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article imageOp-Ed: Former Italian President Scalfaro Dies

By Alessio Fratticcioli     Feb 1, 2012 in World
Rom - Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, 93, died in Rome on January 29. He had served in Parliament since 1946 and was President of the Italian Republic from 1992 to 1999.
Scalfaro was born in 1919 in an aristocratic family in the northern Italian region of Piedmont.
He was raised as a Catholic and became involved with anti-modernist lay organization Azione Cattolica (Catholic Action) when only 12.
The Fascist regime (1922-1943) banned all non-Fascist organizations but tolerated Azione Cattolica because it was a non-political movement, as well as because dictator Benito Mussolini and Pope Pius XI signed the Lateran Treaty (1929).
With the Treaty the Vatican relinquished its claim to the former territories of the Papal State (most of Central Italy) in change of the sovereignty over a tiny enclave in the city of Rome and a remarkable financial compensation.
In addition, Mussolini recognised Catholicism as the official state religion of Italy, gave the Church power over marriage law (ensuring the illegality of divorce), restored Catholic religious teaching in all schools, and gave a number of other privileges to the Vatican. In return, the clergy would not take part in politics and influential Catholics supported the regime.
Scalfaro grew up in such an environment and graduated in Law from the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (”Catholic University of the Sacred Heart“) in Milan in 1941. He entered the judiciary in 1942 taking the oath of allegiance to "the King, his royal successor, and the Fascist regime," which was compulsory at the time.
After the war and the collapse of Fascism, in 1946 Scalfaro was elected to the Constituent Assembly for the anti-Left Christian Democry (DC, Democrazia Cristiana) and was re-elected ten times in a row until 1992.
In July 1950 he was involved in a curious incident when he lost his temper at the sight of a woman who took off her shrug disclosing her shoulders. First Scalfaro ordered the woman to put on her shrug and, when she refused, he called the police. According to the woman's version, Scalfaro insulted her and slapped her face. The whole episode happened in a restaurant in Rome. Secular press accused Scalfaro of bigotry, while Catholic newspapers defended him as an upholder of traditional morality.
In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Scalfaro was among those of the Christian Democrats who were against any sort of compromise with the Italian Communist Party (PCI), which was the biggest Communist party in the West and the second largest party in Italy.
PCI attracted the support of about a fourth to a third of the voters, with a peak of 34.4% of the vote in the 1976 general election.
In the early 1990s Italy was swept by a deep socio-political crisis due to a financial crisis, a number of assassinations of popular anti-Mafia magistrates and the explosion of "Bribesville" corruption affair which overturned the old political order and caused the implosion of all governing parties, including the Christian Democrats.
It was then, in 1992, that the Parliament elected notoriously honest and morally intransigent Scalfaro as President of the Italian Republic. "He is a Christian Democrat", people used to say at the time, "but not a corrupt one."
A staunch Catholic, conservative and anti-left politician, Scalfaro nevertheless distrusted the new right-wing and conservative parties born from the ashes of disbanded Democrazia Cristiana, such as Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia (later renamed Popolo della Liberta, PDL) or secessionist and xenophobic Lega Nord (LN, Northern League).
Scalfaro was one of the firsts and, alas, one of the few at the top of the state to understand the subversive character of Berlusconism. Contrary to PDL and LN, Scalfaro fully recognized the values​​ of the Republican Constitution. Subsequently, Scalfaro always confronted Berlusconism openly and loudly. As such, he was not much a bipartisan President, but an uncompromising upholder of the Constitution.
The leader of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini, said Scalfaro “fought with conviction all his life to affirm the ideals in which he believed, striving for an ever stronger, more democratic and united Italy”.
“He was unfailingly committed to reinforcing the Republic founded on the Constitution," Fini added, "in the conviction that it should be in all circumstances the lodestar guiding action in the hurly-burly of politics”.
Current Italian President Giorgio Napolitano paid tribute to Scalfaro as "a protagonist in the [Italian] democratic political life" and called him an example of "moral integrity."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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