A MARRIAGE CEREMONY OF A SPECIAL KIND

What truly propelled the Comunita del Vandalino to national fame was an— certainly for Italy—unprecedented event on 6 September 1970. On that day, during regular Sunday Mass, Vittorino Merinas, in front of a crowd of more than 200 onlookers, presided over the wedding ceremonies of two couples.

What was unusual was that both bridegrooms were priests, moreover priests refusing to renounce their ordination. To further scandalize published opinion, one of the brides was a former nun. After Don Merinas had performed the sacred rites, the two newly wedded priests celebrated the Eucharist with the enthusiastic crowd. To avoid unwanted attention by paparazzi, at the end of the church service a car entered the garage serving as their church, the two newly wed couples stepped inside, and then left for their homes. The article in Turin’s premier mass-market evening paper, Stampa sera, ended by drawing attention to another wedding performed on that very same day in another church in Turin. In Turin’s Chiesa della Visitazione another priest—a member of a religious order who, however, had relinquished his soutane—took the marriage vow. What raised eyebrows in this case was the provocative fact that the ceremony was openly presided over by the bridegroom’s former provincial

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superior.

For Cardinal Pellegrino, the progressive head of the Torinese church, the situation had become intolerable. Similar to the Dutch hierarchy, Pellegrino sympathized with many of the demands of his rebellious flock; but a priest, Don Vittorino Merinas, marrying two other priests, one of them to a former nun, was too much to ignore. Having warned Merinas in advance that such an act would entail grave consequences, Pellegrino pronounced the suspension a divinis of the spiritual leader of the Comunita del Vandalino. As was not difficult to predict, this official condemnation only served to further heat up the atmosphere.[1] [2]

During the controversial church service itself, the assembled overflow crowd, dressed in their Sunday finest, aware of the potential consequences of the ceremony they were witnessing, behaved in a joyous and exuberant manner. Photos showcase a multitude of smiling faces, cheerfully communicating with each other, some waving their hands in the direction of the photographer, others playfully engaging in gestures of defiance vis-a-vis the representatives of the media. When Archbishop Pellegrino proclaimed the destitution of Don Merinas, the latter, expressing the collective will of the community, not only refused to make any accommodating gestures of good will, but motivated his performance as a conscious act of defiance of ‘clerical power’. The following Saturday, a general assembly of the Comunita del Vandalino in their makeshift church, with both newly wed couples in attendance as well, unanimously approved a resolution in which they accused the official church of the will ‘to suffocate all instances of free and collective exploration of faith’ and to stifle all efforts ‘to bring about justice on earth’; traditionalist church dogma was judged to be without any meaning for human beings living in the contemporary world; the moral teachings of the church were labelled ‘unconnected to reality’; and official church liturgy was judged to be designed to pacify parishioners and to keep them from engaging in meaningful activity to change the world. Moreover, ‘the clerical understanding of the relationship between the hierarchy and the faithful is transposed onto civilian life, giving sacred approval to all sorts of civilian authorities in their dealings with their underlings’. Faced with the injunction not to celebrate the Eucharist as a result of the event of Sunday, 6 September, the Comunita del Vandalino retorted: ‘Why is no one scandalized within our Church to see at the same table the poor and the rich, oppressed and oppressors, without any apparent effort undertaken to seek true justice and fraternity?’[3]

It so happened that, just a few weeks later, the Christian Solidarity International Congress in Amsterdam gathered for its historic deliberations, and the Italian delegation included three members of the Comunita del Vandalino. A resolution of solidarity with their act of defiance was passed by the Amsterdam assembly in the form of an Open Letter to the Community of Vandalino, propelling the Torinese base community to international fame.[4] From now on Vandalino became a household term in radical Christian circles not only in Italy but in Europe as a whole. Thus, it came as no surprise that the major international planning conference for the October 1971 Operation Synod was organized and hosted by the tireless activists of the Comunita del Vandalino.[5] In the end, however, the intensity and turbulence of activities undertaken by the flagship base community took its toll. As happened with many other such innovative and contentious associations, in January 1973 the members of the Comunita del Vandalino unanimously decided to put an end to their formative experience. Dario Oitana recalls that they felt ‘exhausted’ and uncertain about which further steps to take.[6] An exemplary chapter in the history of Catholic dissent in Turin and in Italy as a whole came to a quiet end.

  • [1] ‘Nozze religiose di due preti senza permesso del vescovo’, Stampa sera, 7 September 1970.
  • [2] ‘Il Vandalino ha rotto con la Chiesa ufficiale’, Stampa sera, 14 September 1970.
  • [3] ‘Il Vandalino ha rotto con la Chiesa ufficiale’.
  • [4] Reproduced as ‘Open Brief aan de gemeente van Vandalino’, in Septuagint (ed.), Solidar-iteit gezocht. Internationale informatie rond het kongres te Amsterdam, 28 september-4 oktober1970 (Hilversum: Gooi en sticht, 1971), pp. 115-16. For the names and affiliations of Italiandelegates, see ‘Liste des participants’—KDC, LXX, fo. 215.
  • [5] Delegates from all participating European countries arrived in Torino for the gathering inthe Via Arnaz, where the logistic centre of the group had moved to in the meantime from itsformer headquarters in the Via Vandalino, on 4-5 September 1971. See relevant documentationin KDC, LXX, fo. 195.
  • [6] Conversation with Dario Oitana, 19 November 2013.
 
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