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Historical survey

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 (...)

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

Recent developments in State-religion relations

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Rome was the core of the Papal State. The pope was both the head of the Catholic Church and a temporal king who passed laws, collected taxes, and (...)

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Rome was the core of the Papal State. The pope was both the head of the Catholic Church and a temporal king who passed laws, collected taxes, and maintained an army. The Church’s temporal power ended on 20 September 1870, when the Italian army bombarded Porta Pia, one of the city’s old gates, and entered through a breach. The breach of Porta Pia led to the so-called Roman question (la questione romana) based on the disputes between the newborn State and the Holy See: the latter displayed little desire to compromise, especially since Italian nationalism and the movement of Risorgimento (Rising Again) were readily identified with liberalism, anti-clericalism and revolution.
From a socio-cultural perspective, Italy remained a Catholic country, as also stated in Article 1 of the 1848 Constitution (known as Statuto albertino), which affirmed that Catholicism was “the only State religion” and that other existing creeds had to be “tolerated in conformity with laws”. Under these principles the new kingdom renders progressively the relations with the Catholic Church less tense. Just after the Fascists took the power in 1922, they established the political foundation for the historical legal turning point of the 1929 Lateran Pacts between the Italian government and the Holy See. These pacts recognised and reaffirmed the principle established in Article 1 of the 1848 Statuto albertino, thereby granting the Church access to benefits and privileges in important sectors of Italian society, such as education, family, marriage and fiscal regime.
In 1929, the law No. 1159/1929 on “admitted religions” was also approved. According to this law, the Minister of Interior must take into consideration the assets of the denomination or religious entity that claims recognition, such as the number of the claimants’ members and how widespread they are in the country; the compatibility between the claimants’ statute and the main principles of the Italian legal system; the aim of the denomination that claims to be recognised by the State, which has to be ‘prevalently’ of religion and worship.
The 1929 Lateran Pacts launched a specific method-principle of State-Church bilateral collaboration that, after the Second World War, was partially extended to other denominations. This was made possible thanks to Articles 7.2 and 8.3 of the 1948 republican Constitution that continued to emphasise the deeply rooted bonds between Italy and Catholicism.
Article 7 of the current Italian Constitution establishes the mutual independence and sovereignty of both the State and the Roman Catholic Church. Albeit less strong, this principle is also affirmed in Article 8.2 of the Constitution, which guarantees the free organisation of minority religions, that the same provision significantly defines as “denominations other than Catholicism” (confessioni diverse dalla Cattolica). At the same time, Article 7.2 declares that the above-mentioned Lateran Pacts regulate the relationships between the State and the Catholic Church. But it also states that any change to these pacts, when accepted by both parties, does not require the procedure of Article 138 regulating constitutional amendments. As a consequence, when there is a bilateral agreement a legislative (not constitutional) act is sufficient in order to amend the 1929 Pacts. Both the Lateran Pacts and Article 7.2 are thus seen as legal prototypes of the bilateralism principle, which is also incorporated into Article 8.3 of the Constitution. According to this provision, only legislative acts can regulate the relationships between minority religions and the State. These acts, however, must be based on intese, which literally can be translated into ‘understandings’ between the State and religions other than Catholicism.
Thus, once the Italian Government and the representatives of a given religion have signed an agreement (Article 7.2) or an intese (Article 8.3), these two documents need to be ratified (for the agreement) or approved (for the intese) by specific legislative acts of the Parliament.
On 18 February 1984 the Holy See signed its agreement (with the State also known as Villa Madama agreement) changing almost entirely the Lateran Pacts. One year later, the document was ratified by the Parliament with the 1985 law (No. 121), which is an atypical legislation, meaning it can be amended only on the basis of a new State-Church agreement. In the same period, the Italian Government signed the first intese with the Waldensian Church and, since then, it has engaged other understandings following Article 8.3; eleven of which have been approved by the Parliament until now (2021). As mentioned above, both the Villa Madama agreement and the intese can be changed via bilateral state-confession legislation. It also implicates that the legal status of the Catholic Church and some few other denominations, those with intese, cannot be altered without considering the voices of their representatives.
Religious groups possessing an understanding with the State are no longer subject to the 1929 law whose rules are entirely replaced by those, more favourable, of legislative acts approving intese.

D 15 February 2021    AFrancesco Alicino ASimona Attollino

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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