McDonald's Near Vatican City Opens Amid Protests From Cardinals

McDonald's
A McDonald's sign is seen at Via della Conciliazione in Rome, in front of Vatican City's St. Peter's Square. Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

There are nearly 40,000 McDonald's locations around the world, but last week the ubiquitous fast-food chain unveiled its golden arches in one of its most unlikely locations yet: within plain sight of St. Peter's Square, off of Rome's Vatican City. But don't expect many holy men in vestments sauntering over for a post-prayer Big Mac.

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When the McDonald's on the corner of Borgo Pio and Via del Mascherino was announced in October, the news was met with fierce opposition from several cardinals, some of whom live in the Vatican-owned building that now houses the Big Mac purveyor. It was initially reported the tenants would have to assume some of the building's costs to accommodate the McDonald's, but the Vatican agency that approved the lease, the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See (APAS), denied that the fast-food franchise would mean any cost to cardinals. The real concern, however, is that such a flagrantly commercial establishment would be moving into one of the holiest, and most historic, areas in the world.

"It's a controversial, perverse decision to say the least," Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, the president emeritus of the Vatican's Academy for Life, told La Repubblica in October. Though Sgreccia does not live in the building that houses the 5,800-square-foot restaurant, he was asked to speak on behalf of the cardinals who do. Sgreccia also objected to how the McDonald's was "not at all respectful of the architectural and urban traditions" of the area and how it ignores the "culinary traditions of the Roman restaurant industry."

Religious leaders aren't the only ones miffed about the new McDonald's. The Committee for the Protection of Borgo, the district of Rome in which the building is located, called the restaurant's opening a "decisive blow on an already wounded animal," in reference to the tourist-catering vendors that are starting to overrun the area.

Though it might seem a lost cause to protest the opening of a franchise by the most ubiquitous fast-food chain in the world, it worked last summer when a round of protests prevented a McDonald's from opening near the Piazza del Duomo in Florence, Italy. This time, however, the opposition was all for naught. The Vatican McDonald's opened last week as planned, largely due to the indifference of Domenix Calcagana, the cardinal who leads the APAS, which approved the lease. "I don't see the scandal," he said.

Calcagana's stance is probably a wise one for religious leaders to take, as the commercialization of historic Rome seems inexorable at this point. A Hard Rock Cafe will soon open on the same boulevard that leads to St. Peter's Square, replacing a religious bookstore. It's a safe bet that "Hard Rock Cafe: The Vatican" T-shirts will bring in more money than any religious text. Even in the Vatican, money talks. The APAS will collect a hefty 30,000-euro rent check monthly from the new McDonald's, which will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week. And yes, that includes Sunday.