Italy’s Object Lesson

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If you were looking for an object lesson on why the separation of church and state is a good idea, look no further than Italy, where a satirist is being prosecuted for insulting Pope Benedict XVI.


Sabina Guzzanti: Pope insulter.

“Italy’s Ministry of Justice has given prosecutors in Rome permission to proceed under the Lateran Treaty against comedienne and satirist Sabina Guzzanti. She is charged with “offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person” of Pope Benedict XVI. During a comedy routine Guzzanti criticized the Vatican’s interference in issues such as gay rights, saying: ‘Within twenty years the Pope will be where he ought to be, in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils…'”

All hyperbole aside, Guzzanti is literally being charged under a fascist law. The Lateran Treaty of 1929 was the great solution to the “Roman Question”, a political dispute between the Italian Government and the Papacy. This treaty recognized the sovereignty of the Holy See, and established a concordat giving the Catholic Church certain privileges within Italian society (including the punishment of insults against the Pope). The whole thing was approved by arch-fascist Benito Mussolini, a fact that hasn’t escaped critics of this prosecution.

“Nobel prize-winning playwright Dario Fo said of the decision to take action against a comedian: “This is Fascism pure and simple.” Ms Guzzanti’s father, a centre Right MP, was shocked by the prosecution. According to The Times Paolo Guzzanti branded it: ‘a return to the Middle Ages. Perhaps my daughter should be be submitted to the judgement of God by being made to walk on hot coals.'”

What are Catholics saying? So far, very little. After a few searches I could only find one Catholic blog commenting on the story, and while he isn’t for the comic being jailed for five years (that would make her a martyr to free speech you see), he is for a good public shaming!

“I think these individuals should, however, be firmly answered in the public forum, not along the lines of “oh my, we’re so offended” but rather with an argument such as “think about what you are saying” … and then listing the qualities of this Pope that make her comments so mindless in comparison. In other words, shame these people, don’t jail them. Sending them to jail makes them look like a sort of brave martyr for free speech, shaming them with the truth makes them look exactly like what they are – idiots.”

As you can see, the quality of mercy is not strained. You can have free speech, so long as you endure a lecture from the powers that be on how you’re wrong. As for the Vatican, no official statement has been released. They are too busy distancing themselves from Catholic attacks on resurgent fascist tendencies in Italian society, and urging secular France to remember a more religious past.

One can only hope this farce of justice is stopped. Meanwhile, those of us in countries where that church-state separation is a bit more clear should be grateful that the Bill Donohues of this world can’t have comedians and artists sent to trial and locked up.