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March 2022: Time for the Church to address clerical abuse in Italy
While large-scale, in-depth inquiries into clerical sexual abuse have been conducted in countries such as France, Germany, (...)

  • March 2022: Time for the Church to address clerical abuse in Italy

While large-scale, in-depth inquiries into clerical sexual abuse have been conducted in countries such as France, Germany, Ireland, the United States, Portugal, and Spain, in Pope Francis’ backyard, nothing is happening on the issue. In fact, in November 2021, at the plenary assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI), Bishop Lorenzo Ghizzoni of Ravenna-Cervia (who also heads the National Service for the Protection of Minors and Vulnerable Adults in the Church) said that bishops in Italy were considering the launch of an official enquiry into clerical sexual abuse in the country.
It is important to remember that in 2019 Pope Francis had issued the Vos Estis Lux Mundi law which requires mandatory reporting to the bishops. Victims have affirmed that “Bishops do not obey this law but they are not punished”. “Weak laws have favored the transfer of pedophiles to Italy,” they have added. Besides, even if the perfect Church commission were established, it “is no longer credible,” they said: “we need an independent commission that ensures impartiality”.
The 2021 CEI’s proposal was met with some resistance from other prelates who questioned whether the Church in Italy was ready for the fallout that a major independent investigation would inevitably cause. For this reason, further discussion of the issue was postponed until CEI’s spring plenary assembly in May, after the election of the new CEI President, who will replace Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti.
The problem of clerical abuse was again briefly raised at the meeting of the CEI Permanent Episcopal Council which took place from 24-26 January 2022. At a press conference following the meeting, Bishop Stefano Russo, CEI’s Secretary general, said that if an inquiry is conducted, “we will do it in a careful way to ensure that it is meaningful in terms of results”. The current proposal being discussed by the CEI would draw on data from a new diocesan-level program for listening to victims, which is run by the CEI and religious superiors: “We are not so much interested in focusing on quantity, but on quality. If there is an investigation, we want the data to be as reliable as possible,” Bishop Russo also said, insisting that the Catholic Church in Italy is doing “very serious work” to build a support network for survivors and prevent further abuse.
Victims reacted with doubt. Speaking to Crux, Francesco Zanardi, a survivor of clerical abuse and president of the Rete L’ABUSO organization for victim support, questioned whether the Italian Church leaders are ready to open an enquiry: “We do not think so and we do not want a Church enquiry”, he said. The Church, he added, is presenting this and similar initiatives tepidly, under a lampshade, and while this is still a positive sign, “unfortunately, it does not present these initiatives when it should”.
In sum, everything will depend on who will be the next President of the Italian bishops: we will understand whether even in Italy it is possible to start from the top a work of analysis of the work of the bishops with regard to the cases of sexual abuse of minors committed by priests or not.
We do not know whether clerical abuse has anything to do with religion. It is certain, however, that such abuses have to do with the Church. From a legal point of view, these abuses are not spiritual problems, they are crimes that the State must deal with according to the criminal laws.
A recent decision of the Italian Supreme Court provides an opportunity to focus the attention on the issue when related to the ne bis in idem principle and, as such, on the relationship between the Church (canonical) jurisdiction and Italy’s criminal jurisdiction. According to the Supreme Court, there is nothing to prevent a cleric who has been tried by the canonical court for facts which, under Italian law, are classified as sexual abuse of minors (Article 609-quarter of the Italian penal code) from being judged for those same facts also by the state jurisdiction (see also Cassazione penale sez. III, 13/03/2018, n. 21997).
Thus, in cases like these the Church can act by not only opening archives, asking negligent bishops to resign, and providing compensation. The Church can also act by intensifying prevention efforts, collaborating with the Italian authorities and standing by all victims. This is the only way for the Church to counter and prevent such crimes. Regaining its credibility requires it.

D 17 March 2022    AFrancesco Alicino


September 2021: Petition on euthanasia in Italy. Are the Italians less catholic than the Vatican?
In Italy, cultural-religious pluralism is evident not only through the proliferation of (...)

  • September 2021: Petition on euthanasia in Italy. Are the Italians less catholic than the Vatican?

In Italy, cultural-religious pluralism is evident not only through the proliferation of different confessions living in the same geopolitical milieu, but also through the rising presence of different ways of seeing and living religious belonging. For instance, the tendency to think of oneself as Catholic is much more widespread than is normally described by mainstream media. It would suffice to say that many Italians affirm to be Roman Catholics because they “feel at home” with the Church’s culture and teachings, but it is highly improbable that they would follow all instructions of the ecclesiastical hierarchy in their private and public life. On the other hand, an important part of the Italian law still remains grounded on the Vatican’s traditional view of Catholicism.

These diverging influences, far from being reduced, are even more accentuated in relation to sensitive matters such as those referring to divorce, abortion, same-sex couples, and end-of-life legal disciplines. The 2021 petition to reverse the legislation banning euthanasia is the most illustrative example of that.

This petition has now collected more than 750,000 signatures, enough to hold a public referendum under Article 75 of the Italian Constitution. The Luca Coscioni Association (LCS) for the Freedom of Scientific Research is the organiser of the petition, which is also the result of the 2019 Constitutional Court’s landmark ruling related to the case of an Italian disc jockey Fabiano Antoniani, also known as DJ Fabo, who chose to die at a Swiss euthanasia clinic in 2017. Marco Cappato, one of LCS’s leaders, helped Mr Antoniani for his end-of-life journey. When Mr Cappato come back to Italy from Switzerland, he went to Milan’s local police office where he denounced himself for having committed a crime under Article 580 of the Italian criminal code that penalised those who assist on the suicide of a person with punishments from five to 12 years of prison. After few mouths, the Penal Court (Corte di Assise) of Milan suspended the case and raised the issue of constitutionality before the Italian Constitutional Court (ICC).

ICC’s judges met on 23 October 2018 when they decided to reconvene on 24 September 2019, thus giving the Italian Parliament the time to amend Article 580 in such a way as to guarantee that lucid persons making a free and informed decision to suicide, but unable to carry out the act themselves due to their medical state, have a right to third-party assistance. Nevertheless, the Parliament did not take any action in this matter. As a consequence, on 22 November 2019 ICC issued its final decision: in the light of Articles 2, 13 and 32 of the Constitution, the physician-assisted suicide should be permitted in certain circumstances, including those in which a patient’s irreversible condition is causing “physical and psychological suffering that he/she considers intolerable”.

More specifically, in the name of the right to have a “dignified death”, ICC declared Article 580 of the criminal code unconstitutional insofar as it does not exclude the legal punishment of those who facilitate the fulfilment of the free and informed intent to commit suicide on the part of a person in such a condition, provided that the third-party assistance is made in the manner laid down by the Italian legislation (i.e. law No. 219 of 2017) and after consulting the local Committee on ethics. In the light of IIC’s decision, Mr Cappato was then acquitted by Milan’s Tribunal. However, ALC’s wanted to go even further.

It wanted to amend Article 579 of the Italian criminal code in order to legalise not only assisted suicides, but also euthanasia, which allows a doctor to end a person’s life by a painless means as long as the patient agrees. From here stemmed the idea to use Article 75 of the Constitution, under which 500,000 of the Italian voters may request a popular referendum in order to abrogate, totally or partially, legislation or a measure having the force of legislation.

As said before, ALC’s petition for using Article 75 of the Constitution has already collected more than 750,000 signatures. The procedure for conducting a referendum provides ICC’s control (the so-called eligibility judgment or giudizio di ammissibilità), but few doubts remain about the validity of the petition. So that, if the referendum will pass, it will allow medical assistance in dying for people who need and want external help to end their life and their own suffering.

It is important to note that both the 2019 landmark ruling and LCA’s petition have become the subject of fierce debate in a country where the Roman Catholic Church sees assisted suicide and euthanasia as the morally unacceptable killings of persons and violations of the law of God. In particular, the Church distances itself from the Constitutional Court’s decision, while viewing with extreme concern the referendum related to Article 579 of the Italian criminal code (see Nota della Presidenza della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana-CEI, 18 August 2021). Pope Francis himself has said that “we need to reject the temptation – also induced by legislative changes – to use medicine to support a possible willingness to die of the patient, providing assistance to suicide or directly causing death by euthanasia” (see Discorso del Santo Padre Francesco alla Federazione Nazionale degli Ordini dei Medici Chirurghi e degli Odontoiatri, 20 September 2019). “Medicine, by definition, is a service to human life,” he has also added to clarify a phrase of his predecessor, Pope Saint John Paul II: “[e]very doctor is asked to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness” (see Enc. Evangelium vitae, 25 March 1995; see also Lettera “Samaritanus bonus” della Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede sulla cura delle persone nelle fasi critiche e terminali della vita, 22 September 2020).

