Church and State in Italy (and Paraguay)
Here’s a story about a controversy now underway in Italy over proposed legislation that would grant certain rights to unmarried couples: http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0700931.htm
Concern that Cardinal Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, might intervene and urge Catholic members of Parliament to vote against the law, a group of Italian Catholics is circulating a petition warning that such an intervention–said to be of unprecedented seriousness– would return Italy to the unfortunate situation that prevailed between the unification of the country and the Lateran Accords, decades which, because the Vatican would not allow Catholics to participate in the new political regime, saw conflict between being a believer and being a citizen The petitioners plead with the bishops “to avoid so great a disaster, which would place our Church and our Country outside of history. While the proposed law may not be thought to be the best, it is also indispensalbe to distinguish between what for believers is obligatory, both in conscience and canonically, and what must be regulated by the lay State for all its citizens. We invite the Bishops’ Conference to take more balanced positions and Catholic members of Parliament to remain faithful to their cosntitutional obligations as legislators for all.”
This appeal immediately provoked a counter-appeal from other Italian Catholic intellectuals, all lay people, it appears. They ask the bishops “to continue clearly and freely to bring moral doctrine and culture to bear on the question of family legislation. We regard as unjust any form of intellectual intimidation against the autonomy of religious thought. We consider it crucial, in order to enrich the pluralism of values in Italian society, that religion occupy a public space in the life of the community. We judge as inappropriate, a symptom of a political use of the religious sphere, the appeal of democratic Catholics that the Italian Church refuse an act of its teaching authority, which the free conscience of lay people and Catholics, including the members of Parliament, can evaluate serenely and with complete freedom.
“The new Concordat of 1984 assigns to the Italian Church, which is no longer the expression of a ‘State-religion,’ an independent role of civil, political and moral witness that is perfectly compatible with the State’s lay and, within its own order, sovereign role. The culture of this country has to free itself from the politicizing shackles of illiberal, old Concordat-style, ideas that seek by oblique arguments to censure religious freedom and its social function.”
The two manifestos can be found, in Italian, at http://www.ilfoglio.it/articolo.php?idoggetto=32312
The discussion has some distinctively Italian features, but it also echoes some features of the US discussion. I think in particular of the tendency on the part of some people here to think that a teaching-intervention by bishops is by itself a violation of the separation of Church and State. In another blog I saw someone protest that the resignation of Edwards’ two aides represented such a violation!
Today’s “La Repubblica,” reports that the Pope, in a speech to papal nuntios of Latin America, spoke of the need to defend the family against lobbies seeking to destroy it. It quotes him as saying that “it is not the role of churchmen but of mature Christian lay people to lead political groups,” but this is probably a reference to the retired bishop who has been suspended because he has decided to run for president of Paraguay–a whole other matter!.