‘Secular’ Italy May No Longer Have Cross to Bear

by Edwin Faust
November 4, 2009

The Italian government must pay a fine of 5,000 Euros for refusing to remove crucifixes from a public school, according to the Associated Press.

The ruling was issued by the European Court of Human Rights in response to a complaint filed in 2006 by Soile Lautsi, who claimed the presence of a crucifix in her child’s classroom violated the secularism that is supposed to be upheld in the nation’s public schools.

The Italian government has said that it will appeal the decision, issued by the court in Strasbourg, to the European Court of Human Rights Grand Chamber. The decisions of the 17 judges of the Grand Chamber are binding on members of the European Union.

Should the Grand Chamber uphold the lower court’s decision, Italy would likely remove the crucifix from all public school classrooms. The Vatican has denounced the court’s decision. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the crucifix signified the cultural importance of religion in Italy’s history, which the court appears intent on ignoring.

“Religion gives a precious contribution to the formation and moral growth of people, and it’s an essential component in our civilization,” Lombardi said in a statement reported by AP.

The Italian Bishops Conference also issued a statement saying, “The multiple significance of the crucifix, which is not just a religious symbol but a cultural sign, has been either ignored or overlooked.”

But Lautsi has argued that the presence of a crucifix violates the confessional neutrality that public schools are supposed to observe and amounts to an endorsement of Christianity.

The court agreed, saying the presence of a crucifix could prove disturbing to non-Christian and atheist pupils. The court said that the crucifix “could easily be interpreted by pupils of all ages as a religious sign.”

Were the issue not so serious, the court’s ruling and the Church’s response would lend itself to farce. We have a court of “human rights” arguing that the crucifix could be interpreted as a religious symbol, and the Vatican spokesman and the Italian bishops insisting that the crucifix is a cultural symbol.

The Catholic finds himself oddly enough on the side of the court in this respect: that he hopes the crucifix still has some claim to be regarded as a religious symbol rather than a relic of cultural history.

The significance of the crucifix in Italian culture is also singular, not “multiple”, as the Italian bishops assert. The crucifix means that God became man and died for our sins. What other meanings do their Excellencies have in mind?

And Lombardi’s defense of religion as being somehow a valuable contributor to human morality and civilization appears an attempt to justify religious belief on the grounds of social utility. The elements notably absent from this whole debate are truth and man’s duty to God.

In their attempt to defend the crucifix in the classroom as a cultural or historical, rather than a religious, symbol, Church authorities will only succeed in undermining the Faith they are sworn to preserve and propagate. The diabolical disorientation of the hierarchy is again in evidence.

At this juncture in history, human prudence has failed us. Divine intercession appears to be our only recourse. And that will only come through obedience to the requests of Our Lady of Fatima: revelation of the full Third Secret and the Consecration of Russia to Her Immaculate Heart. We must pray for our priests and bishops. We must pray for the Holy Father. We must hold to the crucifix ever more tightly as it is stripped from classrooms, courtrooms and even churches.

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