Finally the LDS Church receives full recognition in Italy, but is there a price to pay for full equality?

Laura Asioli joined the church at 8 years old in Pescara, Italy when naively seeking English lessons from American missionaries. She studied Law and Italian law LLB followed by a Competition laws LLM. She qualified as a financial services solicitor in 2010 and has since worked in house for a commercial bank in London. She is a mother of a 16 month old boy with another one on the way. She is counting down the days to her maternity leave in January! We are delighted to have her as our guest.

Less than 4 years from President Monson’s announcement that a Temple would be built in Rome, Italy’s President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano signed the ‘Intesa con lo Stato’, a document granting the LDS Church the same status as the Catholic Church in Italy.

Italian members feel this is nothing short of a miracle and the beginning of something very exciting. A miracle, yes; but also proof of the much quoted mantra ‘pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you’ actually works.

Members of the Church haven’t sat back in the last 5 years since the original ‘intesa’ was signed (for 5 years the intesa existed but had not been ratified by law, thus was just an ‘ideal’). For the past 5 years, General Authorities and members in Italy have been actively engaged in a good cause – obtaining for the LDS Church full religious freedom.

It is worth noting that back in 2007 the LDS Church was linked with other faiths in ‘lobbying’ for the intesa to be ratified. The Italian Government did not confirm the status of the other faiths however on 30 July. Why? Because they were asking the Italian Government more than what the LDS Church were, presumably funding of some sort. This has been another testament that the law of tithing & offerings practised by faithful members in Italy has even more blessings than immediately meet the eye.

The blessings the intesa will be bring are many, but perhaps the one which has brought a sigh of relief for most Italian members is that finally they wont have to sit through another documentary describing Mormonism as a ‘cult’ or even worst non-Christians!

One member in Italy even described the difficulties in finding land to build a chapel on. For months they would approach the local council for land which had been offered for sale. When the purpose of the purchase would be explained, the councils would refuse to sell the land for one reason or another.

Hopefully, the ratifying into law of the intesa should bring about the end of a lot of discrimination.

The only problem that has been discussed amongst members in Italy surrounding the intesa, (admittedly amongst Italian LDS lawyers) is that, certain professions will now be incompatible with certain Church offices. Under Italian law, ‘ministri di culto’ (religious ministers) cannot be legal professionals nor can they be local councillors or mayors (parenthetically, they can be elected to parliament but I think that is a lacuna). The theory is that they may take advantage of congregations for their work related/political means. There is a worry that, for example, a well loved, local Catholic priest could preach from the pulpit that his congregation are to vote him in as town Mayor. Clearly this has little relevance for Mormon congregations where a Bishop is likely to preside over a small congregation which ministers to the whole town and are therefore unlikely to influence the vote in a substantial way. Although pretty much all legal professions are incompatible with any office above that of Branch President it is a small price to pay to be on par with the Catholic church.

Obviously this creates some problems with the members of the church and also the local leadership. For members it means they may be placed in the difficult situation of potentially being called to serve as a Bishop: if you were to accept the call you also would need to give up the career you have trained all you life for. Do you change your job or refuse the calling? For leaders this may mean that you are now feel unable to call certain members of the Stake or that this is a great burden to place on someone.

Difficult one – suddenly I am grateful that I’m Italian, LDS, a lawyer and also a woman, so will never be in such a difficult predicament…

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Very interesting! Maybe I’m faithless, but there is no way I would accept a calling as bishop under these circumstances, assuming I was making my living as an attorney.

  2. NewlyHousewife says:

    I imagine like most things, the church will just reword the duties. For example, my bishop only speaks to the ward during Fast and Testimony. He doesn’t give talks on Sundays, neither do his counselors who do most of the meeting’s presiding anyway. Also, since none of our Bishops go to school to get training on being ministers I don’t think the paperwork would call them that in Italy.

    It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a loophole if the Church Handbook in Italy mentions bishops are not to give over-the-pulpit talks outside of letters from the presidency. However, if a change of wording can’t be found–maybe Bishops will be paid for their service to help offset the lost of a paycheck?

  3. NewlyHousewife, as I understand it, the problem is not how much a person speaks to the congregation but the ecclesiastical weight of their speech. I am pretty sure that the Church do not want to undermine the local authority of Bishops in order to call a few lawyers as local leaders in Italy.

    Kevin, I can imagine that a few people would feel that way.

  4. Aaron — exactly. There are a number of issues that go into status determinants. But the improved status is a blessing for the Church, even though it might well be a burden for members.

    As to giving up a profession, when they called Robert Oaks to be a stake president, he had just started work in the area (the only reason he was there was for a job he had taken). He ended up resigning his job because the stake needed a full time stake president for a while. Sometimes you will find yourself making sacrifices you did not expect were ever possible. Without being asked.