All of this brings to mind other socio-political events in the history of Italy’s State-Church relationship, like the ones occurred in the 1970s and 1980s when the majority of the Italians voted to reject a church-backed proposal for repeal liberal divorce and abortion legislation. Thus, after the referendum on euthanasia too, we will be able to ascertain whether the Italian voters, including Catholics, agree with the Vatican or, as The New York Time said after the 1981 referendum on divorce, are less Catholic than the Vatican.

D 2 September 2021    AFrancesco Alicino


February 2019: Religion-inspired terrorism and religious freedom in Italy
In response to the need to prevent terrorist attacks, during these last years in Europe the legislators tend to (...)

  • February 2019: Religion-inspired terrorism and religious freedom in Italy

In response to the need to prevent terrorist attacks, during these last years in Europe the legislators tend to emphasise that terrorism implies additional activities, such as those enabling groups to maintain and further develop radical ideas about Islam and Islamic precepts. Such behaviour should be punishable when it leads to the danger that terrorist acts could be committed. This means that the penal laws are here focused on the dangerous criminal tendency. In other words, when a person endangers the basic elements of a constitutional democracy, the penal sanctions may be imposed against him or her, even though his/her conduct is not directly connected with the (terrorist) attacks that cause injuries, deaths and other material damages. Under the strategy to prevent violent and indiscriminate assaults, even the mere dissemination of messages or images glorifying terrorism may itself be considered a criminal (terrorist) activity. In the lights of the existing terrorist emergency, it could be judged as a heinous crime that, as such, leads to the application of penal sanctions, including restrictions on personal liberties, such as religious liberty.
Moreover, in this field, Italy has developed high-level skill legal tools which, not surprisingly, are now also being used to challenge religion-inspired terrorism. The sophisticated system of “preventive measures” (regulated by the legislative decree of 6 September 2011, better known as ‘the anti-mafia code’) is an illustrative example of that.
The aim of preventive measures is to integrate the Italian system of criminal law. The basic idea is that the protection of fundamental interests of the State (like the maintenance of a good level of security against potential threats) cannot be delegated exclusively to the repressive function of the penal law. This explains why the application of preventive measures is based on ‘symptoms of dangerousness’. In other words, the need to prevent some persons from committing or supporting heinous crimes justifies preventive ante delictum measures.
It remains that, even though the penal law does not formally regulate the preventive measures, the practical consequences of their sanctions are not very different from those related to the penal rules. For example, the application of the preventive measures imply either the prohibition of residence (divieto di soggiorno) in one or more given cities or, in the case of particularly dangerous persons (persona di particolare pericolosità), an order for compulsory residence in a specified municipality (obbligo di soggiorno in un determinato comune). The violation of these provisions is punishable with imprisonment.
Now, after the Italian Parliament approved the 2015 anti-terrorism decree, the preventive measures system can also be applied to combat the current forms of religion-inspired terrorism. More specifically, these measures can be applied to “those who, working in groups or individually, are engaging in preparatory acts, objectively relevant, directed to take part in a conflict in a foreign territory in support of a terrorist organization which pursues the aims laid down in article 270 sexies of the Italian penal code”. This complicates the relationships State-Islam(s), especially in the light of other pressing problems, like those related to immigration.
In this sense, the climate of fear and insecurity has produced some sort of epistemological obstacles, based on which media, many politicians, and public actors, tend to consider Islam and the corresponding groups unable of a factual collaboration with the State. This is because the Islamic organizations are considered ‘others’, different from the denominations deemed more compatible with the traditional system of State-confessions relationship established in Italy until now: a system that has been determined through the implementation of Articles 7 and 8 of the Constitution as well as the 1159/1929 Law, approved during the fascist regime.
In brief, the ways of addressing these problems are now being strongly influenced by the current threat of religion-inspired terrorism. A threat that is accentuated according to the 2018 security decree (no. 113) – also called Salvini decree, named after Matteo Salvini, interior Minister and leader of the far-right League, won a vote in Parliament last December 2018. Not surprisingly, this decree stresses the need to prevent illegal acts perpetuated by both mafia-type organizations and terrorist groups (Articles 16-23). The fact that the 2018 decree does not mention Islam is very significant; in reality, that absence is notable only for its deafening silence.
On other words, when facing issues regarding religious freedom and the relative constitutional provisions, the attitude of policy-makers is often subject to issues concerning Islam. In the light of the emotional wave resulting from the climate of insecurity and fear, these issues could be influenced, if not manipulated, by the artificial and sensational analyses regarding both the current forms of religion-inspired terrorism and the pressing process of immigration.

  • February 2019: Assisted Suicide in Italy.The Cappato case

Mr Marco Cappato, a right-to-die activist, is currently accused of helping Fabiano Antoniani, better known as DJ Fabo, take his own life. More precisely, Mr Cappato accompanied DJ Fabo to the Swiss clinic where he committed assisted suicide. In February 2018 a Milan court sent the case to the Constitutional Court, asking it to verify whether Article 580 of Italy’s Criminal Code (that punishes instigation to suicide and that was approved during the fascist regime), complies with the 1948 Constitution.
Following a car accident in 2014, DJ Fabo had remained tetraplegic. From 2014 to 2017 he had been artificially fed and partially supported by a ventilator. During that period he was suffering from frequent muscular spasms, causing him considerable pain. In May 2016 DJ Fabo contacted the Swiss association called Dignitas, whose core mission is to help people exercise their right to die with dignity. During the same period, he met Mr Cappato, who declared himself available to accompany DJ Fabo to a Dignitas facility, placed in Switzerland. Mr Antoniani made then an application to the association, which granted his request. In February 2017 Mr Cappato drove him to the Switzerland’s facility.
Once he arrived at the clinic, doctors examined Fabiano, giving their approval to the procedure. Through a device operated by the patient’s tongue, DJ Fabo was then able to inject into his veins a lethal cocktail of barbiturates, which caused him an apparently painless death.
Back to Italy, Mr Cappato denounced himself to the police. In February 2018, Milan’s criminal court in charge of the Cappato case decided to halt the proceeding, and raise the two following preliminary questions to the Constitutional Court: 1) is Article 580 of the Italian Criminal Code compatible with patient’s fundamental rights (including Article 8 ECHR), as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights?; 2) is the penalty (imprisonment from 5 to 12 years) provided by Article 580 of the Italian Criminal Code compatible with Constitutional provisions (including Article 32 of the 1948 Constitution)?
According to the Constitutional Court, there are nowadays situations that were not imaginable at the time when the Criminal Code entered into force. Some of these situations refer to those who wish to put an end to their life, just as it was the case for Mr Antoniani. This is because those people suffer from an incurable disease that causes them severe and intolerable pain. They are kept alive by life-sustaining treatments and they retain full mental capacity.
It should be noted that, under the current Italian legislation, in such cases patients are already allowed to put an end to their life by refusing some medical treatments (This option is also granted to the patient by a recent law No 219/2017, which explicitly recognises the patient’s fundamental right to refuse any medical treatment). So, according to the Constitutional Court, today’s legal system creates legal vacuums, under which vulnerable persons would not be adequately protected against potential abuses. This means that Italy’s legislation needs a framework act establishing in detail the conditions under which patients can be lawfully helped to put an end to their life. In other words, the State’s legal system should ensure that such decisions are made under medical control, within the context of a relationship based on mutual trust between patients and doctors. In order to avoid the risk of a premature renouncement to palliative care, that kind of legislation could allow patients to live a dignified life even in a context of an incurable illness.
For all these reasons, the Constitutional Court decided to adjourn the case to a new hearing, which will be held on 24 September 2019. This will give the Italian Parliament an opportunity to approve legislation in line with the principles established in the Italian Constitution, as interpreted by the Constitutional Court.
In this manner, the Court has given rise to animated debate in a context where ethical issues are strongly interconnected with both State-Churches relationship and the principle of secularism (See The Place of Minority Religions and The Strategy of Major Denominations. The Case Of Italy).

