Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Status and privileges in Italy



Rome, 10 Jan. (AKI) - A top Catholic cleric has spoken out against legislation being discussed in the Italian parliament to grant equal rights to all religious faiths in mainly Catholic Italy. "In the current constitutional context, the equal freedom of each confession does not imply full equality. The state should be careful not to sign too many agreements," Giuseppe Betori, the secretary of the Italian Bishops' Conference (CEI), was quoted as telling parliament's commission on constitutional affairs by the Italian media on Wednesday.

The aim of the draft law is to regulate Italy's relations with minority religions to avoid their discrimination - allowing, for example, other confessions besides Catholicism to be taught in public schools.

Betori's statements have angered the leaders of minority religious communities in Italy.

"The state should be impartial towards other religions," said Paolo Ricca, a leading member of the Protestant Valdensian community, which numbers today some 45,000 members.

Riccardo Pacifici, the leader of Rome's Jewish community, said Betori's words "bring the clock back" in time. The Jewish Italian community totals some 45,000 members.

Roman Catholicism, which was proclaimed the state religion under the Lateran Treaty signed during the Fascist regime in 1929, lost that distinction under an agreement with the Vatican ratified in 1985, but the Church maintained a privileged status within Italy, where over 90 percent of the population is Catholic.

Italy has signed a number of agreements with representatives of other religions such as Judaism and the Protestant Valdese Church but not with Islam, which represents the second largest religious grouping in Italy, estimated to number some one million.

On the one hand, Italy and the Catholic Church have been intertwined for millennia. On the other hand, a modern state really shouldn't favor one group of citizens over another.

Retaining the Catholic Church's privileged status is I think important to maintaining Italy's heritage. The secretary of CEI could be a bit more politic in his choice of words. This isn't an issue that should be divisive. Instead of talking about 'equality' and 'freedom' and 'the state shouldn't be making too many agreements', the Church would be better served by mentioning 'Italy's storied history' and 'the Church's role in supporting and maintaining the Italian identity'. Something like that would be good.

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