  5. J. Stapley says:

    Is it possible that this is similar to the situation in the US, which is regularly ignored? That is, I seem to remember that a member of a group which hears confession (Bishopric, SP, and High Council), should not have legal mandatory reporting responsibilities. I need to look that up to confirm it. If that is indeed the case, it would technically exclude law enforcement, teachers, medical professionals, etc.

  6. Peter LLC says:

    Hopefully, the ratifying into law of the intesa should bring about the end of a lot of discrimination.

    If the last 57 years in Austria are any guide, official discrimination will end but public perceptions will not be swayed by a “technicality.”

  7. themormonbrit says:

    Very interesting post. I’m with Aaron, I can’t imagine the Church ever undermining the authority of a Bishop to the extent that would be required to satisfy the Italian authorities. I imagine the Church will either stop calling legal professionals as Bishops, or simply request that those they cal be prepared to sacrifice their employment for the sake of the calling.

  8. “Under Italian law, ‘ministri di culto’ (religious ministers) cannot be legal professionals nor can they be local councillors or mayors (parenthetically, they can be elected to parliament but I think that is a lacuna). The theory is that they may take advantage of congregations for their work related/political means.”

    I am just curious as to what the term “legal professionals” entails. Does this mean a profession like a professor or a nurse could serve as a Bishop just fine? What are the odds that all eligible ward members for leadership positions fall into the restriction?

    I can see why they have that law though. Just recently a Bishop here in Utah scammed some members of all their retirement savings with a ponzi scheme fraudulent type of investment. He used his position to gain the confidence of his victims. Although rare, unfortunately it happens.

    In any case, it is good news that discrimination will decrease (at least on a legal basis).

  9. J. (5), I glanced through the Handbook (though not in any great detail) and didn’t see any such requirement. In fact, in most, if not all, US states, a bishop, by virtue of his being clergy becomes a mandated reporter for child abuse purposes; in Utah, in fact, everybody is a mandated reporter when it comes to the abuse of children. So not calling as bishops persons who may have disclosure obligations would be a fairly self-defeating proposition .

  10. Laura – Does this impact the way temple marriages are recognized? I seem to remember from my time as a missionary there that temple sealings were not recognized as marriages so couples would get married locally before traveling up to Switzerland to be sealed.

  11. Forza ai membri Italiani! What a great day for the Church in Italy. With the construction of the Rome temple, the Church is emerging ever brighter in a place of great food, great beauty and even better people. The Church is looking at a work-around for the ministri di culto to create some space. From my point of view, I can see the rationale behind the law. While it could create definite burdens, it would also prevent a lot of abuses. I cannot see the Church receiving any treatment on this that the Catholic Church would not also receive — and I think it is a good idea with the kind of power wielded by Church leaders (of both churches) to separate professional interests from ecclesiastical power.

    As a missionary in Italy I learned to love the members and saw first hand the costs of ostracism and alienation that almost inevitably followed from joining the Church. I have no doubt that many faithful members would willingly give up their professions if they felt that God called them to serve as a bishop or stake president — the ones I knew were just that committed. I admired them then and I admire them now for that kind of faithfulness.

  12. Thank you, Laura. This is an important, interesting post.

  13. Of course it should be allowed, but, seriously, just what Rome needs-another religious site. Sheesh.

  14. Laura, thanks for the post. I find the entire process surrounding the intesa to be very interesting, and I was not aware of the restrictions on ministri di culto.

    J., Handbook 1, 6.10.1 indicates that those church leaders who, due to their occupation, may have a legal duty to report facts disclosed in a disciplinary council should not participate in the council.

    Jenw, the intesa provides that temple presidents, mission presidents, stake presidents, bishops, and branch presidents are all authorized to solemnize civil marriages.

  15. Laura Asioli says:

    Hi Jenw, as KTB explained, the ministri di culto will all be able to perform civil ceremonies. There is no mention of Temple marriages in the intesa but I’m sure couples will have to get married civilly first. The Italian government/local authorities have long been uncomfortable with the ‘secrecy’ aspect of LDS temples and I can’t see them (for the time being at least, anything is possible!) allowing a public ceremony occur in such a ‘private’ place. Realistically since most members (again, this could change rapidly!) have the most part of their friends/family outside of the Church, they would probably continue to celebrate both weddings even if the law did change!

  16. Laura, since temple presidents are not authorized by the Church Handbook to perform non-temple civil marriages (unlike mission, stake, and branch presidents and bishops), the inclusion in the intesa of temple presidents among those authorized to perform civil marriages indicates to me that the Church anticipates that temple sealings would also have civil effect. Is there a legal requirement for a public ceremony (as I understand there is in the U.K., for example) or other requirements that would make this problematic?

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