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The “conclave” of Catholic parliamentarians at Castel Gandolfo


Andrea Tornielli

Vatican Insider (


Three days behind closed doors: the International Catholic Legislators Network discussed non-negotiable principles and discrimination against Christians

The “conclave” of Catholic parliamentarians at Castel Gandolfo 

A gathering behind closed doors, with no journalists, press releases, or published speeches, not even from the Pope: that was the meeting of the International Catholic Legislators Network, a network of Catholic parliamentarians from around the world - Europe, United States, Australia, Korea, and Latin America - held between 25 and 28 August at Castel Gandolfo, 500 meters from Benedict XVI’s summer home.

The network, started last year by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, and Lord David Alton of Liverpool (member of the British House of Lords known for his battles against abortion), brought together eighty people, including top-level politicians from various countries, to discuss urgent policy issues in different countries. Along with the defense of “non-negotiable principles,” the private “conclave” displayed a concern for persecution and discrimination against Christians and “criticisms and attacks against the Church in a time of economic crisis.”

There were some observers from the Secretary of State at the meeting (held at the Castelvecchio Hotel and ending with a private audience in the Apostolic Palace with Benedict XVI and Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone), but not from the Italian Conference of Bishops. In Italy’s delegation, there were three representatives of the UDC (Rocco Buttiglione, Luca Volontè, and Paola Binetti), and Massimo Introvigne, OSCE Representative for the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination - especially against Christians. Along with twenty members of the European parliament there was Hungarian minister Zoltán Balogh, former French minister Christiane Boutin, former Slovak Minister of Justice Ján Carnogurský, Austrian Undersecretary Sebastian Kurz, and Secretary of International Relations for the Mexican ruling party PAN, Rodrigo Ivan Cortes. From Usa, Jeff Fortenberry republican deputy from Nebraska and father Frank Pavone, charismatic leader of pro life american movement.

The four seminar sessions, which were mentioned by the Pope in his speech, reflect the Holy See’s priorities: life and family, persecution and discrimination against Christians, education, and finally the difficulties of Catholics in communications and the media. 

“The general tone of the event,” explains a Vatican source who was present during the entire closed-door seminar, “was strongly anchored in the non-negotiable principles, especially abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and freedom of education.” In particular, representatives from the United States strongly insisted that with regard to the upcoming elections “the first criterion for choosing a candidate must be his position on life and family.” 

During the debate, a fourth principle was added to the three non-negotiables: “a commitment to oppose both the bloody persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, with specific actions taken by Western States and Parliaments to put a stop to what many see as a real humanitarian emergency,” and the discrimination that, according to meeting participants, is worming its way into the West as well. This is a theme that Benedict XVI already touched on in his speech to the diplomatic corps at the beginning of this year. 

In particular, the participants repeatedly pointed out attempts “to strike at the Church, taking advantage of the economic crisis to attack its tax exemptions, as well as making generalizations that distract from the real problem of pedophile priests to attack the clergy in general, and laws against homophobia that limit the freedom of expression of Catholics and also, for example, the freedom of Catholic orphanages to exclude homosexual couples from adoptions.” 

The members of the network of Parliamentary Catholics cited gay, feminist, and anticlerical organizations as the origins of these attacks. Along with the defense of the family, life, and freedom of education, they asked politicians to “take a stand on the very direct attacks on the Church that are being unleashed in numerous parts of the world.” 

The closed-door seminar was presided over by Lord Alton and Cardinal Schönborn. The Austrian cardinal wanted the meeting to include time for prayer and adoration, and alternated participation in the International Catholic Legislators Network with the Schulerkreis, the traditional meeting of Pope Ratzinger with his former pupils, who were at the pontifical residence at Castel Gandolfo during those same days.


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