An Italian who compared the Catholic Church to a “men-only… masochist club” has been convicted and fined 4,000 euros for blasphemy.

Driving the news

Friendly Atheist reported Thursday on the case of photographer Oliviero Toscani, who in a 2014 radio interview described a hypothetical situation in which an extraterrestrial encountered a Catholic church for the first time.

“Imagine being an alien who has just landed in Italy”, Toscani said on the radio.

“You enter in a beautiful Catholic church, without knowing anything about religion. You enter and you see a bloodied man hanged and nailed to a cross, an altar with naked babies flying, Saint Bernard [sic] without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be so upfront”.

Toscani also blasted the Church for being a “men-only club” and denounced that he had been abused by a priest as a child.

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Go deeper

For his radio hypothetical, Toscani was charged with blasphemy, an offence in Italy that was widened in 2006 to include for the first time insults against non-Catholic religions.

This week the photographer was convicted of the profanity and slapped with the 4,000 euro fine.

The sentencing judge compared Toscani’s rhetoric to that of a radical Muslim fanatist.

“Defining Christ on the cross as ‘someone hanged’ is a manifestation of the profound disrespect for the values of Christianity, disrespect comparable only to the worst propagandist language of a Muslim fundamentalist preacher”, judge Ambrogio Moccia said.

Moccia added that by making fun of the Crucifix (the “highest expression of the trinitarian and saving God”), Toscani had overstepped the boundaries of the law with “overflowing and striking surplus”.

Toscani is now planning to appeal the verdict to Italy’s Constitutional Court.


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Why it matters

The Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics criticised Toscani’s punishment as “disconcerting”.

The Union also said it was “emblematic” of Italy’s religious fundamentalism that Judge Moccia, in his “peremptory” sentencing remarks, “went so far to even point out that the skinned martyr Toscani was referring to was not Saint Bernard but rather Saint Bartholomew”.

Humanists International, meanwhile, took advantage of the “very concerning” ruling to call for “the full and immediate abolition of all blasphemy laws worldwide, but especially in Europe”.

It said the repeal of blasphemy laws in Europe was urgent “because in predominantly Islamic states, where blasphemers face prison or [the] death penalty, governments often justify the use of their blasphemy laws by pointing to the existence of such laws in Europe”.

“We hope that Italy’s Constitutional Court will overturn the sentence against Toscani, opening the way for the full abolition of blasphemy laws in Italy”, Humanists International concluded, inviting people around the world to join its campaign to #EndBlasphemyLaws worldwide.

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For the record

Friendly Atheist recalled how poorly Italy scored in the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s 2017 report on blasphemy laws around the world.

On a scale of 0 (total free speech) to 80 (the harshest blasphemy laws imaginable), oppressive Islamist states like Iran and Pakistan received scores in the 60s.

Italy scored a 56.2.

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