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Italian Constitutional Court Upholds Preference for Catholic Church

December 3, 1957
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The Italian Constitutional Court ruled today upholding the constitutional validity of a provision of the Penal Code which provides for heavier penalties for offenses committed against the Catholic Church than against non-Catholic religions Jewish and Protestant circles here attributed considerable importance to the courts decision because it implicitly confirmed Catholicism as the State religion of Italy despite Article Eight of the Constitution which proclaims equality of religions.

Article 404 of the Penal Code had been attacked as being recognition of a special status of the Catholic Church in Italy in violation of Article Eight of the Constitution. The court based its ruling on Article One of the Lateran Treaty which defines Catholicism as the State religion in Italy. This is incorporated in Article Seven of the Constitution.

The court held that the different treatment accorded the Catholic Church by virtue of the Penal Code article was not in conflict with Article Eight “because no limitation derives from it to the free expression of other religions.” The court’s ruling also noted that the Catholic Church had a different position from that of other religious organizations because of the ancient, uninterrupted tradition of the Italian people belonging almost entirely to Catholicism.

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