New McDonald's in Rome Under Fire For Ties to the Vatican

A recently opened McDonald’s in Rome has stirred controversy, reportedly inspiring a lawsuit and leading a bunch of Roman Catholic cardinals to condemn the actions of the Vatican.

A branch of the world’s largest chain restaurant opened for business this past Friday, a mere feet from Saint Peter’s Square. Open six days a week from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., this golden arches serves people about 100 yards away from the pope’s palace in Vatican City, and operates on the ground floor of a Vatican-owned building.

“McDonald’s is producing a lot of problems,” local Manuel Tosti, whose family has run a restaurant across the street for four generations, told CBS News. “It’s a multinational that has the same food everywhere, whereas we do pasta that’s famous around the world and typical Roman dishes.”

CBS News reported that a lawsuit is being filed to force the store to close.

Cardinals, officials in the Roman Catholic church, live directly above the chain, and were none too happy about not being consulted before the restaurant’s construction.

“It’s a controversial, perverse decision to say the least,” Cardinal Elio Sgreccia told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in October. The cardinal argued that opening a McDonald’s near the Vatican is “by no means respectful of the architectural traditions of one of the most characteristic squares which look onto the colonnade of Saint Peter’s.”

After the store opened, Sgreccia persisted in opposing it, calling the new 5,800-square foot location a “perversion” and “aberrant.”

“I repeat, selling mega-sandwiches in Borgo Bio is a disgrace,” Sgreccia told Britain’s The Mirror, suggesting the money should be spent on helping the area’s homeless. “The area’s needy…and suffering, as the Holy Father teaches.”

Pope Francis, who once used a Bolivian Burger King to change into his religious vestments, regularly preaches against consumerism. But the Vatican, which he controls, is in on the deal, which nets them 30,000 euros, or about $31,375.50, per month in rent, according to La Repubblica.

The Vatican’s real estate is controlled by the Administration of the Patrimony of the Apostolic See. That office told The Mirror it does not understand the commotion.

This is not the first McDonald’s to open in Italy’s capital city. There are two other branches near the Vatican, but this location is different, because it is owned by the Vatican itself. From this location, diners can gaze upon St. Peter’s, and even peek at the window from which Pope Francis speaks. Hard Rock Café also opened a store nearby, on the Via della Conciliazione, the boulevard which leads to St. Peter’s. There is also a Burger King nearby.

“I think there are more serious problem [sic] in the world,” Father Alessandro, a local Catholic priest, told CBS News. “There are greater scandals.”

“The restaurant is not inside the Vatican,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman told The Chicago Tribune. “It is located in a popular tourist area outside the Vatican that already has many other restaurants, bars and retail shops. As is the case whenever McDonald’s operates near historic sites anywhere in Italy, this restaurant has been fully adapted with respect to the historical environment.”

This is far from the first fast-food scandal in Italy. Last June, 5,000 Italians signed a Facebook petition opposing the construction of a McDonald’s location near Il Duomo, Florence’s historic cathedral. In November, McDonald’s sued the city of Florence for $20 million, because it had refused the chain’s licensing application.

Starbucks has also announced plans to open in the northern Italian city of Milan this year. This is remarkable, not just because Italy is the land of small mom-and-pop coffee shops, but also because coffee sells very cheaply in Italy, and Starbucks is notorious for offering serving expensive lattes.

Besides the CBS report, there has been little news of the impending lawsuit against the McVatican, as some have dubbed the golden arches chain. Much to the chagrin of cardinals and locals, it seems like the location is here to stay.