- 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).
- 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.
- 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.