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The unification of Italy (1860-70) caused a serious crisis in the relations between the Catholic Church and the new State. The liberal governments of Cavour and his successors began a process of secularisation of institutions and public life, for example the introduction of obligatory civil marriage, 1865; restriction of Catholic religious education in State schools, 1877; reform of the penal laws for the protection of religion, 1889; State control of the welfare and charitable institutions, 1890.
These changes were opposed by the Church hierarchy, which was further concerned by measures aiming to diminish the economic power of the Church, especially by way of abolishing certain Church entities and confiscating their property, between 1866 and 1867. The fact that the unification of Italy was attained by destroying the secular power of the Popes, through the capture of Rome in September 1870, gave particular strength to the hostility felt by many Catholics towards the Kingdom of Italy which was accused of trying to rob the Pope and the Church of their remaining liberty.
The predominantly moderate policy of the Italian Government, particularly after the promulgation of the Law of Guarantees (legge delle Guarentigie) in 1871, gradually reduced the tension in the Church-State relations, which were further improved by the more flexible attitudes of Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) and of Giovanni Giolitti, who led Italian politics in the first fifteen years of the 20th century. However, the outbreak of World War I prevented this rapprochement having any concrete effects.
Following the war, the Fascist party, which was in power from 1922 until the end of the Second World War, initiated a policy of conciliation towards the Catholic Church culminating in the signing of the Lateran Treaties in 1929. These resolved the “Roman question” (the conflict between the Pope and the Italian State about sovereignty on Rome) by creating the Vatican State. The Treaties also restored some of the Church’s privileges ˗ in matrimonial and economic matters and in the field of religious education in State schools ˗ which it had lost during the liberal period.
The promulgation of the Republican Constitution in 1948 formed the basis for the revision of those provisions of the Lateran Concordat which were least compatible with the principles of freedom and equality in religious matters enshrined in the Constitution. However, for a number of national and international reasons, the reform of Italian ecclesiastical law could not be initiated until the 1980s, after a significant process of secularisation (the most important results of which ˗ in the field of legislation ˗ were the introduction of divorce in 1970 and the legalisation of abortion in 1978) had profoundly changed Italian society.
Ferrari, S. (2005). State and Church in Italy. In G. Robbers (Ed.), State and Church in the European Union. Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 209-210.
Data and information concerning religious demography are provided by Todd M. Johnson and Brian J. Grim, eds., World Religion Database (Leiden/Boston: Brill, accessed August 2021).
General information on minority issues (including some references to religious or belief ones) can be found at the page devoted to Italy in Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples https://minorityrights.org/country/italy/.
Legislative acts on the legal status of the main religious organizations are available (in Italian) on the Ministry of the Interior’s official webpage, at https://www.interno.gov.it.
A report on the Italian legal system and government policies about freedom of religion (with some references to religious or belief minorities) is provided in U.S. Department of State – Office of International Religious Freedom, 2020 Report on International Religious Freedom: Italy, available at https://www.state.gov.
For an analysis of the State-religion legal system see
M. Ventura, Religion and Law in Italy, Alphen aan den Rijn: Wolters Kluwer, 2013.
An analysis of the way religion and religious diversity are governed in Italy is provided at http://grease.eui.eu and more widely by Tina Magazzini, The Italian case: 'baptised laicità' and a changing demographic, in A. Triandafyllidou, & T. Magazzini (Eds.), Routledge Handbook on the Governance of Religious Diversity, Abingdon: Routledge, 2020.
Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri – Ufficio del Segretario generale (Ufficio Studi e Rapporti Istituzionali), L’esercizio della libertà religiosa in Italia, Roma: Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri – Dipartimento per l’informazione e l’editoria, 2013 (available, in Italian, at http://presidenza.governo.it.
The legal and social condition of religious minorities in Italy is discussed by R. Mazzola, The Legal Status of Old and New Religious Minorities in the EU - Italian Situation, Granada: Comares, 2021, available at https://www.churchstate.eu.