My much younger Italian wife, Carla, mother of our six small children, is a Catholic fundamentalist. She showed no signs of this when I met her 20 years ago but – so I joke – in order to cope with me she had no alternative.

At Italy’s last elections, on March 4, she stood as a candidate for the Popolo della Famiglia, a tiny new Catholic party. Her party, which has virtually no money, got less than one per cent of the vote.

Among the party’s beliefs are that both abortion and turning off life support machines are murder, that surrogate pregnancy is a terrible sin, as is homosexual sex, and that the promotion especially in schools of gender politics is satanic.

I keep telling her that a Catholic political party is a waste of time. The only thing to do is to join one of the big parties broadly sympathetic to core Catholic values and push the Catholic agenda that way. Even that, of course, is probably doomed to failure given the times we live in.

And yet Italians are Catholics and the church where we go to Mass near Ravenna, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe – a staggering example of 6th-century Byzantine mosaic art – is very well attended. And even if they are not practising Catholics, or their faith is feeble, the Italians are cultural Catholics. The big political parties know this only too well. Even left-wing ones.

When the Italian Communist Party, for example, was the largest in Europe outside the Soviet Bloc (until the fall of the Berlin Wall), for example, there existed a powerful force within it of what in Italian is called cattocomunismo (Catho-communism). And here’s an interesting fact: in Italy seven out of 10 gynaecologists are against abortion, according to ministry of health statistics, and as conscientious objectors do not perform them. That compares with 1 in 10 in Britain and 0 in 10 in Scandinavia.

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