Italy: The Crucifix Affair

Source: FSSPX News


During the last week of October, the decision of a tribunal of Aquila, about one hundred kilometers from Rome, mandating the removal of the crucifixes from the school of Ofena, set off an important wave of protests in Italian ecclesiastical and political circles. Here is the chronology of events:

The complaint was addressed to the local justice by a certain Adel Smith, 43, an Italian citizen, Muslim convert and self-proclaimed president of the “Union of Italian Muslims”, claiming an outrageous figure of 5,300 members. Being a provocateur and well-known by scandal-seeking media, he could not stand the sight of a crucifix in the school his two young sons were attending.

The decision, written by judge Mario Montanaro, 33 years old, was to be carried out immediately. In this 30 page decision, the Italian magistrate defended “the impartiality of public education vis-à-vis religious phenomena”. He thought the presence of the crucifix in a classroom showed the clear will of the State, in matters of public education, “to put the Catholic religion at the center of the universe, as an absolute truth, without the least bit of respect for the role played by other religious and social experiences in the historic process of human development”. The magistrate thus concluded that the removal of the crucifix was the only possible measure to stop the assault on the right to liberty of the minor sons of the plaintiff.

Adel Smith, the militant Muslim, then declared that this was “a clear and historic defeat for the arrogance of the partisans of a blatant institutional religious racism”.

The Minister of Labor and Social Policy affirmed that such a position was completely unacceptable because a judge “cannot simply erase two thousand years of history”. For her part, the Minister of National Education, Letizia Moratti, let it be known that she would continue to apply the dispositions of the law of 1923, which has never been abolished, requiring a crucifix to be placed in all schools, as well as all courtrooms. Such a decision will sow seeds of division between Catholics and atheists and between Christians and Muslims, according to the Sunday, October 26 edition of the daily La Repubblica.

The same day, the Secretary for the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Msgr. Giuseppe Betori, declared the judge’s decision “illegal” and in contradiction with the law of the State since 1923 and that no Parliament or Constitutional Court has ever changed. This decision, he added, risks opening the way to “the most extreme forms of religious fundamentalism”.

The Vatican daily, L’Osservatore Romano, described this decision as “absurd” and “offensive” in its editorial of October 28. To show disapproval, it displayed a large image of the crucifix on its front page. It was addressed to the attention of “those who, by different means and having different levels of responsibility, have offended the faith of Christians”, and used a phrase taken from an address of John-Paul II, of June 21 1998: “Many things can be taken away from us Christians, but the Cross as the sign of salvation can never be taken away. We will not permit it to be excluded from public life”.

Intervening in this affair on October 26, President of the Italian Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, has clearly denounced this decision. For him, “the crucifix in the schools has always been considered to be the symbol of values which form the basis of our identity”.

For the local bishop, Msgr. Giuseppe DiFalco, the recent decision to take away the crucifix from public schools “denigrates the cultural and religious tradition of the entire country”. As for the President of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, his strong protest was: “The crucifix expresses the depth of soul of our continent and must remain the sign of European identity”.

At the end of the general audience of October 29, the Holy Father insisted on what he called the “eloquent symbol of the Cross”, as a “source of light, of comfort and of hope for men of all times”.

There then ensued a series of declarations on the part of politicians of the right and the left. For the leader of the National Alliance, Gianfranco Fini, it is a colossal absurdity to want to remove crucifixes from the classrooms. The Aquila affair runs the risk, in his opinion, of provoking a backlash against alien residents.

Although the Italian communists consider themselves the ardent defenders of a secular state, they do not appreciate the way this debate has degenerated. “The Italian school must be secular and open to all”, the head of the Italian communists, Marco Rizzo, declared to the Chamber. He added: “those who seek conflict by demanding an extremist gesture like the removal of the crucifix do not in the least help either the battle for public schools or the integration of diverse cultures which must be based on mutual respect”.

Echoing his ideas, the head of Communist Reform, Fausto Bertinotti, affirmed that it would be better if there were no religious symbols in public schools, but that he would personally find it difficult to remove the crucifix”. And the communist leader qualified as “erroneous and intolerable any kind of crusading spirit, from wherever it comes”.

During all this time, Adel Smith took on John-Paul II in the media, calling the pope “a foreigner”, and advising the Italian president to reread the Constitution”.

In the meantime the crucifix remains in the rooms of the Ofena school, because the judicial officer, whose duty it is to notify the school of the order to remove the crucifix, has invoked his Catholic faith and made a conscientious objection. It was another officer, escorted by policemen, who was charged with returning the crucifix to the directors of the school. Wednesday morning, October 29, a crowd of parents who favored leaving the crucifix accompanied by curiosity seekers assembled in front of the school to wait for the arrival of the judicial officer. Families brandished placards saying “hands off the Cross”. Annarita Coletti, mayor of the town, intervened to calm them down and assure them that the crucifix would not be removed right away”, affirming that all initiatives would be taken and all opportunities foreseen by the law would be used to stop the execution of the order of judge Mario Montanaro.

On the walls of the school the group Forza Nueva [New Force] had placed a banner saying: “We stopped you at Lepanto, we’ll stop you again today”. The mayor ordered it removed.

On Thursday, October 30, on the waves of Radio Vatican, Cardinal Roberto Tucci declared: “It seems to me it is time to turn the limelights away from this person (Adel Smith) who, being an Italian citizen turned Muslim, pretends to impose on us a right concept – according to him – of laicism which is not allowed in any great nation with a Muslim majority.”

On October 31 the president of the tribunal of Aquila suspended execution of the order given on October 22 by judge Mario Montanaro. He explained that he took this decision after having received an appeal from the Minister of Education. The same day the pope received the ministers of the interior of the European Union, told them that the removal of the crucifix in the schools was “not very democratic”.

In Spain also. According to the press of the Iberian peninsula, the Socialist Worker’s Party of Spain (PSOE) asked the government to remove all religious symbols, such as crucifixes, from public schools”. The PSOE announced they were going to make a motion to this effect very soon in the Parliament. “Public schools must be neutral and non-confessional places in which all beliefs and all institutions must be respected”, alleged the socialist member of parliament Amparo Valcarce. According to her, crosses in the classroom do no respect the principle of tolerance toward students of other religions or atheists.