This story reports that the Italian Senate has approved various “intese” (literally, “understandings”) or official agreements with three new religious institutions: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints; the Italian Apostolic Church (a Pentecostal church); and the Orthodox Church loyal to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The intese remain to be signed into law by the President of the Republic.
Italy’s church-state arrangements are quite different than those in the United States. The story is useful because it also explains a bit about the nature and benefits of obtaining intese:
Italy has a system of concordates called “Intese” regulating the State’s relations with a number of religious bodies. Concordates provide inter alia for spiritual assistance in the military forces, hospitals, public schools and jails, and legal recognition of marriages performed by a priest or minister. An important feature is the possible entrance of the religious bodies with an “intesa” which so elects (they can, in fact, refuse this benefit) with a concordate into the 0,8% system. This is a peculiar Italian system where each taxpayer should devote 0,8% of his or her taxes either to a religious body or to the national public charity system by crossing the preferred institution’s case on the tax form. Unlike in Germany, if the taxpayer fails to cross a case he or she does not keep the money, that is divided between the different bodies according to their national percentage scores (unless they explicitly declare that they want to keep only the 0,8% of those crossing their name, and some religious bodies do just this). For example, if one does not cross any case and the Catholic Church case is crossed by 90% of those who crossed a case, and the Baptist Church by 2%, 90% of 0,8% of taxes paid by the non-crosser will go to the Catholic Church, 2% of 0,8% to the Baptist Church, and so on. Most Churches advertise through TV and other campaigns to capture the unchurched’s 0,8%.
This practice would violate the Establishment Clause in this country, but there is no such constitutional provision in Italy. Religions which already have intese include: the Waldensians and Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Assemblies of God, the Jewish Communities, and the Baptists. The Catholic Church has something more than an intesa: a concordat conferring on it additional status.