Two reminders yesterday that the autonomy of the Republic of Italy isn’t a given.
One. Rome’s court of assizes decided that there was no case to be made against the murderer of Nicola Calipari, the Italian secret service agent who was shot while helping kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena leave Iraq. Who was the murderer? An American soldier called Mario Lozano. Whatever the truth behind the events of that night (and without a trial it’s unlikely we’ll ever know what happened), it’s hard not to see this as an act of capitulation to the United States government.
Two. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican’s secretary of state, announced that people should ‘stop it’. He was referring to Curzio Maltese’s inquiry in la Repubblica into how much the Vatican costs the Italian state. The most recent instalment, published a few days ago, looked at the ora di religione, obligatory in all Italian state schools although not for students, who can, if they or their parents wish, opt out. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. The hour of religion (i.e. catholicism) is always timetabled mid-morning, rather than at the start or end of the school day; those students who choose not to take part – some of them as young as six – are usually told to ‘wait in the corridor’. Alternatives? There are no alternatives. Comparative religion? Stop it!
This is already bad enough, in a country which now has half a million children from other countries and cultures in its public educational system, not all of them catholic. What’s worse is the way the teaching of the hour is financed. Religious teachers are chosen by the local bishop, side-stepping the time-consuming and exhausting obstacle race of national competitions all other teachers have to undergo. They’re paid, though, by the state, and their salaries cost something like €1 billion a year; in terms of occult financing to the catholic church, this is second only to the otto per mille scam I’ve posted about before. Not only that – they have tenure in a country where a significant part of the teaching is conducted by precari, teachers, often in their forties or fifties, who struggle from short-term contract to short-term contract, their holidays unpaid, their pensions rights undermined, their chances of a mortgage or bank loan seriously restricted.
Finally, as salt in the wound, they’re actually paid more than their equivalent non-religious teachers, as a result of laws passed more than 25 years ago, laws that are still being contested in Italian courts by their lay colleagues.
No wonder Bertone wants Maltese to shut up.