D 6 February 2019    AFrancesco Alicino


October 2017: Italy and Islam. State-religion(s) relationship and de-radicalization programs
In the last decades, the changes within Italy’s cultural-religious scenario have been dramatic. The (...)

  • October 2017: Italy and Islam. State-religion(s) relationship and de-radicalization programs

In the last decades, the changes within Italy’s cultural-religious scenario have been dramatic. The presence of Muslims and Islamic groups in the country is the best example of these changes, although they do not involve only Islam and Muslims. Nevertheless, given its specificity (especially when compared to religions that have long been present in the Italy) and its complex history, Islam highlights the most striking aspects of the country’s neo cultural-religious pluralism: it indicates and signals the pluralisation of Italian society. Islam has, in other words, become the discursive substitute for religious and cultural pluralism, which implies other sensitive matters that are, in a way or another, correlated to this religion: gender roles, clothing codes, family models, the relationship between religion and politics, the role of religions within a democratic system, the rights and duties of the major religion and of religious minorities. In the light of these issues, Islam has become the most extreme example of ‘other’ religions; this term usually understood as ‘other than traditional ones’.
Together with the issues related with the emergence of transnational radicalism and terrorism, all of this may also explain the various activities that, in relation to the role and the place of Islam in the society, have taken place in recent years in Italy. Here are some important examples of that.

In the fist half of 2016, Italy’s Interior Ministry, Angelino Alfano, established a Council for relations with Italy’s Muslims: an advisory body which the Italian Government hoped would help Muslim minority groups to integrate better. Made up of academics and experts in Islamic culture and religion, the Council was tasked with coming up with proposals and recommendations on integration issues based on respect and cooperation.
One year later, the new Interior Ministry, Marco Minniti, and representatives of Italy’s nine major Muslim organizations signed an agreement called ‘National Pact for an Italian Islam, expression of an open and integrated community, adhering to the values and principles of the Italian legal system’. This pact aimed at creating a registry of imams and to require them to preach in Italian. In return, the Italian Government vowed to ‘facilitate the road’ toward the official recognition of Islamic organizations in Italy (see Preparativi all’intesa con l’Islam?). The pact was in fact hailed as a first step toward the normalization of the situation of Islam in Italy (see Il Patto nazionale per l’Islam italiano: verso un’intesa?). However, this pact has been criticized for creating a double standard: for example, no other religious group has been asked by authorities to hold sermons in Italian.

On May 2017, a training course called ‘Servizio di formazione degli esponenti delle comunità religiose presenti in Italia che non hanno stipulato intese con lo Stato’ started in Ravenna (Northern Italy), teaching imams and other religious leaders the basics of the Italian Constitution. Supported by the Italian Ministry of Interior, this course was part of efforts made to improve integration in the country. Their participants were non-Catholic religious leaders who come from non-EU countries but plan to work in Italy. The principal aim of the course was to create a climate of tolerance through the teaching of the rights and duties related to Italy’s democratic legal system. Participants have therefore learned about constitutional principles, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to have a place of worship and practice religion.

In October 2017, the University of Bari (Apulia Region) opened up a one-year Master-Course in ‘Preventing radicalization and terrorism for supporting interreligious and intercultural integration policy’. This course aims at providing students with an interdisciplinary approach to the knowledge of the international phenomenon of religiously inspired terrorism and its evolution. In this perspective, it gives students the competences concerning investigation systems and methods of fighting terrorism, focusing the attention on the relationship between rule of law (on the one hand) and emergency and security (on the other). The course also aims at training members of the police forces, the armed forces, the judicial power, as well as researchers, experts in the national security, lawyers, journalists, university graduates in juridical, economic and humanist subjects. The study program involves legal, political and strategic issues, with a specific focus on Islam. It also includes the survey and risk prevention techniques, also investigating sociological and media profiles of the terrorism phenomenon. It must be noted that this course was born of guidelines for a de-radicalization program, established by Bari’s Public Prosecutor with the collaboration of some academic experts, on the basis of the ‘preventive measures’ related to the Italian Antimafia Code.
During the same period, the University of Siena and the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Fez (Morocco) signed a cooperation agreement that includes an exchange of faculty members, researchers and students and the creation of specific courses aimed at the formation of professional profiles capable of operating in a pluralist milieu. The coordinator, journalist Carlo Panella, explained that, at the University of Arezzo, a course of educational sciences had been already started, designed to train multicultural operators and ‘social educators specializing in anti-radicalization methodologies’: the synergy with the Moroccan university also aims to create a scientific-pedagogic centre specialized in the prevention of radicalization, he added.

In the end, these initiatives try to fill gaps left by the Italian legislator, whose attitude on questions related to Islam seems based on considering the Islamic organizations as ‘other’ than the denominations more compatible with the traditional system of State-denominations relationship established in Italy until now. This system has been determined through the peculiar implementation of Articles 7 and 8 of the Constitutions and the 1159/1929 Law (which was, in fact, approved during the Fascist regime). Hence, since Islamic groups are different from the traditional creeds, public and private actors tend to promote new pathways. Those presented here are some of the most recent and significant examples.

Francesco Alicino
  • April 2017: Easter Blessings on the State School Grounds in Italy

It is legitimate to offer religious blessings at public schools. This is now established by the decision of the Italian Council of State (CoS), which has reversed the decision of the Administrative regional tribunal of Emilia-Romagna (TAR Emilia-Romagna). One year ago, this tribunal had suspended the decision of the 16 board members of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School of Bologna, who had agreed to let a Roman Catholic priest offer an Easter prayer at their public school.
From a general point of view, the CoS states that the blessing cannot in any way affect the progress of public teaching and school life. As far as the case of Carducci Elementary School is concerned, the religious rite is provided for activities other than official ones. For these reasons, the blessing cannot infringe, directly or indirectly, the religious freedom of those who, while belonging to the same school community, do not belong to Catholicism: if they fear to be harmed by these religious rites, they can choose not to attend them.
In addition, the CoS affirms that the blessing is not in contrast with the supreme principle of secularism (principi supremo di laicità). As the Italian constitutional court stated in a historical decision of 1989 (n° 203), this principle does not imply indifference towards religions, but equidistance and impartiality towards the different religious denominations. In other words, the supreme principle of laicità is based on the State’s positive attitude towards all religious communities. That is the point, have replied the members of the school community who disagree with the CoS’s decision: if we interpret the supreme principle of laicità the way the CoS did, then all religious rites should have the opportunity to be held on school ground. As matter of fact, the supreme principle of secularism also implies the prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.
All this shows that the case over the blessing at the school is part of an enduring debate in Italy on where exactly the church-State boundary lies. The argument is that such rituals, which include the blessing, are part of the cultural legacy of Italy, a point contested by a group of parents and teachers who filed a legal action to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It should be noted that, in 2011 the Great Chamber of the ECHR overturned an earlier decision of the ECHR’s Second Section, and ruled that State schools in Italy could hang up crucifixes, concluding that they were “an essentially passive symbol whose influence on pupils was not comparable to that of didactic speech or participation in religious activities.”
Thus, it does not matter what the ECHR will decide in the case of Giosuè Carducci Elementary School. In the light of the above considerations, we are sure that, once again, the decision will have an impact.

Reference: N. Colaianni, "Laicità: finitezza degli ordini e governo delle differenze", in Stato, Chiese e pluralismo confessionale, n° 39, 2013.

Francesco Alicino
  • May 2017: The Italian Case of Kirpan: “You must adapt to our values”

On 15 May 2017, the Italian Court of Cassation ruled against a Sikh migrant who wanted to carry a kirpan (a small sword considered a sacred symbol in Sikhism, one of five articles of faith called the punj kakkar) in public: hearing an appeal filed by the Sikh migrant who was fined 2,000 Euros for carrying a 20 cm. long dagger, the High Court said that public safety must be ensured (see the 110/1975 Law). This has shaken the Sikh community all over the world. Most Sikhs consider the ceremonial dagger (kirpan) an essential part of their religious identity along with their unshorn hair, a small wooden comb, a cotton underwear, and a metal bangle, since the end of 17th century when the tenth Sikh master, Guru Gobind Singh, established the Khalsa Panth by giving the followers of Sikhism a distinct identity.

