A turbulent priest goes on the warpath against the ‘bad masters’ of the Italian Catholic Church

Cardinal Ravasi (CNS)

Italy has just witnessed a quite extraordinary outburst of rudeness from one of the country’s most prominent Catholics. A leading Opus Dei priest has described a monk regarded by some as a new Francis of Assisi as “substantially atheist” and a “prophet of the end of Catholicism”. And he has accused a clutch of clerics, including a senior Vatican cardinal, of being “bad masters” leading the faithful astray.

Who is this turbulent priest? Step forward Mgr Antonio Livi, former dean of the faculty of philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. He was once a pupil of the celebrated French Thomist Étienne Gilson and today is a visiting professor at the University of Navarra in Spain. Mgr Livi is a formidable scholar and a Catholic philosopher of the first rank.

That makes his attack on Enzo Bianchi, prior of the ecumenical Monastic Community of Bose near Turin, all the more wounding. This is what he said about Bianchi: “Catholics consider him a master of spirituality, a new St Francis of Assisi able to re-propose to the Christians of today the Gospel sine glossa. But the scripture in his speeches is not the Word of God preserved and interpreted by the Church but only a rhetorical device for his propaganda in favour of a humanism that is nominally Christian but substantially atheist.”

Mgr Livi said that Bianchi was thus a “prophet of the end of Catholicism”, preaching a “Christianity that has to be modern, open, non-hierarchical and non-dogmatic, that is, in essence, non-Catholic”.

Mgr Livi must have known that his remarks would provoke uproar. Bianchi is one of the most popular Catholic personalities in Europe today, writing regularly for La Stampa, Avvenire, La Repubblica and Famiglia Cristiana in Italy and La Croix, Panorama and La Vie in France.

Mgr Livi has a history of lashing out at widely admired figures in the Italian Church, including the Focolare theologian Mgr Piero Coda and Fr David Maria Turoldo. He has described both men as “bad masters”. And he attached the same label to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, a possible successor to Pope Benedict, accusing the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture of denying the doctrine of original sin.

According to these “theologians,” Mgr Livi argues, “the more you are progressive, against the Magisterium, against Padre Pio, in favour of Protestants and Buddhists, the more you are truly Christian”.

The third-century martyr St Cyprian once said that there is “no lack of lilies or roses” in the Church (Nec lilia nec rosae desunt). He meant, of course, that the Church contains diverse personalities with often sharply contrasting views. It is only natural that roses occasionally prick the lilies. Mgr Livi, one of the roses, is free to criticise Bianchi and the other lilies. But he is wrong to suggest that the lilies have no place in the vast garden of the Church.