the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo.

Miss Raggi was elected in the run off with two-thirds of the votes, which represents a stunning victory. In fact the figures are not so impressive. The Five Star movement held an online primary, which she won, gaining 1,764 votes out of a total of 3,862 votes cast.

In the first round of voting for the mayoral election she gained 35 per cent of the votes cast, and in the final run off, she secured two-thirds,which amounted to 770,564 votes. Three quarters of a million votes sounds a lot, but Rome’s population is estimated at 4.3 million.

Miss Raggi’s background is interesting. She is youngish and new to politics, like many of the grillini (as they are called). Yet she is a qualified lawyer, daughter of a lawyer, and worked for Cesare Previti, who was the lawyer of none other than Silvio Berlusconi. This surely undermines her claim to be an insurgent and an outsider. Like a lot of Romans, she describes herself as a Catholic, though not a practising one.

As for Miss Raggi’s programme of government, that is reassuringly traditional. She aims to improve Rome’s public transport network, which, as many visitors will attest, is one of the least developed in Europe. She also wants to improve rubbish collection, and deal with corruption. All these are praiseworthy aims. The only truly innovative thing that Miss Raggi has mentioned so far is her intention to pursue the Vatican for what is alleged to be some 250 to 400 million euros in unpaid taxes. Those figures are rather imprecise, but according to an interview with the Guardian: “If elected, one of Raggi’s objectives would be to claim between €250m and €400m in allegedly unpaid taxes on the Vatican’s real estate holdings and other assets, which she claims have never been collected by the city’s administration for fear of taking on the church."

So, are we now to expect a showdown between the Vatican and the city of Rome? That seems unlikely. Far more probable is some sort of amicable settlement between Mayor and Pope. After all, the Vatican’s tax status is rather unclear to say the least, and is determined by the Lateran Treaties. The Church does hold a lot of property in Rome, but some of this is extra-territorial, and much of it is occupied by Vatican employees on very favourable terms. On the whole, the Italian authorities tend not to pick fights with the Vatican, preferring a policy of convivenza (getting along together). War with the Church tends to be a distraction and a vote loser.

Miss Raggi seems to think that Pope Francis is a grillino at heart. She may be not wrong. Indeed, in the next few days, I predict some very friendly meetings between the two of them. (By sharp contrast, Pope Francis made no secret of his dislike of her predecessor Ignazio Marino.) And I also predict that Miss Raggi will soon be popping up in churches all over the capital, as other Mayors of Rome have done before her, talking of her new best friend the Holy Father in the warmest of terms.

by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith


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