While seeking the case to be referred to UN Human Rights Committee, legal director of the United Sikhs, Mejinderpal Kaur, said that “it’s regrettable that the Italian Supreme Court judgment is based on the view that immigrants should live in Rome as Romans do when religious freedom is global and across borders.”

From its part, the Italian High Court said that it is important to acknowledge the religious-cultural diversity in a multi-ethnic society. Nevertheless, migrants must ensure that their beliefs are legally compatible with host countries. So the Italian judges ruled that public safety from weapons was of paramount importance and superseded an individual’s rights. In order to justify and sustain this position, the Court also affirmed that migrants who choose to live in the Western world have an obligation to conform to the values of the society they have chosen to settle in, even if its values differ from their own. So, in this manner, the Court did not refer to the legal principles, including the supreme principle of secularism (as the Italian Constitutional Court has called it), as one might expect from a judiciary power. They referred to the generic “values” of the Western society (see also: Corte Suprema di Cassazione, Sez. I penale, sent. 14 June 2016, no. 24739, and 16 June 2016, no. 25163. On the decision A. Licarsto, Il motivo religioso non giustifica il porto fuori dell’abitazione del kirpan da parte del fedele sikh (considerazioni in margine alle sentenze n. 24739 e n. 25163 del 2016 della Cassazione penale)).

In addition, the Court confused a religious identity with immigration. In other words, it did not consider that, in the name of the fundamental right to religious freedom as well as the principle of secularism, some Italians might decide to convert, for instance, to Sikhism. In brief, the Court has set a precedent under which all migrants must ‘adapt’ to traditional (i.e. Western) values that, on the ground of the State-confessions relations, are in Italy strongly influenced by the Catholicism and other few (traditional) beliefs.

For all these reasons, the 15 may 217 judgment has raised a heated debate, also fuelled by some political parties, like the North League (Lega Nord) and Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia), which in the last years have been protesting against both immigration and the “new” (i.e. different) religious groups that are usually made up of immigrants.

Francesco Alicino, Vera Valente

D 9 January 2018    AFrancesco Alicino AVera Valente


February 2016: Italy’s Senate Approved Civil Union for Same-Sex Couples
After years of political battles led by gay people movements, Italy’s Senate approved in February 2016 the first law (...)

  • February 2016: Italy’s Senate Approved Civil Union for Same-Sex Couples

After years of political battles led by gay people movements, Italy’s Senate approved in February 2016 the first law granting legal recognition to same-sex unions. The bill still has to pass in the lower Chamber of deputies, but the February 2016 passage was the toughest hurdle. As approved by the Senate, the bill grants same-sex couples rights similar to those of other married couples, including mutual financial and moral support, sharing a last name and a common home address, as well as some inheritance and pension rights (see Atto Senato n. 2081). Yet, one should underline that the passage in Italy’s Senate stopped short of giving the same-sex couples the right to stepchild adoption. The paring of the adoption provision was in fact crucial to this passage, where the bill faced enough resistance that Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, tied its fate to a confidence vote on his government, which passed handily, 173 to 71.
The bill grants some civil rights to unmarried couples, who have historically been largely ignored under current legislation. It remains, though, that the provision in the legislation that would have granted the “stepchild” adoption – that means granting some parental rights to the non-biological parents in same-sex unions – was removed from the legislation following a parliamentary agreement between Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) and his coalition partners, the New Centre Right (NCD). Another provision, that addressed the requirement for “faithfulness” in the relationship was also erased from the bill, after conservatives complained that the language tried to mimic marriage vows.
The author of the original bill, senator Monica Cirinnà, said that, “this is a first step, a victory with a hole in the heart. This is a very important law, but I also think of the children of so many friends. Now we have to take a second step; we are halfway up the stairs”. On the other hand, the minister of the Interior and the NCD leader, Angelino Alfano, who led the charge against the stepchild provision but ultimately backed passage of the law, emerged as a clear political victor in the bruising battle over the legislation. “We have blocked a revolution that would have been against nature and anthropology”, he said during an interview. Alfano, and all those who were against the stepchild adoption, argued that this way of adopting children would have opened the doors to the surrogacy, that is an agreement (legally recognised in some western countries, but banned in Italy) though which couples, including the same-sex ones, may have a child via a surrogate mother (see Rainews, Unioni civili, Alfano: "abbiamo impedito una rivoluzione contro natura").
The day before the bill was approved by Italy’s Senate, both the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, affirmed that same-sex unions could never be considered equivalent to marriage. Speaking at a Rome conference, Cardinal Müller warned that politicians must not “impose a false ideology”. Pope Francis did not intervene directly in the debate, but Catholic politicians mounted a furious campaign against the adoption clause, arguing that children need a mother and a father.
At the same time, a movement of 28 Italian LGBT groups denounced the bill as a sellout: “we didn’t wait 30 years for this”, they said. Activists staged a noisy demonstration outside the Senate and vowed further protests. The head of a gay rights group called Arcigay said that, “we heard some horrible speeches in the Senate about genetically modified children during the debates”.
In this sense, it is important to remember what the Italian Courts established in some of their decisions concerning the stepchild adoption. One of these decisions is about the custody right of an Italian woman who has given birth to a child while in a relationship with a man. After this connection broke down, the woman established a relationship with another woman. At this point, the natural father claimed exclusive custody of his son, affirming that the women’s lesbian relationship was harmful to the child and that, constitutionally speaking, the same-sex couple could not be qualified as family. According to his own words, the Italian Constitution protects the “natural family and marriage in the traditional sense of the terms”. Nevertheless, the Italian Court of Cassation did not accept this reasoning. First, the Court qualified same-sex relationship as “a family centred on a homosexual couple”. Then they examined whether such a family context was harmful to the child. Finally, the Court affirmed that those claims “are not based on science or experience, but on the mere prejudice that living in a family centred on a homosexual couple is harmful to the child’s healthy development” (see Corte di Cassazione, sez. I civile, sentenza dell’11 gennaio 2013 n. 601).
Based on this same viewpoint, the Juvenile Court (Tribunale per i Minorenni) of Rome granted permission on 30 July 2014, for the first time in Italian history, for the adoption of a child living with a lesbian couple. The case was about a five years old girl who was conceived in a European country with assisted fertilization. The two women were married abroad and, as seen above, this marriage could be recognized in Italy. Nevertheless, the non-biological parent was allowed to adopt the child, under the clause stated in Article 44(1-d) of 1983 Italy’s adoption Act (no. 184), as amended by the 2001 Act (no. 149). The clause authorizes adoption in particular cases, prioritising the best interest of the child in order to maintain the emotional relationship and cohabitation with the ‘social parent’, such as a person other than a biological mother or father who has raised the child. As a result, along with the need of the child to maintain a relationship with both women and not only with the biological mother, the Italian Court considered the lesbian couple as a family, whose members cannot be discriminated in relation to their sexual orientation. As Italian Constitutional Court had stated in the famous 2010 judgment (no. 138), two women involved in a same-sex relationship “are held to have the right to freely live in couple (vivere liberamente la propria condizione di coppia)”. This, according to the Juvenile Court of Rome, implies the right to have biological or adopted children (see Tribunale per i Minorenni di Roma, sent. 299/2014, 30 luglio 2014.)
In more general terms, this juridical approach means that if the ordinary judges apply Article 44 of Italy’s adoption Act in such a way that the same-sex couples are excluded from the adoption because of their sexual orientation, this interpretation would be considered in contradiction with Article 2 (devoted to the inviolable rights of the person, as an individual and in the social groups, including de facto same-sex couples) of the Italian Constitution (see. F. Alicino, The Road to Equality. Same-Sex Relationship within the European Context: The Case of Italy).

