[Original posted 1:38 AM, Sunday, June 12]
Many faithful Catholics longed to hear their bishops, individually and as a conference, speak out in defense of the Church's teaching during the 2004 campaign. Few did. And only a few more have done so since the election. Unlike America, with the referenda submitted today to the people of Italy, there is no question where the bishops' voices are, including the new Bishop of Rome, Pope Benedict XVI.
The referenda concern easing the ban on embryo research, eliminating a limit that allows the creation of only three embryos for fertility treatments, allowing egg or sperm donation from outside a couple being treated for infertility, and permitting fertile couples with genetic diseases to screen embryos.
The polls opened Sunday morning and will close at 10 PM; resuming Monday from 7 AM to 3 PM. A majority and a turnout of more than 50 percent are needed for a referendum to pass. The Italian bishops have urged a voter boycott. The Vatican has joined the campaign to maintain the current restrictions, and the pope has endorsed the boycott.
Although I am not necessarily one, many believe that Pope Benedict's legacy will be in how he [successfully] addresses the current decline of the Church, in numbers and influence, in an increasingly secular and apathetic Europe. In that context, by entering the debate, this vote could present a major challenge to the pontiff's efforts. Regardless, this vote in a predominantly, yet often straying, Catholic nation, will set a stake in the ground as to where the Church's influence resides in European culture and how much work is needed to restore it.
Turnout is low in Italian fertility law vote--referenda appear likely to fail.