Are church and state really separated? The cases of Italy and Sweden

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Are church and state really separated? The cases of Italy and Sweden

Are church and state really separated? Are politics and religion connected? Let’s look at Italy and Sweden to learn more about state and church today.

State church or churchly state?

In present-day Europe, there are different interpretations of what the separation between state and church implies.[1] In addition, politics and religion can still affect each other. In 2021, Italy and Sweden have given examples of how churches and secular states can have a say in each other’s work.

In Italy, the Catholic Church is very much present in the life of the country and its politics. In Sweden, on the other hand, politics are part of the activities of the Church of Sweden through the elections to the General Synod, taking place every four years. Let us take a look at how these two types of influence can look like in practice.

Religion and politics in Italy

The separation between church and state in Italy took place in 1929 through the Lateran Treaty. In 1984, the Italian state and Vatican revised the treaty in order to adapt it to the needs of the secular state.[2] However, in some cases, Italian politics and religion can still show an interest in each other. Political parties such as La Lega view themselves as the protectors of Catholic values.[3] For this reason, they seem to stress the connection between their political programs and the views of the Vatican.[4] [5]

At the same time, the Catholic Church participates in the social and political debates taking place in Italy. When a petition for the legalisation of euthanasia collected hundreds of thousands of signatures, the Vatican condemned the practice.[6] [7] [8] During spring 2021, the Catholic Church criticised a bill against homophobia discussed in the Italian Parliament. The Vatican feared that the bill would prohibit a number of Catholic views on same-sex couples, limiting the freedom of speech and that of religion.[9] [10]

Are church and state really separated? These examples show that the Catholic Church is still involved in the political and social debates in Italy. On the other hand, Italian politicians seem eager to stress the connection between their views and those of the Vatican.

Politicised religion and religious politics in Sweden

The Church of Sweden became independent from the Swedish state in 2000.[11] However, every four years, the members of the Church of Sweden elect representatives to its highest national institution, the General Synod.[12] Both politically connected and politically independent groups participate in the elections. The Church of Sweden sees the elections as a way for its members to democratically influence the work of the Church on a local, regional, and national level.[13]

At the same time, an increasing number of people have begun to question the role of political parties in the Church elections.[14] [15] [16] [17] In addition, in 2021, the goals of different groups might go against the teaching of the Church of Sweden. On the one hand, many groups would like to introduce a policy that forbids newly ordained priests from refusing to marry same-sex couples.[18] Such a decision, however, would go against the teachings of the Church and Swedish law, according to which each priest has the right to refuse to marry a specific couple.[19] [20] On the other hand, some people think that political parties are using the elections within the Church as a way of preparing for the national elections.[21]

Finally, some would like to change the election system, going from direct elections to indirect ones.[22] [23] [24] In other words, the members of the Church of Sweden directly elect their representatives on a local, regional, and national level. With indirect elections, however, members would elect their representative to the parishes (local level), while the parishes would elect representatives to the diocese (regional level) and the General Synod (national level).[25]

Are church and state really separated? Even though the Swedish state and the Church of Sweden have been officially separated since 2000, politics still play an important role in shaping the life of religious communities on a local, regional, and national level.

Are church and state really separated?

The examples of Italy and Sweden show that even though both countries are secular, religion and politics still influence each other. While the Catholic Church shows an interest in the Italian social debate, secular politics have a say in the work of the Church of Sweden. Church and state are separated. Politics and religions, however, can still be connected.

Annamaria Laviola-Svensäter

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[1] Religious practice and observance in the EU Member States

[2] Patti lateranensi nell’Enciclopedia Treccani

[3] Salvini in Vaticano: “Piena sintonia”. Ma la Santa sede resta fredda

[4] Salvini in Vaticano: “Piena sintonia”. Ma la Santa sede resta fredda

[5] Immigrazione, Matteo Salvini in Vaticano: “Papa Francesco? Non credo la veda in modo così diverso…”

[6] Eutanasia legale, il Vaticano attacca: “Nuova forma di eugenetica”, Cappato: “No, è un diritto sacrosanto. Non c’è obbligo di scelta”

[7] Eutanasia, oltre 500mila firme. Vaticano: Preoccupati. Cappato: Si previene illegalità

[8] Eutanasia legale: raccolte 500mila firme per il referendum – la Repubblica

[9] Il Vaticano ha chiesto al governo di modificare il ddl Zan

[10] “Un acte sans précédent”: le Vatican s’oppose à un projet de loi italien contre l’homophobie

[11] Om kyrkovalet – Kyrkovalet

[12] Kyrkomötet beslutar om hela Svenska kyrkan – Kyrkomötet

[13] Om kyrkovalet – Kyrkovalet

[14] ”Partierna visar att de inte hör hemma i kyrkan”

[15] Politiska partier väcker debatt inför kyrkovalet

[16] Olof Ehrenkrona:Partipolitik och religion ska skiljas åt

[17] Grupper stormar mot partipolitik i kyrkan

[18] Majoritet för vigseltvång efter kyrkovalet

[19] Ärkebiskopen om kyrkovalet: “Har förvånats”

[20] Majoritet för vigseltvång efter kyrkovalet

[21] Fyra röster om framtidens kyrkoval

[22] Tjugoårseffekt ställer frågor på sin spets

[23] Fyra röster om framtidens kyrkoval

[24] Ny analys kan väcka debatt om kyrkovalet

[25] Ny analys kan väcka debatt om kyrkovalet