Francesco Alicino
  • January 2016: Reforms of the Catholic Church Law in Marital Nullity Trials

Pope Francis recently enacted the acts regulating the new abbreviated procedure for the nullity of marriage cases. While a juridical process is needed for making accurate judgments, the canonical marriage annulment process must be quicker, cheaper and much more of a pastoral ministry. These reforms have been in particular formalized by two papal documents, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus (The Lord Jesus, the Gentle Judge) for the Latin-rite church and Mitis et misericors Iesus (The Meek and Merciful Jesus) for the Eastern Catholic churches. In practice, these documents are not intended for promoting the nullity of marriages, but the quickness of the processes, as well as a correct simplicity of the procedures, so that Catholic couples are not oppressed by the shadow of doubt for prolonged periods.
Nevertheless, these acts raise a variety of questions concerning the civil effects of the ecclesiastical judgement affirming the nullity of a marriage, under Article 8 (section 2) of the 1984 Italian Concordat between the Holy See and the Italian Republic. The papal documents seem to affirm a sort of voluntary jurisdiction, similarly to dispensation from valid (non consummated) marriage. That can have some important impacts in respect to the so-called “delibazione”, the procedure through which the effects of a canonical judgment are recognised within the Italian civil order – as established by Article 8.2 of the 1984 Concordat (see Nicola Colainni, Il giusto processo di delibazione e le “nuove” sentenze ecclesiastiche di nullità matrimoniale).

Read the full article by Vera Valente.

Vera Valente

D 24 March 2016    AFrancesco Alicino AVera Valente


October 2015: The Synod of Bishops on the Family
In October 2015, the concluding text of the Synod on the Family was voted by the Bishop’s Synod of the Catholic Church. Result of several weeks (...)

  • October 2015: The Synod of Bishops on the Family

In October 2015, the concluding text of the Synod on the Family was voted by the Bishop’s Synod of the Catholic Church. Result of several weeks of work and discussion, the 94 points of the Synod’s report on the family provide the vision of the Church on issues such as marriage, divorce, same-sex marriages, and the role of women in families. Read a full article on this question by Francesco Alicino.

  • The Italian Court of Cassation and the Return to the Blasphemy Law

In Italy, it was only in 1979 that the Constitutional Court (decision n° 117) affirmed the equality of rights for the non-religious (see Alla “scoperta” del principio di laicità dello stato. Verso la piena realizzazione dell’eguaglianza “senza distinzione di religione”?) and only in 1989 that, again thanks to a constitution jurisprudence (see the decision n° 203/1989) the secular principle (in Italian laicità) became a “supreme principle of the constitutional order”.
However, separate laws on “defamation of religion” and “blasphemy” remain in force. Defamation of religion is still a criminal offense under Articles 403 and 404 of the Penal code, which regulate offences to a religious confession by defamation of a person, and of things, respectively. Blasphemy per se also remains an administrative offense (Article 724); it was a penal offense until as late as 1999.
Now, with the 13 October 2015 decision (n° 41044), the Italian Court of Cassation marks the return to “the blasphemy law”, in the classic sense of the expression. The case regards a triptych panting that, exposed in the centre of Milan, shows the former Pope Benedict XVI having a homosexual sexual intercourse with the papal secretary Georg Gänswein. The Court of Cassation has condemned the author of the triptych, a seventy-year old gentleman, on the grounds of infringements of Article 403 of the Italian Penal Code blasphemy or offences against religions (see A cinque anni dalla riforma dei reati in materia di religione: un commento teorico-pratico degli artt. 403, 404 e 405 c.p.).
In particular, the Court affirms in this sentence that the criticism of a religion is lawful when deriving from an analysis carried out by qualified personnel having relevant experience and knowledge in this area. On the contrary, they said painting produces blasphemy because the criticism stems from a person that, without skills, ignores the values of some institutions (namely the Pope) within a given religious community – the Catholic Church (see La Cassazione: basta con la satira offensiva sul Papa e l’arte ingiuriosa verso la fede).

Francesco Alicino
  • Debate on the Legal Status of Same-Sex Couples

In October 2015, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi assured that a bill titled “De facto couples and civil unions” (the so-called Ddl. Cirinnà) would become law within the 2015; he has called this legal Act “a pact for civilization”. In compliance with the national and European jurisprudence (see full article), this Act would finally allow same-sex couples to form a civil partnership by means of an official declaration in the presence of an official of the Italian registry office, giving them the right to a tax deduction for dependent spouse, social security benefits for the household and a pension for the surviving partner.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, has reacted by reaffirming that it is “unfair” to give to other types of relationships the same rights duly belonging to the “natural” family based on marriage, and made up of “father, mother and children.” The resistance is political, and comes from the conservatives within the majority, the Catholic senators and deputies of Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD) headed by Minister for the Interior Angelino Alfano – who did not vote for the “compromise” amendment, which passed thanks to the support of the opposition Five Stars Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle). In the NCD’s opinion, the new bill does not sufficiently distinguish civil unions from marriage, nor does it resolve such quandaries as adoptions and stepchildren adoption, survivor’s pension, and surrogate mothers, which Nuovo Centrodestra firmly opposes.

Francesco Alicino
  • January 2015: The New Lombardy Legislation “against” Mosques

With the exception of the Centro Islamico Culturale d’Italia (Islamic Cultural Centre of Italy), no Islamic organization is formally recognised by the State in Italy. The official recognition of confessions other than Catholicism must in fact be approved by a Decree of the President of the Republic, upon request of the Italian Minister of Interior (see La Lega Musulmana Mondiale – Italia e il Centro Islamico Culturale d’Italia). Such recognition does not merely depend on the number of followers of a given religion, it also requires congruence between the principles of the proposing confession and the Italian Constitution (see Imams and other Religious Authorities in Italy).
Any community with religious aims can operate within the Italian legal system without authorization or prior registration. In this sense, the only limit is the protection of public order and common decency. When following these restrictions, Islamic denominations and their legal entities may choose among various types of legal capacity. They may, for example, constitute themselves as “non-recognized associations”, in accordance with Article 36-38 of the Italian Civil Code, a status which is also used by political parties and trade union organizations. This model of association is the simplest, and does not involve particular control from the State’s authorities. According to Articles 14-35 of the Civil Code, and the 2000 decree of the President of Italian Republic (no. 361), communities with religious aims can also choose the form of “recognized associations”, which provides legal personality through registration at the local Prefecture. The civil capacity of Islamic organizations may also be obtained via Article 16 of the “Provisions on law in general” (Disposizioni sulla legge in generale) that, based on the principle of reciprocity, would grant foreign Muslim groups the same rights guaranteed to Italian legal bodies. In other words, these groups can enjoy the legal benefits guaranteed to all private associations devoid of religious coloring.
In sum, the Islamic groups can enjoy the legal benefits guaranteed to all other private associations without religious connotations. The problem is that Islam is a religion. Furthermore, apart from Catholicism, Islam is the largest religious creed in Italy (see La presenza islamica in Italia: forme di organizzazione, profili problematici e rapporti con le Istituzioni), although it is practiced by a minority of people. According to recent estimates, about 2% of the population adhere to the Islamic creeds. Despite the fact that illegal immigrants represent only a minority of Muslims in Italy, the issue of Islam in contemporary Italy is constantly linked by some political parties (particularly the North League) with immigration, and more specifically illegal immigration (see Lega Nord, Matteo Salvini: "Milioni di islamici pronti a sgozzare". Volantini con vignette di Charlie Hebdo). Just as in other European Countries, there is not in Italy a single national Islamic organization. Many Islamic groups are local, while others refer to some transnational Islamist movements or to a foreign State. Immigrants make up the large number of Italian Muslim organizations that, when wishing to operate in Italy, must respect the principles of the Italian Constitution. These principles, though, must be taken into serious consideration in order to establish a proper connection between the State and the Islamic organizations, which would solve some questions such as issues concerning the places of worships, namely the mosques (see Edilizia ed edifici di culto).
In this sense, it is important to notice that the Italian government has moved to block new religious building for Lombardy, the most populous region in Italy, with Act no. 62/2015. The Government has said that this legislation would make it virtually impossible to build any new mosques in this region. In fact, this new legislation has become known as the “anti-mosque” Act. It has been approved by the right-wing dominated regional Council at the end of January 2015 (see Legge anti-moschee Lombardia, il governo la impugna. Maroni: “Ritorsione”). Amid an outcry over what critics see as a blatantly discriminatory move in Lombardy, which includes its capital Milan, the centre-left Government (guided by the leader of the Democrat Party, Matteo Renzi) has decided to refer the new regional rules to the Constitutional Court for review.
The aim of the new act is clearly to impose stricter and tougher provisions on minority religious groups, for which it becomes nearly impossible to comply with the law. They would then be unable to erect any new religious buildings within the territory of Lombardy. Critics say that the Lombardy Act breaches the 1948 Constitution on several grounds, and that the new rules are bound to be overturned by the Constitutional Court.
Judges of the Consulta are in effect expected to consider whether the new measures breach guarantees of religious freedom (Articles 19 of the Italian Constitution), whether the region has exceeded its power by redrawing the relationship between State and Religion (Article 117 of the Italian Constitution), and whether the new Act leaves too much to the discretion of local mayors. The new law and its provisions introduce a series of new criteria, particularly in the field of urban and town-planning. Such new criteria are added to the previously enforced ones, namely concerning representativeness of the groups as well as other administrative aspects. More generally, are three main critic points in the new regional act: the groups to which they apply; the powers of local authorities during the negotiations; the additional requirements the communities have to meet in order to get a building license.
For example, one provision of the Lombardy act states that local mayors who are unhappy about the construction of a new mosque may seek to organise a local referendum before granting or refusing permission. This act also stipulates that the dimensions and architectural proportions of any new place of worship should be in keeping with Lombardy’s landscape; this condition clearly appears custom-written to block any plans involving minarets, the tall slender tower that is most often part of a mosque. Under the Lombardi new act, anyone seeking to build a new place of worship for a religion not officially recognised by the State would be subject to an extensive list of special restrictions, ranging from the size of associated parking facilities, to the outward appearance of the buildings. Since Islam is the only major religion not recognised by the Italian Republic, the new rules are seen as being specifically targeted at Italy’s more than one million Muslims.
The Matteo Renzi Government’s decision to block Lombardy’s legislation plan prompted a scathing response from Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right Northern league: he has said that Renzi and the Interior Minister, Angelino Alfano, are the new imams. It should be noted that The Northern league is the dominant force in the coalition running the Lombardy Region.

