Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 8, 1954

Persecution In Italy: That Church Sign In Rome

Gordon J. Pennock, Bismarck, North Dakota

Newspaper dispatches are sometimes misleading unless one is acquainted with the facts related to them. This has been somewhat true regarding the recent removal of the sign from our church-building in Rome.

Many people who are largely unacquainted with the church have concluded that we are a strange "cult" with little regard for civil laws. The Roman Catholic Church, in "Our Sunday Visitor" virtually made this charge through its issue of October 12, 1952. Of course it just isn't so!

Realizing the situation, we prepared the following letter which was published in The Bismarck Tribune, February 27, 1954. We record it here for the benefit of those who may have failed to see it.


The Bismarck Tribune of Saturday, February 13, carried an AP dispatch from Rome, Italy, telling of the defacing of a church building in that city, by the police. The name "Church of Christ" was "chiseled" from the building. The dispatch further discloses that an AP correspondent was ordered away from the scene and an AP photographer who photographed the action was arrested. Thus it appears that two basic democratic freedoms were violated by the Rome police, namely: freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.

In fairness to the Church of Christ, against whom the action was primarily taken, the following facts should be known: (1) The name was displayed on a building owned by a church of Christ. (2) A license had been issued by the "Commune" of Rome authorizing the sign. And (3) the customary tax had been paid. Yet, in spite of this, the sign was removed on direct orders of the Rome "Questura." or police headquarters. Surely we have the right to wonder, why?

The same dispatch mentions the dispersion of a congregation of worshippers in Leghorn. For some time, press and radio reports have appeared indicating that the rights of Protestants to freely practice their religion, in Italy, have been under attack. It has been pointed out upon many occasions that the instruments with which they have been harrassed are certain laws which were passed during the days of Mussolini. The disputed question is this: are these fascist laws still binding, or were they abrogated by the New Italian constitution, which became effective January 1, 1948?

Italy's highest court, the "cassazione," in the week of December 3, 1953, upheld a contention that Article 19 of the new constitution is in force and that it abrogates all other previous laws and dispositions. Article 19 says: "All have the right to profess freely their religion in whatever form, individually or in groups, to advertise and to conduct worship, either in private or in public, if it is not in violation to good morals."

Perhaps the situation becomes clearer when one considers a statement made by the world organ of the Jesuits, "Civilita Cattolica," Rome, April, 1948, just a few months after the adoption of the new constitution. We quote: "The Roman Catholic Church, convinced through its divine prerogatives, of being the only true church, must demand the right of freedom for herself alone, because such a right can only be possessed by truth, never by error . . . . Consequently, in a state where the majority of the people are Catholic, the Church will require that legal existence be denied to error, and that if religious minorities actually exist, they shall have only a defacto existence without opportunity to spread their beliefs . . . . In some countries, Catholics will be obliged to ask full religious freedom for all, resigned at being forced to co-habitate where they alone should rightfully be allowed to live. But in doing this the Church does not renounce her thesis, which remains the most imperative of her laws, but merely adapts herself to de facto conditions, which must be taken into account in practical affairs."

Apparently, the basic struggle is between the political and the ecclesiastical powers in Italy. Protestant religious groups have been caught in the squeeze.

Signed: GORDON J. PENNOCK It should be further noted that the foregoing letter appeared only in the morning issue of The Tribune. In the evening edition, the quotation from "Civilita Cattolica" and our last comment were deleted. This was done, with our consent, following a telephone conversation in which the editor made such a request. He did not say that he was under attack as a result of our letter, but we gathered that impression. It reminds us of these words of John P. Marquand, Pulitzer Prize author, taken from "Book-of-the-Month Club News" and printed on the "jacket" of Paul Blanchard's great book, "American Freedom and Catholic Power": "As we shall see in this book the Catholic hierarchy in this country has great power as a pressure group, and no editor, politician, publisher, merchant or motion picture producer can express defiance openly — or publicize documented facts — without risking his future."