If there is one thing that Italy excels at, it’s producing brilliant and handsome theoretical computer scientists, but if there are two things that Italy excels at, it’s producing brilliant and handsome theoretical computer scientists and embarrassing public figures.

When it comes to embarrassing public figures, one would think that a prime minister under trial for paying an underage girl for sex would be on top, but recently Roberto de Mattei has been working really hard and he deserves at least an honorable mention.

Before getting to professor de Mattei, maybe not everyone knows the latest about Berlusconi, Italy’s prime minister. The following facts are undisputed: Karima “Ruby” El Mahroug, when she was 17, attended parties at Berlusconi’s house, which were attended by large groups of women, and which ended in group sex; Berlusconi gave Ruby at least 6,000 euros (more than US $9,000); at a later time, Ruby was arrested, on unrelated charges, and Berlusconi himself called the police station, told the officers in charge, falsely, that Ruby was the niece of Hosni Mubarak (who was still the president of Egypt) and that Ruby had to be released to avoid a diplomatic incident; since an underage girl could only be released to a legal guardian, Berlusconi sent there Nicole Minetti to pick up the girl. Minetti is Berlusconi’s former dental hygienist, and currently a consigliere regionale (the US equivalent would be a State Senator); she was declared the girl’s legal guardian during the same night, the girl was released in her custody, and then Minetti went her own way and Ruby went her own way.

Berlusconi’s version of the events is that he never had sex with Ruby, then he gave her money and invited her to dinner out of generosity, and that he genuinely believed that she was Mubarak’s niece. (Needless to say, the running joke during the Egyptian revolution was that Mubarak kept calling Berlusconi saying “help me, I am Ruby’s uncle!”) The girl, by the way, is from Morocco, and Berlusconi is under the protection of (and he has access to) the Italian intelligence agencies.

Incidentally, it is not illegal in Italy to have sex with a 17 year old, and it is not illegal to pay for sex. It is, however, illegal to “pimp,” and a few other people are standing trial as intermediaries, including Emilio Fede, the editor-in-chief of one of Berlusconi’s TV news bureaus. The age of consent for prostitution, however, is 18, hence the charges against Berlusconi.

Given all this, you may wonder how can professor de Mattei, whoever he is, have a chance to compete. Bear with me.

Roberto de Mattei, an historian, is vice-president of Italy’s Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR. The CNR, to explain in American terms, is sort of like the NSF, but it sponsors research in all fields of scholarship, including humanities and social sciences. Also, like the French CNRS, it has its own institutes and its own researchers.

Professor de Mattei is the author of several books, including Evolutionism: the Sunset of an Hypothesis (reminder: professor de Mattei is a historian), and Turkey in Europe: Benefit or Catastrophe? (spoiler alert: the latter).

A few days ago, professor de Mattei was interviewed by Radio Maria, the Vatican’s radio station, and, talking about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, he explained that natural disasters are the will of God, and that as such they are not an example of “absolute evil,” but they can actually be an instrument of providence, by chastising mankind for its sins.

You might say that Jerry Falwell got there earlier, and that Mr. Falwell not only explained that September 11 was the will of God, but he had a more precise explanation of God’s reasoning, which was to punish the feminists, the homosexuals, and the abortionists.

Well, Mr. Falwell is not a plausible candidate as vice-president of the NSF, although there is no telling whom president Palin might appoint. Also, professor de Mattei was just getting started.

In a later interview, professor de Mattei explained the lessons that we can learn from the fall of the Roman Empire. The fall of the Roman empire too was, to be sure, the will of God. And how did the barbarians overcome the Roman empire?

Because of the gay sex.

As explained by professor de Mattei, historian and vice-president of the agency in charge of supporting scholarship in Italy, there was a lot of gay stuff going on in the late Roman empire, so God made the barbarians win. And you know where else there is a lot of gay stuff going on, professor de Mattei points out? In Western Europe right now, where we also have foreigners pressing in from outside. And by foreigners he means Muslims. So we better learn the lesson from the fall of Rome, or else God will make the Muslims take over Western Europe, in order to stop all the gay stuff from going on.

Now, I have paraphrased for the sake of brevity, but I assure you that this is exactly what professor de Mattei, historian and vice-president of the Italian agency in charge of supporting scholarship, said in his interview, whose transcript is available on his home page.