Simona Attollino

D 10 November 2015    AFrancesco Alicino ASimona Attollino


11 June 2014
On 11 June 2014, the Constitutional Court declared Articles 2 and 4 of Law 164 of 1982 to be unconstitutional. These stipulate that the civil effects of marriage cease as soon as (...)

  • 11 June 2014

On 11 June 2014, the Constitutional Court declared Articles 2 and 4 of Law 164 of 1982 to be unconstitutional. These stipulate that the civil effects of marriage cease as soon as a rectification to sexual gender is recorded by a court ("rettificazione di attribuzione di sesso giudiziale"). The Court does not impose continuity of marriage after a change of gender: that would have transformed its decision into one favourable to marriage for all. Rather, it considers it to be unconstitutional that Italian law does not offer the couple who has transformed into a same-sex couple and wishes to remain together, a legal status (of the civil union type) which would make that possible.

D 7 August 2014    AMarco Ventura


April 2012: Sessa v. Italy at the ECHR
A Jewish lawyer requested that an audience not be held the day of Yom Kippur. He was told in response that he could send a substitute and that, in any (...)

  • April 2012: Sessa v. Italy at the ECHR

A Jewish lawyer requested that an audience not be held the day of Yom Kippur. He was told in response that he could send a substitute and that, in any event in view of the nature of the hearing, his presence was not mandatory. The Italian judges dismissed the lawyer’s appeal and the Strasbourg Court endorsed Italy’s position. However, three judges out of seven gave dissenting views, expressing their opinion that a reasonable work-around was possible and that consequently the Italian authorities had indeed infringed the lawyer’s religious freedom.

See the full article by Marco Ventura on the site of the Corriere (in italian).

  • March 2012: The ICI/IMU affair

The ’ICI’ affair exposed the discontent of an upset public opinion urging the Church to stop benefiting from ingenious tax exemptions, including the ICI exemption (Imposta Comunale sugli Immobili) based on the social relevance of activities carried on in relevant buildings.
Did a small chapel in a hotel transform that hotel in a religious facility, thus allowing the religious owner not to pay ICI on the whole building? Could a bookshop run by a monastery in a separate building be considered instrumental to the subsistence of the monastic community and therefore could be exempted from ICI?
ICI was replaced by the equivalent IMU (Imposta Municipale Unitaria) and the Monti government has drafted an amendment to the decree law of 24 January 2012: in case of mixed commercial and non-profit use of the same building owned by an ecclesiastical entity, IMU will be owed for the portion of the property in which commercial activities take place.
However, serious application of the law will depend on the true will of State agencies to further clarify the principle, while implementing an effective system of control.

See the full article of Marco Ventura on the o-re-la website.

D 27 August 2012   


Civil and ecclesiastical law
The Council of State recently considered it legitimate to order that medical records be presented in court, even if this were to infringe laws on respecting (...)

  • Civil and ecclesiastical law

The Council of State recently considered it legitimate to order that medical records be presented in court, even if this were to infringe laws on respecting privacy, and thi not only in civil, but also in canonical trials (ruling by the Italian Council of State of 28 September 2010). It therefore ordered a clinic to give a man the medical records of his wife so that he might present them before the ecclesiastical court. The clinic refused to do so out of respect for the woman’s privacy. Specialists in canon and ecclesiastical law have mainly not reacted; Professor Marco Ventura believes this ruling to be contrary to Italian constitutional jurisprudence and the 1984 Concordat. He highlights in particular the risk of a return to using the secular arm, with the authority of the state supporting the legal strategies of one or other party when faced with canonical judges. It would be very serious not only for the independence of Italian justice, but especially for the autonomy of the ecclesiastical court whose activity can now be subject to intrusion by the state judge.
For more information, see the ruling on the OLIR website.

From Marco Ventura, "Stato, Chiesa, diritto alla privacy civil e religioso", Corriere della Sera, 25 October 2010.

D 29 October 2010    AAnne-Laure Zwilling


The teaching of the Islamic religion in schools: a proposal arousing debate
Islam in Italy is always the subject of debate, particularly because of the little knowledge that public opinion and (...)

