International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. There is no state religion; however, the Catholic Church receives some privileges not available to other faiths.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. The Catholic Church's historic and continuing predominant role in society leads to controversy when Church teaching is perceived as instruction to Catholic legislators on matters of public policy. Increasing immigration has led to some antiimmigrant sentiment; since many migrants are Muslim, religion becomes an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 116,347 square miles and its population is approximately 57.8 million. An estimated 85 percent of native-born citizens are nominally Roman Catholics. Members of Jehovah's Witnesses form the second largest denomination among such citizens, numbering approximately 400,000 adherents. However, immigration--both legal and illegal--continues to add large groups of non-Christian residents, mainly Muslims from North Africa, South Asia, Albania, and the Middle East, who now number an estimated 1 million. Buddhists include approximately 40,000 Europeans and 20,000 Asians.

Scientologists claim approximately 100,000 members, Waldensians approximately 30,000 members, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) approximately 20,000 members. A Jewish community of approximately 30,000 persons maintains synagogues in 21 cities. Other significant religious communities include Orthodox churches and small Protestant groups, Japanese Buddhists, and South Asian Hindus.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The 1947 Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

Prior to the Constitution's adoption, the country's relations with the Catholic Church were governed by a 1929 Concordat, which established Catholicism as the country's state religion. A 1984 revision of the Concordat formalized the principle of a secular state but maintained the principle of state support for religion--support that also could be extended, if requested, to non-Catholic confessions. In such cases, state support is to be governed by legislation implementing the provisions of an accord ("intesa") entered into by the Government and the religious confession. If a religious community so requests, an intesa may provide for state routing, through a voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns, of funds to that community--a privilege that some communities initially declined but later requested. An intesa grants ministers of religions automatic access to state hospitals, prisons, and military barracks; allows for civil registry of religious marriages; facilitates special religious practices regarding funerals; and exempts students from school attendance on religious holidays. The absence of an intesa does not affect a religious group's ability to worship freely; however, the privileges granted by an intesa are not always granted automatically, and a religious community without an intesa may not benefit financially from the voluntary check-off on taxpayer returns.

In 1984 the first such accord granted specific benefits to the Waldensian Church. Similar accords (which require lengthy procedures to obtain) extended similar benefits to the Adventists and Assembly of God (1988), to Jews (1989), and to Baptists and Lutherans (1995). In March 2000, the Government signed accords with the Buddhist Union and Jehovah's Witnesses; however, these intese did not receive parliamentary ratification before that Government left office. With new filings initiated by the Mormons (1998), the Apostolic Church (2000), the Orthodox Church (of the Constantinople Patriarchate) (1998), Hindus (2001), and (Japanese Buddhist) Soka Gakkai (2001), the current Government, elected in May 2001, chose to complete work on pending requests and submit all such accords to Parliament as a single package. Divisions among the country's Muslim organizations, as well as its multiple Muslim immigrant groups, have hindered that community's efforts to seek an intesa.

The revised Concordat of 1984 accorded the Catholic Church certain privileges. For example, the Church is allowed to select Catholic teachers to provide instruction in "hour of religion" courses taught in the public schools. The teachers are paid by the State. This class is optional, and students who do not wish to attend are free to study other subjects or, in certain cases, to leave school early. While in the past this instruction involved Catholic priests teaching Catechism, church-selected instructors now may be either lay or religious, and their instruction is intended to include material relevant to non-Catholic faiths. Problems may arise in small communities where information about other faiths and numbers of non-Catholic communicants is limited. The Constitution prohibits state support for private schools; however, declining enrollment in Catholic schools has led Catholic Church officials, as operators of the country's most extensive network of private schools, to seek government aid.

