McDonald's crosses cardinals to offer 'Big Vac'

Rome (AFP) - McDonald's is dishing up "hallowed" hamburgers after the Vatican backed it in a fight with cardinals over a new outlet at the foot of the tiny city state in Rome.

Big Macs were being scoffed with glee Tuesday at the US fast food giant a stone's throw from Saint Peter's Square.

Cardinals had warned the Vatican against supping with that symbol of Western consumerism, including a group of the red-hatted "Princes of the Church" who live above the Vatican-owned site.

One even wrote to the pope slamming a commercial decision which is reportedly to bring 30,000 euros ($33,000) a month into the Vatican's coffers, but which locals fear will ruin a historical area.

Their protests fell on deaf ears and the new McDonald's branch opened Friday after the site, which covers 538 square metres (5,800 square foot), was rented to the restaurant chain by ASPA, the authority in charge of the Vatican's real estate.

While it lies outside the Holy See's walls, those popping in for a burger and chips have a good view of the papal apartment windows.

It's a panorama Angelo Tosti used to show off to tourists at his restaurant "Da Marcella", which has been in his family for three generations -- and now sits directly across the street from the fast food behemoth.

"What amazes me most is that the pope rises up against the multinationals, and then they give a Vatican property for rent" to McDonald's, Tosti said sadly. "It will ruin the whole area".

- 'Enough traditional restaurants' -

Pope Francis has criticised multinationals in the past for food waste, poor nutrition and financial speculation. Others had argued that the space near the heart of the Roman Catholic Church should go to entities which help the needy, not the Golden Arches.

"When you come to Rome you should eat Roman food," Tosti told AFP, showing off a menu with specialities of the capital, from Carbonara to fried artichokes.

Fellow critics had decried as madness a move to pack more people into an area considered at high risk of a terror attack.

But not all were turning their backs on a "Big Vac" calorie fest after a lengthy trek around the Sistine Chapel and museums.

"It's next to the monuments, the service is fast and it's more convenient," said one young Australian tourist named Brooke.

And it got the seal of approval from passing Italian nun Sister Francesca, who said there were "enough traditional restaurants in the area" to satisfy pasta-happy gourmands.

It is not McDonald's first run-in over a branch location in Italy.

It made headlines in November after filing a $20-million lawsuit against Florence for blocking a proposed outlet in the city's most revered square.

The chain wanted to open a branch in the historic Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe.

Florence's centre-left mayor Dario Nardella said while McDonald's "has the right to submit an application... we also have the right to say no".