  • The teaching of the Islamic religion in schools: a proposal arousing debate

Islam in Italy is always the subject of debate, particularly because of the little knowledge that public opinion and politicians have of religion and the Muslim world. The proposal by the Deputy Minister for Economic Development, A. Urso, to teach Islam in schools, with an hour of optional teaching as an alternative to the (equally optional) teaching of the Catholic religion, has ignited a debate which is above all fuelling the current divisions on the right.
Deputy Minister Urso, member of the right-wing party Alleanza Nazionale, has, with this proposal, brought about much needed reflection in Italy; it remains for the moment, unfortunately, limited to political groups. The xenophobic Northern League party has declared its opposition to the teaching of Islam by referring to "safeguarding" Italy’s Christian roots (although the relationship between the League and the Vatican are tense). The Minister of the Interior, Maroni, (Northern League), says that, unlike Catholicism which is a unitary religion with a clear hierarchy led by the Pope, in Islam you can say anything because "the Imam interprets the Qur’an freely, there is not one set of dogmas, there is no clear message to convey". Beyond the dubious expertise of some Italian ministers in religious matters, the proposal is stirring up the minds of Berlusconi’s PDL.
But the debate should not be limited to political confrontation, as it could be an opportunity to reflect on the content and complex solutions to such an issue. Comparing this to solutions adopted in other EU countries is surely necessary, as the multitude of alternatives also reflects the complexity of this type of education (cf. the article by A. Pisci, L’Islam tra i banchi di scuola). The Minister for European Policy, Ronchi, is suggesting one hour’s teaching of the history of religions (which remains optional). For many, Muslims included, teachers who are Italian or have been trained in Italy should be found, so as to guarantee "correct" teaching.
Numerous issues have been identified in relation to teaching a religion other than Catholicism and especially Islam. The issue of what curriculum to adopt is not the least of them, then a response has to be found to a kind of anxiety among citizens about Muslims, which goes hand in hand - according to the current government - with the need to control the territory and its residents from abroad. What is more, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI in Italian) is opposed to this proposal, like other figures in the Vatican - although stances also vary in the Catholic world.
The reflection takes place firstly on the pedagogical and legal level, particularly in relation to the issue of women’s liberties, wearing the veil at school etc. But when it comes to Islam, there is a very strong temptation to talk about terrorism and the opportunity was not lost on the Northern League, following an attack in which a Libyan citizen tried to blow himself up in front of a barracks on 12 October 2009 in Milan. An Islamic terrorist motive was obviously evoked by right-wing politicians, which was enough for them to challenge the right to citizenship, but also the meaning of the word ’integration’, which is all too often misused. The act which was committed seems, however, to be connected rather with the difficult social and economic situation of its perpetrator, than with Muslim or terrorist organisations. But regardless, sliding from teaching to religious extremism is common. Reading the Italian newspapers (not just theirs, moreover), we immediately perceive the difference in the ways these events were viewed by the left and the right. Berlusconi’s daily Il Giornale highlights the opposition of the League and the CEI (article of 20 October 2009) and - in what is a habit that crosses the political boundaries of our press - shows a photo of a veiled, young girl to speak of the teaching of Islam.
The internet gives us a quick, but on the spot, view of the current debate: the attention is more focused on Italians and Italian politicians, and then on what Muslim organisations think about it. However, Muslims are very interested in discussion and reflecting together on the solution to be adopted; they welcomed the opening initiated by Minister Ronchi’s proposal. If for them the ’yes’ prevails over the ’no’ to teaching, methods will have to be defined and a careful selection of teaching staff (origins, training and orientation) undertaken. In general, everyone prefers the teachers to be trained in Italy, for the curriculum to correspond to ministerial instructions, for it to be delivered in Italian. They also favour ethical principles of solidarity, peace and love for the creation (according to Hamza Piccardo, President of the UCOII). For members of the COREIS (Comunità Religiosa Islamica), teachers should be Italian citizens, Muslims and qualified and the teaching must have a secular nature, provide the doctrinal, historical and cultural basis of Islam and therefore be aimed at all students. Others, on the Muslim side as on the left (PD), stress the importance of teaching the history of religions so that children get to know one another better, while advocating that the task of teaching religion to the faithful is left in the hands of communities (Izzedin Elzir, Imam of the UCOII in Florence).
It only remains to await the continuation of this debate at the level of national and/or local education, especially since there is not a shortage of "provocative" arguments on both sides and that Muslim speakers are almost always suspect because of their religious affiliation. Will the proposal by Minister Mara Carfagna to ban the wearing of the burqa and the niqab at school, although no incident has occurred, be welcomed as an "important signal" to move forward a broader debate on Islam?
Will schooling and state education - pillar of modern democracies - ultimately be the primary interest to defend against any instrumentalisation and oversimplified opposition of Islam and the West?

  • Euthanasia: the case of Eluana Englaro, continued

The Italian Senate has just approved a law on end-of-life treatment, in answer to both the public emotion aroused by the Englaro case and the request made in the strongest terms by Catholic Bishops for a law designed to prevent judges in the future authorising the end of hydration and nutrition in cases involving a permanent vegetative state. The approved text not only goes in the direction desired by the Catholic Church for cases involving a permanent vegetative state, but addresses the broader issue of prolonging life by introducing the concept of the living will, which allows only a doctor the right to impose care for the patient. The text seemingly introduces the living will to Italy, but removes all content that would restrict the care team.
The centre-left coalition opposes the text in the name of individual freedom as recognised by Article 32 §2 of the Constitution: "No person shall be compelled to health treatment, except when provided for by law. The law can in no case violate the limits imposed by respect for a human being". For the text to become law, it must still be passed by the Chamber of Deputies.

D 14 December 2009    AAlessandra Marchi


Euthanasia: the case of Eluana Englaro
Eluana Englaro had spent 17 years in a persistent vegetative state following a car accident. Instead of resorting to discreetly terminating her care, as (...)

  • Euthanasia: the case of Eluana Englaro

Eluana Englaro had spent 17 years in a persistent vegetative state following a car accident. Instead of resorting to discreetly terminating her care, as is commonly done in Italy, her father wanted to obtain judicial authorisation. The courts initially refused permission, but it was finally granted and even confirmed by the Court of Appeal, based on the principle of the girl’s presumed intent, reconstructed from information provided by her father.
It should be noted that Italy does not yet have a law on prolonging life and end-of-life care. A bill was presented by Ignazio Marino during the last Parliament on behalf of the centre-left government led by Romano Prodi, a Catholic. This very moderate text, corresponded roughly to legislation in force in France. However, the centre-right opposition, supported by Catholic bishops, prevented it from being passed.
Faced with the authorisation given by the Court allowing Eluana to die, the Catholic, conservative front of which Prime Minister Berlusconi himself had recently become leader, did everything to have the decision overturned. Regions governed by the centre-right, including Lombardy, refused to allow their hospitals to welcome the team responsible for letting Eluana die. Ministerial inspections were ordered. Finally, the government approved an emergency decree, although it was not countersigned by the Republic’s President Napolitano, because it contravened the separation of the executive and the judiciary enshrined in the Constitution. It was therefore amid the highest social and political tension - as well as institutional - that Eluana’s life was ended, after she was finally admitted to a hospital in Udine (a town in north-eastern Italy).
For Italian bishops, it is a crime. On several occasions they called the procedure euthanasia and attacked the judges responsible for the authorisation. They seem, however, less opposed than before to the possibility of having a law on the matter, with the centre-right ensuring compatibility between natural law and church doctrine. The Holy See also expressed its annoyance: Cardinal Barragan openly criticised President Napolitano; Secretary of State Bertone called on Napolitano to express his personal reaction to attacks suffered at the hands of Berlusconi.
On the occasion of this controversy, 80 years after the Lateran Pacts, the debate on secularity in the country and its institutions has been revived. Bishops and some Catholic circles deplore the secularity of which the country is now victim. The opposition is increasing calls for mobilisation against the country’s future "vaticanisation" and against the perverse alliance between the libertine tycoon, the bishops and the Holy See.

D 8 December 2008    AMarco Ventura


The bio-testament, euthanasia and the right to life
The debate opened at the beginning of 2007 ago by Piergiorgio Welby and his plea to have the machines sustaining him turned off. After a (...)

  • The bio-testament, euthanasia and the right to life

The debate opened at the beginning of 2007 ago by Piergiorgio Welby and his plea to have the machines sustaining him turned off. After a lengthy political debate, a doctor declared himself ready to assist him. Once the machines were turned off Doctor Mario Riccio, an anaesthetist, sedated the patient. The Italian Criminal Court of Rome immediately had to file a criminal incrimination against the doctor, accused of assisting a human being to commit suicide. On the 1st of February the Criminal Court found Mario Riccio not guilty, since the patient has a right to refuse a certain therapy, and the doctor has the duty to assist him in this choice. The sentence of the court has a deep impact on the Italian debate, with no clear laws on the subject in the Italian legal system, thus giving the courts the burden to create a minimum of rules on the subject.

  • New law regarding the family

In the last months the government has tried to pass a reform so to permit a similar acknowledgement to couples not legally married. The opposition and the Roman Catholic Church declared this reform against all the ethic and religious principles of the Italian State, calling for a protest march called Family Day, which took place the 13th of May 2007. Given the high number of participants the new law, that wanted to give equal rights both to homosexual couples and non-married ones, was withdrawn.

  • 8 per mille

On La Repubblica (one of the major Italian news papers, which has a series of ongoing enquires regarding financial aids to the Church) the 3rd of October an enquiry regarding the "8 per mille" was published. The so called "8 per mille" is the tax percentage that a citizen can devolve to religious congregations or the state in his tax declaration. The distribution system, unknown to many Italians, has been clearly disclosed from the newspaper. The total amount of the devolved money is proportionally divided between the religious organization that have access to this institute. In this way more then half of the total amount is given to the Catholic Church. Two aspects are particularly criticized by La Repubblica : the tax forms in which the beneficiary is not clearly declared are grouped, and the total amount is again proportionally devolved, thus again the highest percentage goes to the Roman Catholic Church. The second thing is the way the money is used. It is possible in Italy for the religious institutes to advertise themselves for the 8 per mille, because of the high costs, only the Catholic Church manages to do this. In these advertisement it is stated that the money devolved will help the cause of the missionaries in Africa, or go to help the Italian poor. What instead happens is that not more of the 20% of the total amount (around 980.000 euro per year) goes in assistance, the remaining 80% stays within the ecclesiastical framework.

  • The European Commission examines the religious confessions’ tax benefits.

