The speaker of Italy’s Senate has come under fire from the Roman Catholic Church and some political leaders and commentators for saying Italians risked becoming members of a “mixed race” because of immigration.
The comments by Marcello Pera shocked many because his post ranks only second to the presidency in Italy’s institutional hierarchy and he is expected to play a key symbolic role as an arbiter in the run-up to next year’s general elections.
“In Europe, the population is decreasing, the doors are open to uncontrolled immigration and we will all become members of a mixed race,” the speaker of the upper house of parliament told a meeting of young Catholics in northern Italy.
“I was a bit stupefied,” said Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the archbishop of Genoa who is a close aide to Pope Benedict.
Pera, who has been Senate speaker since 2001 and hails from Prime Minister Berlusconi’s Forza Italia Party, co-authored a book on Europe in 2004 with the future pope when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.