VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has issued a “Ten Commandments” for motorists to keep them on the road to salvation, warning drivers against the sins of road rage, abuse of alcohol or even simple rudeness.
The unusual document from the Vatican’s office for migrants and itinerant people also warned that automobiles can be “an occasion of sin” — particularly when used to make a dangerous passing maneuver or when used by prostitutes and their clients.
And it suggested prayer might come in handy –performing the sign of the cross before starting off and saying the rosary along the way. The rosary was particularly well-suited to recitation by all in the car, it said, since its “rhythm and gentle repetition does not distract the driver’s attention.”
Cardinal Renato Martino, who heads the office, told a news conference the Vatican felt it necessary to address the pastoral needs of motorists because driving has become such a big part of contemporary life.
He cited World Health Organization statistics that said an estimated 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as many as 50 million are injured.
“That’s a sad reality, and at the same time, a great challenge for society and the church,” he said.
He noted that the Bible was full of people on the move, including Mary and Joseph, the parents of Jesus — and that his office is tasked with dealing with all “itinerant” people on the roads — from refugees to prostitutes, truck drivers and the homeless.
The document, “Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road,” extols the benefits of driving — family outings, getting the sick to the hospital, allowing people to get to work and seeing other cultures.
But it laments a host of ills associated with automobiles: Drivers use their cars to show off; driving “provides an easy opportunity to dominate others” by speeding; and drivers can kill themselves and others if they drink, use drugs or fall asleep at the wheel.
It warned about the effects of road rage, saying driving can bring out “primitive” behavior in motorists, including “impoliteness, rude gestures, cursing, blasphemy, loss of sense of responsibility or deliberate infringement of the highway code.”
It called for drivers to obey speed limits and to exercise a host of Christian virtues: charity to fellow drivers, prudence on the roads, hope of arriving safely and justice in the event of crashes.
Martino’s initiative was sure to make headlines in Italy, where car culture is deeply entrenched — this is the home of Ferrari and Fiat — and where weekend highway deaths make the evening news on a regular basis.
The Reverend Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit professor of liturgy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, said Martino was clearly responding to an underreported social concern: an increase in traffic deaths in places like Italy and Spain because of speeding, as well as an increase in road rage, aggressive driving and DUI in places like the United States.
“It may be surprising for people because we’re accustomed to the church speaking out about sexual matters, capital punishment, immigration,” he said. “The point Cardinal Martino is making is that driving is itself a moral issue. How we drive impacts on the lives of ourselves and others.”
Pecklers dismissed any suggestion that Martino’s “Ten Commandments” were at all sacrilegious, saying it was “creative pedagogy” that would certainly get people’s attention. He stressed that they could never be considered binding in the way the official Ten Commandments are.
The Rev. Thomas Williams, a Rome-based theologian, concurred.
“It might be a little flippant but it’s not sacrilegious,” he said.
But for some, the document was at least reason to poke fun at the Vatican.
“Overtaking is a sin? Well, then I’m a murderer, I’ll turn myself in immediately,” quipped movie director Dino Risi, whose classic film “The Easy Life” — “Il Sorpasso,” or “The Overtaking” — ends with a car crash.
“I think the Vatican has lost its marbles,” he added, according to the ANSA news agency.
There was no indication Pope Benedict XVI had approved of, or even read, the document. It was signed by Martino and his secretary — as is customary for lower-level documents that are routinely put out by the offices of the Vatican’s vast bureaucracy.
In 2003, he was rebuked by Vatican officials for telling a press conference the United States treated Saddam Hussein “like a cow” after his capture. A senior Vatican official called in reporters several days later to stress that Martino was expressing his personal opinion and not the view of the pope.
Martino hasn’t shied away from controversial topics, either. Just last week he said Roman Catholics should stop donating money to Amnesty International because it had adopted a new policy calling for women to have access to abortion services in some circumstances.