Op/Ed#2 The Odd Couple: A Tale of Italy’s Dubious Relationship with Politics and Religion

By: Hannah Long

Image Source: Winfield, Nicole. “Woman Close to Vatican Cardinal Arrested in Corruption Probe.” AP NEWS. Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/international-news-italy-arrests-milan-vatican-city-3a08a8a41a07aa43ccd985b3d6868bd8.

“There’s no government; there’s no pope.” What better sentence to begin this second op/ed that explores the strained and ultimately corrupt relationship of Italy’s state and religion. While Italy plays a huge role on the global stage many people overlook the country’s deeper history, which has come to shape the place where many only see it as their favourite vacation destination and nothing more. Failing to understand the dramatic shift this society has taken post Second World War, which forced Italy to rethink and restructure their society to meet the new democratic standards. And while many European countries immediately flocked to either progressive or conservative government structures Italy found itself never really finding any permanent footing to begin with. 

Since 1948, the country has had 68 governments, one of the many reasons for this volatility is in large part due to the Catholic Church’s long historical ties to political undertakings within the country, such was the case in 2005 when the Church encouraged voters to abstain from voting, after a referendum was likely to occur. Many Italian citizens have felt this constant shift back and forth, with many stating the consistent failings of politicians and the increasingly out of touch role the Catholic Church has with the public in modern times. By having a society that is so entrenched in tradition the translation to fully hit the mark in terms of having a free uncorrupted state is difficult to obtain, with the main question being how does one progress away from such an ingrained system of religious interference? And is less interference really needed? As many would argue, it has worked so far.

Image Source: Sullivan, Andrew. “Andrew Sullivan: The Corruption of the Vatican’s Gay Elite Has Been Exposed.” Intelligencer. Intelligencer, February 22, 2019. https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/02/andrew-sullivan-the-vaticans-corruption-has-been-exposed.html.

Many sources highlight the complex relationship both the state and Church had with one another under a historical lens, influencing each other and the future they would take during the 20th century, ultimately shaping much of what encompasses modern Italy today. With such a large portion of the population adhering to Catholicism or having some relation to the religion, it becomes difficult to separate the two from each other becoming a common reality in everyday life. While the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi at the end of the century did bring some relative calm to the rapidly succeeding rate of heads of state, much of his party’s philosophy was derived from Catholic rhetoric, which reintroduced conservative religious politics on a majority scale for the first time since the fascist regime. There may be a sense that the Catholic Church’s authority has faded in recent years, as many have become further disillusioned over scandals such as Vatileaks back in 2012 which exposed tax cover-ups, sex scandals and blackmailing towards homosexual clergymen, and also being given the title of most corrupt state in Western Europe in 2021, the reality is that there history with the people and spiritual significance over Italian society still outweighs wrongdoings.

With the recent induction of the Country’s first Fascist party since Mussolini it will be difficult to predict what the future may bring between state and religion, perhaps nothing will and everything will remain the same, or as many sources are already hinting, maybe there will be a better environment for both politicians and the clergy alike to cross paths. As many young Italians may find their priorities aligned with the ideals of an Italy that was once was, like so many others have who find themselves in right wing politics. A longing for a past and a better time is a key thought in the minds of everyone globally as Covid-19 kept the country gridlocked for much of 2020, and with religion providing a comfort in times of uncertainty many young Italians are finding themselves becoming more spiritual. In addition to more up and coming leaders not being shy about their ties with Catholic beliefs, one thing is for certain this new religious Italian landscape remains just as robust and fragile as it once was.

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