While Roman Catholicism is no longer the state religion, its role as the dominant one occasionally gives rise to problems--some overt, others subtly societal. In January 2002, the Pope called on Catholic jurists to boycott divorce cases; however, Justice Minister Roberto Castelli noted that judges should not exercise "conscientious objection" in discharging their duties. Subsequent to a series of Church consultations with political leaders prior to May 2001 elections, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi underlined the secular nature of the State and the Constitution's explicit separation of church and state. In June 2002, Parliament passed a Vatican-inspired bill forbidding the use of donated sperm for artificial insemination. The legislation drew support from Catholic legislators across the political spectrum (and secular conservatives and Communists joined to oppose it).

The continuing presence of Catholic symbols, such as crucifixes, which may be found hanging on courtroom or government office walls, has drawn criticism and has been the object of lawsuits. In 2000 the Court of Cassation ruled in favor of a schoolteacher who asserted that crucifixes should not be present at voting sites maintained by a secular state. However, attempts by individual teachers to remove crucifixes from the classroom in public schools, in deference to Muslim students, have resulted in newspaper editorial criticism for "excessive zeal."

Missionaries or religious workers do not encounter problems but must apply for appropriate visas prior to arriving in the country.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Religious and government officials encourage mutual respect for religious differences.

In view of the negative aspects of the country's Fascist past, government leaders routinely acknowledge and pay tribute to Jews victimized by the country's 1938 racial laws.

In October 2001, Rome Mayor, Walter Veltroni, conferred "honorary citizenship" on Rome's Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, on the occasion of his retirement after 50 years of service in the city. President Ciampi, Senate President Marcello Pera, and Chamber of Deputies President Pier Ferdinando Casini attended the ceremony. Following the December 2001 terrorist attacks in Israel, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi attended a memorial service in Rome's synagogue; this was the first time a Prime Minister had visited the synagogue.

Increasing immigration, much of it from China, South Asia, North and West Africa, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East, is altering demographic and cultural patterns in communities across the country and has led to some antiimmigrant sentiment. As many migrants are Muslim, religion becomes an additional factor differentiating them from native-born citizens. Some Catholic prelates have contributed to popular reaction by emphasizing the perceived threat posed by immigrants to the country's "national identity" and what they view as the country's need to favor immigration by Catholics "or at least Christians." On occasion Church spokesmen have emphasized the difficulties in Catholic-Muslim mixed marriages.

For example, in June 2000, the press reported that Italian Episcopal Conference Secretary Monsignor Ennio Antonelli commented on the Conference's decision earlier that year to tighten dispensation for Catholics to marry Muslims. He said that "the problem of mixed marriages is also tied in with the matter of a possible accord between the Italian State and Muslims. The Italian State should assure, in a rigorous manner, that Italian constitutional values are protected, especially in regard to the family." The report further noted that the Conference's current position represented a reversal of previous Church policy, because 3 years earlier Church officials had responded to the growing trend of Catholic-Muslim marriages by organizing classes on Muslim world culture and tradition.

In the fall of 2001, hostile comment directed toward Muslims intensified. Prominent priest Gianni Bagget Bozzo, who often writes for the press, warned that the New York and Washington attacks were consonant with "13 centuries" of Muslim warfare against Christians. Bologna Cardinal Giacomo Biffi reiterated previous calls that immigrants be selected for their ability to integrate into Italian society, "integration" being chiefly dependent on religious identity.

While some political figures repeated these sentiments, the country's top leaders spoke otherwise. President Ciampi warned against "drawing the wrong equation between Islam and terrorism." Senate President Pera visited Rome's mosque to underline that "Islam isn't fundamentalism." In a separate visit to a mosque, Prime Minister Berlusconi spoke out against "criminalizing Islam." In other parts of the country, city and regional authorities reiterated plans to contribute public funds toward building a mosque for Naples' growing Muslim immigrant communities. The Campania regional administration has devoted public funds toward the construction of the planned Naples mosque. Government units in the country normally do not provide funds for the construction of places of worship. However, they sometimes do provide public land for their construction, and they help preserve and maintain historic places of worship that shelter much of the country's artistic and cultural heritage.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.