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11 February

The recent celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy have, among other things, promoted a more thoughtful reflection on the historical development of the relations between Church and State in Italy, as well as on the contribution Catholics have made to the country’s development. It has been a reflection which, thanks to the gradual attenuation of passions, accompanied by the inexorable passing of time has shed clearer light on the aspects of a long process.

From the initial differences, this has come about positively, in a crescendo of reciprocal esteem and cooperation, enriching many dimensions of Italian society and fostering in the social body the growth of the values of identity, which took shape long before the political Unification and to the forging of which Christianity made a major contribution.

The reflection on the past highlighted in particular that the history of relations between the Church and the unified State, since the achievement of the lofty aim of national unity, has been marked more in the sense of continuity than — as commonly claimed — of rupture.

The full impact of the absolute peculiarity of the Italian situation was in fact felt the day after 20 September 1870, together with the need to guarantee the Holy See full freedom for its lofty role in Italy and in the world; a freedom that necessarily also postulates full freedom and an appropriate legal status for the Church in Italy of which the Pope is Primate. Not by chance did the Legge delle Guarentigie [Law of Guarantees] of 13 May 1871 propose to solve the problem. Moreover, although the solutions it provided for turned out to be juridically inadequate, it is nevertheless worth noting that the Law of Guarantees was the political result of surmounting opposing forms of extremism, pointing out the need to remove the issue from simple common law.

From this viewpoint, therefore, the Lateran Pacts of 1929, whose anniversary we are celebrating today, marked the development in continuity of an idea already implicit in the Guarantees. With the advent of the Constitution of the Republic in 1948, this idea was further developed and rendered even more visible with the measures contained in art. 7 and with the guarantees postulated for all with regard to religious freedom. In fact, the Charter explains and develops an Italian notion of secularism. One that is not conflictual but positive, not of opposition but of collaboration, based on a distinction between the orders — political and religious — as an antidote to every form of political absolutization and likewise to every form of ideological or religious fundamentalism, a secularism characterized by the principle of healthy collaboration.

In this manner the religious peace, which with time came into being, fostered peace in society and nurtured in minds attention to the common good: a presupposition of sentiments of solidarity at the individual level in social training, both of which appear essential for a cohesive and just political community. Although these sentiments of solidarity, as de Tocqueville noted, are still necessary, they are especially essential in a democracy, in order to overcome the temptations of utilitarian particularism.

The revision of the Concordat in 1984 expresses, from some aspects, the loftiest moment, a conscious expression of this process, whereby, the constitutional — but also conciliar — principle reaffirms the independence and sovereignty of the Church and of the State in their respective provinces and formulates the commitment of both parties: full respect “for this principle in all their mutual relations and to reciprocal collaboration for the promotion of man and the good of the country”.

As such, obviously, the commitment is for the future; yet, these words cannot but be perceived as the finishing line of a well-tried experience, and which, therefore, it was desirable to continue over time.

The Holy See can only assure the Italian Republic of its sincere and scrupulous fulfilment of what was agreed. For her part, the Church in Italy has carried out and continues to carry out with great commitment the pastoral, educational and charitable mission of evangelization and sanctification which is incumbent upon her. This commitment is constantly encouraged, promoted and sustained by the words and solicitude of the Holy Father.

It must nevertheless be pointed out that the juridical experience sometimes tends to proceed in directions other than those specified by the agreement and provided by the legislation. One’s thoughts turn to certain orientations of jurisprudence that do not seem to take sufficiently into account the system of law as a whole and risk emptying it of its content art. 8 of the Concordat, of the part treating the delibation in Italy of sentences of matrimonial nullity issued by ecclesiastical tribunals.

It must be reaffirmed that the commitment contained in it is precisely that of giving efficacy to canonical sentences, since cases of non-delibation must remain the exception rather than the rule. This means that in cases of the delibation of sentences themselves, account must be taken of “the explicit nature of Canon Law which governs the marital bond and in which it has its origin”, which, not by chance, the Concordat mentions.

Further, on the topic of marriage, there now seems to be an urgent need for an intervention, for which the Italian legislator is exclusively competent, to replace the antiquated law n. 847 of 1929 and the new dispositions mentioned for the application of the norms of the Concordat concerning matrimony. This was also in order to provide for more appropriate interventions on behalf of the weaker parties, in the case of invalidly contracted canonical marriages, paying due attention to the changed social and economic contexts.

It is hoped that also in a matter whose regulation constitutes one of the reasons for the Concordat and, at the same time, one of its mainstays, as indeed is the regulation of matrimony, a positive and healthy collaboration, in the sole interest of the human person and his or her religious freedom will continue to be pursued.

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