The way the European Commission asked the Italian Government details concerning the tax benefits provided by the Italian State to the various religious confessions was vigorously criticized on Wednesday 29 August. This is a controversial issue in a country where the Catholic Church possesses 100 000 buildings which are worth 8 to 9 billion Euros. The plaintiffs referred to Brussels which is trying to find out whether the Italian clergy’s real estate tax exemptions for some of its activities (catering, accommodation) and its 50 % discount on professional tax in its schools and hospitals constitute unfair competition.

(Source: Le Monde, 30 August 2007)
To learn more on this topic: article published on the 29 August 2007 in Il Sole 24 Ore.

D 4 December 2007    AMarco Ventura


September 2005: Bishop’s conference against secularisation
Cardinal Ruini is under attack in Sienna for his active involvement in Italian politics (a role he reaffirmed in an official address (...)

  • September 2005: Bishop’s conference against secularisation

Cardinal Ruini is under attack in Sienna for his active involvement in Italian politics (a role he reaffirmed in an official address in September 2005).
The Bishop’s conference continues its offensive against the secularisation of Italian law. Following the position taken by Italian opposition leader Romano Prodi, supporting a law that will institute a system similar to the French PACS (form of civil union between two adults, of the same or opposite sex), Cardinal Ruini, who is the President of the Episcopal conference, declared that such a reform would be "unconstitutional".
In his address, the Cardinal also criticised Italian magistrates for using wiretaps which, according to him, did not take into account the dignity of persons. Although he was speaking generally, his remarks were interpreted as referring to the independence of the scandal-tainted head of the Bank of Italy, Antonio Fazio, who is a fervent Catholic.

Read the entire address (in italien), and a commentaire commentary on the Sienna debate by Marco Ventura (article in Italian published by the Corriere de Siena).

  • September 2005: The Via Quaranta Mosque affair

Police authorities in Milan have ordered the closure of an Islamic school. This has provoked debates on the rights of Muslim communities and the admissibility of a parallel system of education.

  • April 2005: The Appointment of Teachers at the Catholic University

The appointment of teachers at Sacred Heart Catholic University is subject to the approval of the competent church authority. This approval is a legitimate condition of the appointment and cannot be controlled by the university or the adjudicator (Consiglio di Stato, Sentenza 18 aprile 2005, n. 1762).

  • March 2005: The Crucifix in State School Classrooms

The judges of the Regional Administrative Court of Veneto (Venetia) rejected an appeal on the exposition of crucifixes in classrooms. They explained that the crucifix is the symbol of values shared by Christianity and the State, including secularism and that there is therefore no reason to view it as a symbol that would exclude someone in the name of religion (Tribunale Amministrativo, Sentenza 17 marzo 2005, n. 1110).

  • March 2005: Assisted Reproduction

The challengers of the law on assisted reproduction (particularly the radicals, a centre left majority and a centre right minority) succeeded in getting a popular referendum for the repeal of certain parts of the law, in accordance with article 75 of the Constitution.
The articles that are targeted are considered the most "Catholic" articles of the law and they involve the status of the embryo, freedom for women and same-sex couples and the exclusion of having recourse to a donor.
This referendum will be held on 12 June.

After having already expressed himself on this topic on 17 January 2005, the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference (Cardinal Ruini) officially called on Catholics, on 7 March 2005, to not go to the polling stations so that the referendum would fail through lack of quorum: "È chiaro il senso dell’indicazione di non partecipare al voto: non si tratta in alcun modo di una scelta di disimpegno, ma di opporsi nella maniera più forte ed efficace ai contenuti dei referendum e alla stessa applicazione dello strumento referendario in materie di tale complessità".
For more information on the position of the Italian Bishops’ Conference refer to the referendum on procreation section on the official website.

The Italian bishops’ stand has roused criticism regarding the compatibility of such a direct commitment with the balance of the Concordat, and has opened the debate among Catholics. Some Catholics intend to vote to defend the law by voting against the repeal, others have put together a document advocating a Catholic "yes" vote in favour of the repeal.

The referendum that was held on 12 and 13 June 2005 was not validated due to the high level of abstention, a mere 25.9% of those registered actually voted.

D 13 October 2005    AMarco Ventura


The Crucifix in State School Classrooms
While jurists and case law were almost unanimous regarding the incompatibility of hanging crucifixes in public places, based on the principle of (...)

  • The Crucifix in State School Classrooms

While jurists and case law were almost unanimous regarding the incompatibility of hanging crucifixes in public places, based on the principle of secularism, the debate was revived among specialists and especially the public after the decision of an Ofena (near Aquila, in the centre of Italy) judge to have a crucifix removed from the wall of a State school (see the Italian text of the judge’s ruling of 22 October 2003).

While examining a complaint filed by Adel Smith, a radical Muslim who gets a lot of media attention, outraged at knowing that his two children were in a classroom where a cross is on display, the judge, in his judgement, asserted that the crucifixes "show the State’s unequivocal will to place Catholicism at the centre of the universe (…) in State schools, without the slightest bit of consideration for the role of other religions in the history of mankind".
The decision shocked many members of the clergy several politicians in a country where the State is still very much attached to its Catholic roots, although it is officially separated from the State.
"It is a scandalous decision which must be revoked as soon as possible. It is unacceptable for a judge to make a complete break with thousands of years of history", declared Roberto Maroni, the Minister of Employment of the Northern League. Roberto Castelli, Minister of Justice also of the League, made it known that he would order an investigation in order to verify the legal grounds of such a decision, affirming that disciplinary action would be taken if the decision was not in accordance with Italian legislation.
Two laws stipulate that the crucifix must be present in Italian classrooms. These laws date back to the 1920s and were promulgated when Italy was a fascist monarchy. Nevertheless, they are still technically in effect because they were taken up again by the legislation of the 1960s and more recently in the circulars of the Minister of Education. In 1984, Italy signed a new Concordat with the Vatican, according to which Catholicism is no longer the State religion. Tradition, however, is often stronger than the law. While some teachers took down the crucifixes, many classrooms still continue to display this symbol.
Following the intervention of the school and civil authorities, the Ofena judge’s decision was not implemented. On 19 November 2003 the Court of Aquila revoked this ruling (see the Italian text of the Judge’s ruling of 19 November 2003).
At the same time, in a similar case, the Administrative Tribunal of the Veneto region referred the case to the Constitutional Court who is going to have to give a verdict regarding the constitutional legitimacy of requiring the crucifix to be present in State school classrooms (see the Italian text of the Judge’s ruling of 14 June 2004, No.56).

  • The Influence of the Vatican on Passing the Law on Assisted Reproduction

After years of debating, (between the supporters of Catholic bioethics and the supporters of secular bioethics), a law on medically-assisted procreation was passed on 19 February 2004. The bill was particularly supported by a Catholic majority lateral to the parliamentary assemblies which follow the example of the Catholic magisterium, in particular when it comes to the prohibition of xenogeneic procreation techniques (with a donor). This revived the debate on the autonomy of science and medicine against the influence of Church authorities, and more generally on the independence of the Government and the Parliament and the respect of the principle of secularism.

Read the full text of the law on medically assisted procreation No. 40 of 19 February 2004 (in Italian).

  • Islam, Minority Religious Communities and Legal Protection of the Status of Religions

The spreading of new religious movements and the Islam challenge highlight the limits of the Italian system of law on religions, which is founded on the difference of legal status between groups which signed an agreement with the government (thus enjoying a special status) and the others. The Jehovah’s Witnesses and Buddhists signed an agreement in 2000 (with a centre left government), but the Parliament (now made up of a centre right majority) refused to recognise this agreement and make it into a law. The result of this is that the status of these groups has not changed since then. There are huge problems concerning Islamic communities due to the current international situation. Muslims have been expelled for reasons that have more to do with politics than with the law, as no legal assessment was involved. Several sides, especially many Catholic bishops, have suggested that the law on immigration limit the access of Muslim immigrants who might not be able to integrate into a Catholic country.
In 2002 the Berlusconi government presented a bill on religious freedom (which resumes the projects of the Amato and Prodi governments) to reform the common law system that regulates the status of religious minorities.

See the Berlusconi government’s "on religious freedom" on reforming common law applicable to religious groups in Italy, presented on 18 March 2002.

D 6 December 2004    AMarco Ventura

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