Vatican calls verbal attack on Pope "terrorism"

ROME (Reuters) - The Vatican’s official newspaper accused an Italian comedian on Wednesday of “terrorism” for criticizing the Pope and warned his rhetoric could fuel a return to 1970s-style political violence.

Pope Benedict XVI delivers his blessing at the end of his weekly general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican May 2, 2007. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli

In an unusually strongly worded editorial, L’Osservatore Romano said a presenter of a televised May Day rock concert, which is sponsored by Italy’s labor unions, had launched “vile attacks” on Pope Benedict in front of an “excitable crowd”.

“This, too, is terrorism. It’s terrorism to launch attacks on the Church,” it said. “It’s terrorism to stoke blind and irrational rage against someone who always speaks in the name of love, love for life and love for man.”

At the concert, held every year in front of the Saint John in Lateran basilica -- Rome’s cathedral where Pope Benedict sits as bishop -- one of the presenters, Andrea Rivera, spoke out against the Pontiff’s stand on a number of issues.

“The Pope says he doesn’t believe in evolution. I agree, in fact the Church has never evolved,” he said.

He also criticized the Church for refusing to give a Catholic funeral to Piergiorgio Welby, a man who campaigned for euthanasia as he lay paralyzed with muscular dystrophy. He died in December after a doctor agreed to unplug his respirator.

“I can’t stand the fact that the Vatican refused a funeral for Welby but that wasn’t the case for (Chilean dictator Augusto) Pinochet or (Spanish dictator Francisco) Franco,” he said between musical acts at the open-air concert.

The latest salvo between the Vatican and its critics in Italy comes a few days after the head of Italy’s bishops’ conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, received a bullet in the post after making comments that his critics say compared homosexuality with incest and pedophilia.

The Osservatore said Rivera’s monologue came amid growing anti-clericalism in Italy which included graffiti and Internet messages supporting the Red Brigades, the Marxist group involved in political violence particularly in the 1970s.

“Some people have even twisted (Bagnasco’s words) to start an insidious ‘war’, a new season of tension, which is inspiring those who are looking for motives to return to taking up arms,” the newspaper said.

Prime Minister Romano Prodi, a devout Catholic who is backing legislation to give legal rights to unmarried couples, including homosexuals -- a bill opposed by the Church -- called for calm.

“We have to have calm and good sense,” he told reporters. “Unfortunately the rhetoric has continuously been getting harsher over recent months. This country doesn’t need it.”