Matteo Salvini has criticised the Vatican after Pope Francis’s official alms-giver, a Polish cardinal known for his acts of charity, restored power to a building occupied by hundreds of homeless people in Rome.
Cardinal Konrad Krajewski at the weekend climbed down a manhole and turned on a switch that restored electricity to the building, saying he could no longer stand by while people suffered.
He was hailed by one newspaper, the Left-leaning La Repubblica, as “the Pope’s Robin Hood”.
The 450 occupants of the building had been without electricity and hot water for a week.
Services were cut off because the property, which has been lived in by homeless people and migrants since 2013, had run up debts of€300,000 (£260,000).
“Supporting illegal conduct is never a good signal,” said Mr Salvini, interior minister and deputy prime minister.
“There are lots of Italian people and legally resident immigrants who pay their bills, even if they are in difficulty.”
He said if the Vatican was so concerned about the people living in the squat, then it should settle the unpaid bills.
On Sunday, Forza Nuova, a neo-Fascist group, held a protest outside St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, unfurling an anti-immigration banner.
The banner compared Pope Francis with a wartime general, Marshall Bardoglio, who negotiated the armistice with the Allies – an act seen as a betrayal by Italy’s Fascists. The implication was that the Pope had “betrayed” Italy with his sympathy and support for migrants and the homeless.
The 55-year-old cardinal described how he clambered down a manhole and tore off the seals which were covering the building’s power switches.
In an interview on Monday with Corriere della Sera, an Italian daily, he said he had no regrets about intervening, despite the criticism from the populist coalition, an uneasy alliance which consists of Mr Salvini’s hard-Right League party and the Five Star Movement of Luigi di Maio.
“I don’t want it to become a political row. I’m an alms-giver and my job is to help the poor. Those families and children at last have light and hot water again.
“I take full responsibility. If they try to fine me, I’ll pay the fine. I’ve known about the situation in that building for some time – nearly 500 people, including 100 children, abandoned to their fate.”
As soon as he was elected in 2013, Pope Francis made Cardinal Krajewski his point man for performing charitable acts.
Among the initiatives he oversaw were providing showers for homeless people in a lavatory block within St Peter’s Square, arranging free haircuts, handing out free sleeping bags during the winter and organising soup kitchens.