Crucifix Ruling Seen as Severing Italy From Roots


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VATICAN CITY, NOV. 3, 2009 ( Italy's bishops are saying the European Court of Human Rights is guilty of a partial and ideological outlook with its Tuesday decision that crucifixes in public school are a violation of freedom.

The Vatican and the Italian government expressed dismay with Tuesday's decision and Italian bishops expressed their own perplexity.

The court ruled in favor of an Italian citizen of Finnish origin who complained in 2002 that the state school where her two children studied violated their freedom by displaying crucifixes.

The school's administration refused to remove them, contending that the crucifix is part of Italian cultural patrimony; Italian courts subsequently backed this claim.

Now, the Strasbourg-based European court has asked the Italian government to compensate the woman with €5,000 ($7,300).

Judge Nicola Lettieri, who defends Italy in Strasbourg, assured that the Italian government will appeal the decision.


The Italian bishops' conference said the decision "causes distress and many perplexities."

"It ignores or neglects the multiple meaning of the crucifix, which not only is a religious symbol, but also a cultural sign," a communiqué from the conference stated. "It does not take into account the fact that, in reality, in the Italian experience, the display of the crucifix in public places is in harmony with the recognition of the principles of Catholicism as part of the historical patrimony of the Italian people, confirmed by the Concordat of 1984."

The bishops cautioned that the ruling "runs the risk of artificially severing the national identity from its spiritual and cultural origins."

The episcopal conference statement maintained that the decision goes beyond a separation of Church and state, and becomes "hostility toward any form of political and cultural relevance of religion."

For his part, jurist Giuseppe Dalla Torre, rector of the LUMSA University of Rome, told the bishops' SIR news agency that the court's argument is "mistaken reasoning based on an assumption that the crucifix might oblige a profession of faith. However, the crucifix is a passive symbol, that is, it does not oblige anyone in conscience."