Although they do not do justice to entire text, here are snippets:

La causa più profonda del crollo dell’Impero romano non è in realtà di carattere esterno, ma interno. Non è di carattere politico e militare, ma di natura, culturale e morale. l’Impero romano crolla perché l’edificio è ormai tarlato e la sua forza non è più che apparenza. Cerchiamo di sviluppare anche questo punto, perché il Papa Benedetto XVI ha paragonato il tramonto dell’Impero romano a quello della civiltà occidentale contemporanea e questo paragone può aiutarci a meglio comprendere la crisi del nostro tempo.

Cartagine, la capitale dell’Africa romana, contendeva ad Alessandria e ad Antiochia il primato della dissolutezza e godeva della reputazione di essere il “paradiso” degli omosessuali. Salviano interpreta l’invasione dei barbari come un castigo per questa trasgressione morale.

“Si poteva dare, vi chiedo, un vizio più innaturale di quello che ora vi dico, lì a Cartagine? (…) a Cartagine quel vizio non era poca cosa, ma una peste, anche se i travestiti non erano effettivamente moltissimi; succedeva però che l’effeminatezza di alcuni pochi contagiava la maggioranza. Si sa che per quanto pochi siano ad assumere atteggiamenti svergognati, sono molti a contagiarsi con le oscenità di quella minoranza. Un’unica prostituta, ad esempio, fa fornicare molti uomini; e lo stesso succede con l’abominevole presenza di pochi invertiti: infettano un bel po’ di gente. E non saprei dire chi sia più colpevole davanti a Dio, dal momento che sia gli invertiti che le loro vittime sono condannati, secondo la sacra Scrittura, alla medesima punizione: «Gli uomini effeminati e gli omosessuali non avranno parte al regno di Dio».”
(…)

Salviano vuole dimostrare che il giudizio di Dio non si esercita solo alla fine del mondo, ma in ogni momento storico, e i barbari che hanno invaso l’Occidente sono uno strumento del giudizio di Dio. La Provvidenza, che trae il bene dal male, si serve di essi per purificare una società corrotta e decadente quale quella romana. Le parole di Salviano meritano di essere meditate. Noi oggi viviamo un’epoca in cui i peggiori vizi vengono alimentati dai mass-media e addirittura iscritti nelle leggi come diritti umani. Dio però non si disinteressa di quanto accade nella storia. Egli trae il bene da ogni male, ma ogni male deve avere il suo castigo, nel tempo o nell’eternità, così come nel tempo o nell’eternità ogni bene deve avere la sua remunerazione.

Approximate translation:

The deeper cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire is not really of external character, but internal. It is not political and military, but of cultural and moral nature. The Roman Empire collapsed because the building was rotten and its strength was no more than appearance. We are going to develop this point as well, because Pope Benedict XVI has compared the decline of the Roman Empire to that of contemporary Western civilization and this comparison may help us better understand the crisis of our time.

Carthage, the capital of Roman Africa, disputed with Alexandria and Antioch the primacy of debauchery, and it enjoyed the reputation of being a “heaven” for homosexuals. [Roman writer] Salviano interprets the the invasion of the barbarians as a moral punishment for this transgression.

“Could there be, I ask, a vice more unnatural than the one I’ll now tell you about in Carthage? (…) In Carthage that vice was not a small thing, but a plague, even though the transvestites were not really so many; it happened, however, that the effeminacy of the few would contaminate the majority. It is known that however few adopt shameless attitudes, it is many who are contaminated with the obscenity of the minority. A single prostitute, for example, makes many men fornicate; and the same happens with the abominable presence of a few homosexuals: they infect a lot of people. And I wouldn’t be able to say who is most guilty in front of God, because both the homosexuals and their victims are condemned, according to Holy Scriptures, to the same punishments: ‘Effeminate men and the homosexuals will not be part of God’s kingdom’.”

(…)

Salviano wants to argue that God’s judgement is exercised not only at the end of the world, but in every historical moment, and the barbarians that invaded the West were an instrument of the judgement of God. Providence, which draws good from evil, used them to purify a corrupt and decadent society such as the Roman one. The words of Salviano deserve to be pondered. We now live in an age in which the worst vices are supported by the media and even enshrined in law as human rights. But God is not indifferent to what happens in history. He draws good from evil, but every evil must have its punishment, in time or in eternity, as well as in time or eternity every good must have its own remuneration.

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