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Four major periods

In Italy, the development of relations between the Church and State is marked by four major periods.

The first period prior to the Unity of Italy in 1860 is characterised by different systems for each of the peninsula’s States (differences marked by a more or less intensive Catholicism). The Catholic Church played a considerable political role and enjoyed special legal status. After the eighth century the Holy See also directly governed the Papal States which covered a considerable portion of the territory.

The second period began with the unification of Italy (1860) following the Risorgimento movement, at the political and military defeat of the Papal States and the annexation of their territories (including Rome in 1870, hence the term "questione romana") sanctioned by the will of the people. After this, there was an ongoing conflict with the papacy and the nation’s political development was blocked by the "Catholic opposition". The management of Church – State relations was characterised by denominationalism (by the Italian adoption of the Statuto albertino of 1848 guaranteeing Catholicism as the State Church. It was tempered by a separatist-inspired liberal legislation that provided extensive guarantees for the Church’s central government in Rome and the Italian Catholic Church itself (legge delle guarentigie, 1871), but also, introduced civil marriage (Code of civil law, 1865) and an unwieldy interference in church entities and goods regarding the funding of new public activities (leggi eversive, 1866 and 1867). The status of the other religions improved considerably following the prohibition of any form of religious discrimination in public life.

The third period coincides with fascism (1922-1943) and is characterised by a much accentuated Catholicism. Preceded by unilateral State measures that favoured the Catholic Church (instruction of Catholicism in State schools, obligatory crucifixes in public places), thanks to Mussolini, "a man of Providence" (as he was described by Pope Pius XI), the Lateran Pacts (1929) sanctioned the reconciliation between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See. The Treaty instituted the Vatican State and provided for personal, territorial and legal guarantees (the Holy See recognising the Unitarian Italian State following the resolution of the questione romana). The Concordat guaranteed the Catholic Church several privileges, including limited State sovereignty on matrimony (recognition of Catholic marriage), religious instruction in State schools, wide-ranging protection for ministers of the Catholic religion (including the payment of clergy that the liberal governments had already introduced) and legal and economic advantages for Church entities. Nevertheless, from 1934 onwards conflicts broke out between the fascist State and the Catholic Church (especially regarding the autonomy of Catholic Action) and relations became tense. The other "tolerated" religions (law of 1929) suffered from the persecution of the public authorities. In 1938 the anti-Jewish racial laws were adopted.

The fourth period goes from the popular referendum in favour of the Republic (1946) and the promulgation of the Republican constitution (1947, in effect as of 1948) until today (see the Legal Status of Religions heading).

D 26 September 2012    AMarco Ventura

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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