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 â€” her favourite target for her biting impressions â€” 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 â€” 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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Filed in: Moral police