The trouble with the Pope


by Sid (Faisal)
24th September, 2008 at 11:54 pm    

Did you know that the 1929 Lateran Treaty, between Italy and and the Vatican, states that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President and can be prosecuted under the Ministry of Justice? I didn’t either. And neither, it seems, did the Italian comedienne Sabrina Guzzanti. She’s in trouble with the Pope:

Addressing a Rome rally in July, Sabrina Guzzanti warmed up with a few gags about Silvio Berlusconi — her favourite target for her biting impressions — before moving on to some unrepeatable jokes about Mara Carfagna, the Equal Opportunities Minister and one-time topless model.

But then she got religion, and after warning everyone that within 20 years Italian teachers would be vetted and chosen by the Vatican, she got to the punchline: “But then, within 20 years the Pope will be where he ought to be — in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils, and very active ones, not passive ones.”

The joke may have gone done well with her crowd on the Piazza Navona in Rome, but not with Italian prosecutors. She is facing prosecution for “offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person” of Benedict XVI.

The Christian world may have been dismayed, even outraged, at the Muslim reaction in 2005 to Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammed, but Italian law enforcement appears to have had its own sense of humour failure. Giovanni Ferrara, the Rome prosecutor, is invoking the 1929 Lateran Treaty between Italy and the Vatican, which stipulates that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President. Prosecution requires authorisation from the Ministry of Justice, for which Mr Ferrara has applied.

Defenders of Italy’s reputation as a modern secular democracy will be quick to point out that Italian government ministers have always been stauch supporters of freedom of expression.

After all, who can forget Roberto Calderoli, who won votes and PR points back in 2006 for hating immigrants, Muslims and, most notably, for wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Mo-toons. Enlightended politician though he is, I doubt he will be coming to the defence of Ms Guzzanti’s right to insult the Pope.

How about Mario Borghezio? European MP for Northern League (an Italian anti-immigration party), who has vowed to “defend Christianity against profanation by Islam” in a speech made in a church in the northern port town of Genoa.

But Italy’s top prelate, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco wanted everyone to know that a church was no place for whipping up religious hatred and hysteria. The Italian parliament should be used for that kind of thing.

Cardinal Bagnasco condemned Borghezio for making his statement in a church, which he said was “solely a place for prayer and worship,” the Corriere della Sera said.

What can be said of a “liberal western democracy” where jokes about religious figureheads are illegal or democratically elected politicians play the religious-nutter card and its religious leaders condemn them for their religious fundamentalism?


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  1. douglas clark — on 25th September, 2008 at 2:58 am  

    Sid:

    What can be said of a “liberal western democracy” where jokes about religious figureheads are illegal or democratically elected politicians play the religious-nutter card and its religious leaders condemn them for their religious fundamentalism?

    Not a lot.

    But are we not heading into that cultural cul-de-sac too? We – or at least some of us -already consider religion ‘off limits’ for humour. The Muhammad cartoons for instance.

    So what if a stupid MP had this to say:

    How about Mario Borghezio? European MP for Northern League (an Italian anti-immigration party), who has vowed to “defend Christianity against profanation by Islam” in a speech made in a church in the northern port town of Genoa.

    He is clearly an idiot.

    Free speech, sir, works both for our ideals and against them. The point is to rid ourselves of troublesome priests of whatever race, nationality, religion or – in this case – political party, is it not?

    I understand your dyspepsia, but freedom of speech is important too, I think. Whatever stops it must be smashed to bits.

  2. Boyo — on 25th September, 2008 at 8:10 am  

    I agree with Douglas, we need to defend freedom of speech without exception. But at least the poor lady has the consolation of not having had to go in to hiding for fear of vengeful Catholic maniacs.

  3. Sid — on 25th September, 2008 at 8:52 am  

    douglas, yes, freedom of speech should, by definition, have religious parity. But in Italy, it is clearly one-sided.

    boyo, the poor lady is most certainly under fire from vengeful Catholic maniacs but she is also under the delusion that she lives in a “liberal democratic state” which will protect her from them.

    Would we forgive Italy if it accepted to itself and others that it is not a modern liberal secular state but a medieval theocratic princedom?

