chapter  4
28 Pages

Church, state, and family: the women's movement in Italy

The attempts to introduce a divorce law and the political manoeuvrings that followed its eventual approval in 1970 provided the initiative for a political campaign which served to focus the discontent felt by many sectors of the Italian population with regard to the power of the Church and the extent of Vatican influence in political decisions, especially

as exercised through the clerical wing of the Christian Democrats. Nominally the party of organised Catholicism, DC is internally divided on the extent to which it sees itself as bound by the demands of the Vatican, and yet it has continued to press for the inscription of Catholic conceptualisations of the family in the laws of the Italian state. The Church's teaching on the family legitimises what can be seen as an authentically bourgeois conception of the family by means of an insistence on a particular social order as the natural order. Thus a specific male-female division of roles within the family is upheld, and positions and roles in general are allotted in terms of the family's declared functions. The Christian texts — or rather a selection of certain pertinent ones3 — provide authoritative reference for this set of views. The Church's attitude to the family, in particular its insistence on the primacy of reproduction and the rejection of sexuality, has helped to create and justify a repressive set of formulations which permit strong sanctions against women who do not conform to them, and even the construction of laws which distinguish the importance of crimes according to whether they are committed by men or by women. Thus it is that the subservience of women to their fathers and husbands is actually written into Italian law.