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EDITORIAL
from issue no. 09 - 2007

Church and State


One of the dates that have remained imprinted on me in the course of my (by now long) life, is 25 March 1947, when the clause of the Constitution on the relations between State and Church was voted. The Holy See (and especially the Secretariat of State) was very keen on explicit mention of the Lateran Pact of 1929 in the Constitution of the Republic


Giulio Andreotti


Palmiro Togliatti during a session of the Constituent Assembly in 1947

Palmiro Togliatti during a session of the Constituent Assembly in 1947

The recent arguments on an alleged encroachment on the sphere of civil society by the Church hark back to the delicate situation immediately after the war, when the issue shaped itself in a particularly subtle way, and had aspects of gratitude for what the parishes had done in support of freedom and of the hangover of a fierce anti-clericalism, born in its time in the dispute about the end of the temporal power.
Fortunately there had been the Lateran Pact of 1929. If we Christian Democrats had had to face the getting over of the “temporal” collision between State and Church, there would have been a serious mess in both directions.
One of the dates that have remained imprinted on me in the course of my (by now long) life, is 25 March 1947, when the clause of the Constitution on the relations between State and Church was voted.
The Holy See (and especially the Secretariat of State) was very keen on explicit mention of the Lateran Pact of 1929 in the Constitution of the Republic.
Let me first say that Monsignor Montini had been of great help in avoiding the protection of the Vatican being entrusted to the Allies by the peace treaty. It would have been implicit mistrust of Italy and we were glad it had been avoided.
Citing the Lateran Pact was seen by some as implicit praise of the government of 1929, but it was a somewhat mean-minded view. Nevertheless the votes needed to get the proper expression to pass weren’t there and De Gasperi, in exceptional fashion, signed up to speak and explain it publicly.
That morning Dossetti had gone in his turn to the Secretariat of State to explain, but around midday the journalist Emilio Frattarelli came to the Viminal, bearing a confidential message from Togliatti, that announced their vote in favor, but with an absolute embargo on it up to six in the evening, the time the sitting opened. In effect, when he got up to speak and announced this... convergence, howls arose from the socialist benches (wildly excited the Hon. Tonello shouted: «Treachery, treachery!»).
Togliatti justified their decision by respect for a large section of the Italians who wanted it, leaving aside their general party adherence.
Many years later I reproduced that historic and exemplary vote count in 30Days.
What is lacking today in public life is a deep inspiration. The tendency to pragmatism – exalting it – could wither the historic and cultural roots of the Italian system.
It is a danger that, unfortunately, not many see.
When – many years ago – I was young I listened with boredom and often with impatience to the summary judgments both of those who saw a progressive worsening in behavior and of those who defended the present with conviction, pointing out signs of progress in it.
In truth these almost statistical summations are difficult and often misleading.
Often occasional circumstances make you aware – surprising you – of very positive aspects when you don’t expect them. But the contrary is also true.
This knowledge could push you into a resigned indifference and would not be either just or objective.
Giovanni Battista Montini, substitute at the Secretariat of State

Giovanni Battista Montini, substitute at the Secretariat of State

I remember the lesson of a high school teacher who repeated a saying, I don’t know whether it was his own or someone else’s: «Before making an experience of this case, try it and try it again two or three times (though», he added, «it ought to be a thousand)».
Watch out though: one mustn’t exaggerate this cautious attitude, suspending judgment on events or people to infinity.
A magistrate friend of mine told me he felt very humble because his profession is the sole one for which the law presupposes one can make a mistake, providing one or more stages for rehearing to check fittingness and reach certainty.
What, however, causes negative effects in the matter – and specifically in judicial activity – is the widespread habit of indiscretion. In a phase of my life when I had to deal with this issue I was disconcerted to see news in the press, detailed even, of confidential decisions, days (sometimes weeks) in advance of the due date of publication.
People were more careful in the past. I remember that the minister Gonella obtained a small supplement to the budget of the Ministry of Justice for postal costs, so avoiding sending the documents in open envelopes, the postage of which costs less.
I myself had the first news of the specific seven-year business in which I found myself from a leak in the newspapers. And for that matter, so far as I know, there are no penalties for breaching the confidentiality of a legal enquiry. That is very serious. Because according to tradition, if information appears in the press (even more if broadcast on television), there is a strong presumption of its truth. The typical phrase, here, is this: «It’s true, I read it in the newspaper».
During the Constituent Assembly, apart from the general rules on the subject, a special law was made to deal with obscene publications, equating with them what may also upset the sensibilities of adolescents.
That moment in time is worth reflecting on. The members of the Constitutent Assembly were certainly neither bigots nor little interested in the rights to freedom; and the norms they adopted indicate a sensibility, that must be regained.
Connected with the judicial statistics are those on the return to crime of people who have benefited from provisions of amnesty or pardon.
It’s an old problem. It’s said that during the monarchy, when it was announced that a royal princess would soon become a mother, infringements increased (especially for smuggling tobacco), relying on the “pardon” granted at royal births.
In Parliament since 1946, I have several times joined provisions of clemency – and in one case have introduced one. I feel no uneasiness nor do I regret it.
Given the link of subject, let me mention the duty of the Christians to perform “works of mercy”. And if for some of those which the Catechism prescribes performance cannot be symbolic (such as “burying the dead”), concern for the imprisoned instead should be considered to the letter, even if in the forms that differing circumstances entail.
As for substantial concern for the poor, one must avoid interpreting the relative obligations set down for public institutions by contemporary social legislation as an exemption from individual charity; which is certainly not material help only but is also that.
The invitation to contribute for the missions is not only for the poor but also for another collective purpose. It is made in churches but also – even if in reduced form nowadays – with the small collection boxes in the public shops, with the little black boy who bows his head in thanks. Once upon a time these collections were widespread, even in the schools
The invitation to contribute for the missions is not only for the poor but also for another collective purpose. It is made in churches but also – even if in reduced form nowadays – with small collection boxes in the public shops, with the little black boy who bows his head in thanks. Once upon a time these collections were widespread, even in the schools.
Apart from the specialized magazines, the world of the missions is little spoken of despite the interest of the subject. In many areas, along with preaching the Gospel – the Protestant one also – the missionaries are also widely present in educational and health structures.
I have had occasion to meet a settlement of Capuchin nuns, refugees from China and living in a forest on the banks of the famous river Kwai. They moved my heart begging me to send their greetings to Giorgio La Pira, who used to send a monthly letter to all the cloistered nuns of the world.
Some years ago there was a lively debate with those who opposed the admission of the Holy See to the United Nations as observer. The argument advanced by those against was the extraneousness of the supernatural in the context of civil institutions. Many people don’t know of the social commitment of the Church and its ramifications.
In Italy especially, objective comparison of these problems was for a long time hampered by confusion with aspects of the Roman Question linked to the temporal power of the Church.
A document of the Italian Parliament (then located in Florence) remains exemplary. In cutting short a debate not proper to a political body, it says: «The Chamber, not concerning itself with the infallibility of the Pontiff, passes on to the order of the day».
It is a Parliamentary record to remember.


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