Page 3, 3rd April 1970

3rd April 1970
Page 3
Page 3, 3rd April 1970 — Bitter Church-State row on divorce

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Locations: Milan, Rome


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Bitter Church-State row on divorce

LONG weeks of complex efforts to form a new Italian Government focused extraordinary attention upon two things — the influence, some critics call it interference, of the Vatican in Italian politics, and the implications for Italy of her getting divorce legalised for the first time in her history.

On the first issue Italy, whose Constitution declares Roman Catholicism the State religion, has not experienced since the war such a bitter Church-State row as that now raging.

The Pope precipitated it when he chose a per:od of al

most unprecedented political instability to warn politicians that passage of a pending Divorce Bill, which was already a major snag in the formation of a new Centre-Left coalition government, would breach the Holy See-Italian State Lateran Treaty which in 1929 healed half a century of Church-State strife.

From the Vatican standpoint one of the key articles in the Treaty acknowledges the indissolubility of Christian marriage and stipulates that Church tribunals alone can annul Italians' Catholic marriages.

In the ensuing uproar, it has

been pretty freely conceded that from a juridical and diplomatic angle the Holy See's intervention in the divorce question was legitimate enough. What was certainly open to criticism was the timing.

Several Italian Jesuit priests. among others, rapped the Vatican. Three of them are professors at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University.

In a newspaper interview, the three took the stand that since the Church "rediscovered" during Vatican II the principle of religious freedom, "this should imply the final abandonment of the demand to impose the moral and religious values of Christianity through the coercive instrument of secular positive law."

Fr. Paolo Tufari, who teaches cultural sociology at the Gregorian, said that a "strange contradiction" could be noted in the Pope's attitude to divorce because he ignored the Church doctrine of religious freedom, although he had said recently that all Church doctrines must be based on doctrinal principles

Fr. Tufari claimed that the Church would "derive inestimable advantages" by approving divorce. For centuries, he said, the Church had neglected a concrete pastoral necessity; that of seriously providing for the training of the consciences of her people on the question of matrimony.

"If civil divorce is introduced in Italy, as we hope, the Church will at last also be compelled to face up to this task." Fr. Tufari said. "Should divorce be rejected, it will be a Pyrrhic victory for the Church, as the main result will be another step towards alienating Italians from Catholicism," He put the potential loss as high as 25 per cent. The young especially, he said, were scandalised by the blackmail tactics the Church was using in the "absurd battle" against


In Milan, another Jesuit, Fr. Angelo Macchi, took the line that the "safeguarding of religious freedom" in a civil society did not require the existence of a concordat.

Jesuit headquarters in Rome, in a communique following the Gregorian priests' statements, emphasised that divorce in Italy was not a pastoral problem, but one to be dealt with on the international level between the Holy See and the Italian State.

The Pope, before the political storm blew up, had already agreed to Vatican-State discussions on outdated clauses in the Lateran Treaty. But he has no intention whatever of giving way on divorce.

The ruling Christian Democrat (Catholic) party is the only party in Parliament that opposes the Divorce Bill.

Prof. Luigi Gedda, national leader of the Civic Committees Movement, political arm of Catholic Action, called for talks with the Vatican and claimed that "two Italians in three" opposed divorce.

This brought fresh interest to a declaration by the Christian Democrats that, even if Parliament passed the Divorce Bill (the Chamber of Deputies has approved it, but it must still go before the Senate. which seems likely to do the same). they would hold a referendum to allow the people to decide the issue.

If this were done, observers feel, the Bill might very well be rejected. Women are the measure's strongest opponents. A woman who gains a legal separation—the closest you can get to divorce in Italy—at least has the comfort of knowing that her husband is legally bound to continue to support her. But divorce, she feels, could cut this legal protection and leave her stranded.

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