  4. DavidMWW — on 25th September, 2008 at 10:14 am  

    Charges against Guzzanti were dropped last week.

    But for the wrong reasons. The Minister for Justice decided not to proceed “knowing the depth of the Pope’s capacity for forgiveness”.

  5. Boyo — on 25th September, 2008 at 10:38 am  

    “medieval theocratic princedom”

    medieval, yes, but the rest? doesn’t look it from where i’m sitting ;-)

  6. Sid — on 25th September, 2008 at 10:45 am  

    haha, i thought i’d overstated by adding the medieval appellation. But theocratic – yes, and the prince is, of course, Berlusconi – who has been ordained as a Catholic saint by the City of Genoa. I kid you not.

  7. Don — on 25th September, 2008 at 3:14 pm  

    “knowing the depth of the Pope’s capacity for forgiveness”.

    Sounds like an invitation to explore how deep that capacity can be.

    Oh, and let’s not forget that the Lateran Treaty was signed by Benito Mussolini.

  8. Chris E — on 25th September, 2008 at 4:44 pm  

    Anyone who believes that this was anything other than a purely political bit of theatre is a fool.

  9. Boyo — on 25th September, 2008 at 10:32 pm  

    It’s true Il Papa didn’t give a toss. The irony is that in Italy the Church is actually the voice of liberal moderation – the only one sticking up for the gypsies for example. Cue howls of outrage from offended liberals (who over here ban mosques).

  10. Muhamad [peace be upon me] — on 26th September, 2008 at 12:12 pm  

    Il papa si fa le canne?

  11. Johnbarnes — on 26th September, 2008 at 7:41 pm  

    “who has been ordained as a Catholic saint by the City of Genoa”

    Number 1 its canonize not ordain, number 2 only the Church can make someone a saint and number 3 you have to be dead. Your worse than Sunny.

  12. blah — on 28th September, 2008 at 6:27 pm  

    boyo

    “I agree with Douglas, we need to defend freedom of speech without exception. But at least the poor lady has the consolation of not having had to go in to hiding for fear of vengeful Catholic maniacs.”

    They dont need to because they have the state do it for them. Likewise bombing. Christian extremists who want to kill unbelievers simply vote in Bush and he does it for them. Muslim extremists have to do it themselves

  13. sonia — on 29th September, 2008 at 11:00 am  

    who said Italy was a liberal western democracy? bunch of conservatives.

  14. Ravi Naik — on 29th September, 2008 at 5:45 pm  

    who said Italy was a liberal western democracy? bunch of conservatives.

    What? Conservatives ARE a part of any liberal western democracy. And Italy has hundreds of parties that cater from extreme left to extreme right.

    She’s in trouble with the Pope

    No, she isn’t. The case was closed 10 days ago.

  15. Cover Drive — on 29th September, 2008 at 6:48 pm  

    The irony is that in Italy the Church is actually the voice of liberal moderation – the only one sticking up for the gypsies for example. Cue howls of outrage from offended liberals (who over here ban mosques).

    I like the way he also speaks out for persecuted Christian communities in various parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. He may not always be able to quell anti-Christian violence but at least he raises the issue.

  16. Sid — on 29th September, 2008 at 7:53 pm  

    No, she isn’t. The case was closed 10 days ago.

    But the 1929 Lateran Treaty still stands.

  17. Sid — on 29th September, 2008 at 8:47 pm  

    And lets be clear, the case was *not* closed because the Catholic Church decided that prosecuting her would be a gross violation of a non-secular law which grants the Church special supra-legal priveleges, the case was closed because the Pontiff is “forgiving”.

  18. Ravi Naik — on 30th September, 2008 at 4:55 pm  

    But the 1929 Lateran Treaty still stands.

    Ironically, she often makes fun of Berlusconi, and never had any problems – so according to the Lateran Treaty, that would mean that there would be no penalty for making fun of the Pope as well. :)

  19. Sid — on 30th September, 2008 at 5:56 pm  

    The law exists to protect the Pope not politicians. As someone who pays lipservice to secularism, I’m sure you understand the significance.

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