VATICAN CITY — After nearly half a century, the Vatican has dropped its veto on the writings of a popular Italian priest, and his role in the church is being re-evaluated, said the archbishop of Florence.
Father Lorenzo Milani was a heroic figure to many Italians for decades. Born in 1923 to a family of nonbelievers in the central region of Tuscany, he was converted to Catholicism in his late teens and then served as a parish priest in a small town of poor farmers and factory workers. When his book "Esperienze pastorali" ("Pastoral Experiences") was published in 1958, its progressive tone scandalized many.
Don Milani wrote that the modernization of Italy was bringing "development but not progress," and that the church had become less important to ordinary people "than the cut of a pair of trousers, a good snooze, making money, having a good time." The church itself, he wrote, had become more involved in "ritual" than faith.
In December 1958, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judged the book "inopportune" and ordered it "withdrawn from commerce and not to be reprinted or translated."
This action has been re-evaluated as based on "contingent situations," said Cardinal Giuseppe Betori of Florence in an extensive interview with the Catholic weekly Toscana Oggi. Father Milani's book is being reprinted in recognition of its contribution to the Italian Catholic heritage, "and in particular the heritage of the Florentine church," said the cardinal, who sent a copy of the book to Pope Francis last November.
"Today the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith tells me that circumstances have changed, and that there is no reason for that intervention to continue," Cardinal Betori said.
"The book contained no doctrinal deviation, but it was considered too socially advanced to be read by Catholics," Michele Gesualdi, president of the Don Milani Foundation and former president of the province of Florence, told the online magazine Firenze Post.
Don Milani died in 1967 at age 44. His role in the church is expected be honored at a 2015 national ecclesiastical conference in Florence, which Pope Francis is expected to attend.