I’d love to visit Italy, but I don’t think I could afford the fines

An Italian photographer, Oliviero Toscani, made a few casual remarks about the Catholic church on a radio show.

Imagine to be an alien who has just landed in Italy. 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 without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be such at the upfront.

I’m not an alien, and I was raised as a tepid Lutheran, but I have to say that’s exactly right. That’s how I’ve always felt about Catholic churches — the iconography is brutal and extreme, with bizarrely explicit statues of a dying man writhing on a cross, and worship of saints who died grisly deaths. Catholic churches in North America aren’t even the worse — I visited a cathedral in Quito that had the most horrible illustrations of Hell proudly displayed all around. An Edward Gorey book is less infatuated with miserable deaths than the Catholic church. I find a John Wick movie less unsettling than a Catholic ‘Lives of the Saints’ book.

Toscani wasn’t saying anything remarkable, just what ordinary people who aren’t steeped in the Catholic tradition see. Except that Italy has blasphemy laws, and he was tried and convicted and penalized €4000 for his remarks. The judge even said this:

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.

I take it, then, that I’m allowed to insult Muslim fundamentalism in Italy, but not Catholic fundamentalism? Cool, cool.

I guess the United States isn’t the only nation with a judiciary corrupted by religion.


  1. says

    I was raised Catholic (never confirmed), I like to think of Catholicism as the religious equivalent of measles. You get infected, you get over it and you’re immune to any other similar virus. Catholics who go Atheist are really common, but how often do you see a former Catholic who converts to Scientology, or one of the evangelical sects?

  2. blf says

    Italy is one of only a relative few countries in Europe that still has enforced blasphemy laws. Interestingly, according to Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge, the OP’s claimed 4000€ fine seems to be far too high by around an order of magnitude (ignoring that the offense is entirely imaginary, and if anyone is to be fined, it’s the nutcases who claim there is such an offense or that there is a magic sky faerie that would be offended):

    In Italy, under the Article 724 of the Penal Code, blasphemy in public is considered as an “administrative offense” and punished with a fine ranging from €51 to €309. First introduced in 1930 under Mussolini, blasphemy was decriminalized [… in] December 1999. As per Corte Costituzionale sentence [… of] October 1995, the law punishes only blasphemy against the Deity. […]

    Mussolini is also, of course, the proto–hair furor who created the equally imaginary fiction the vatican and its raping children cult is a “country” which should have diplomatic representation, partly resulting in the continuing fiction that its extreme repression should not be treated with absolute contempt.

  3. says

    Didn’t you desecrate a cracker? Presumably that translates into the crime of assaulting actual god-meat. I bet your fine would be worse. Perhaps the inquisition would get involved?

  4. mamba says

    When I was growing up, it was very common for my parents to sing a catholic lullaby/prayer before bed, which as a child you were to repeat after each line of course, and I’m sure many of you know it well:

    “Now I lay me down to sleep
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep
    But if I die before I wake
    I pray the lord my soul to take”

    Even as a kid, I was weirded out by that, but Mom would just calmly say to repeat it and not think too much on it. But I HAD to…is Mom telling me I’m going to die before I wake up? If I forgot that prayer, would God forget as well and forget to take my soul? why is Mom so casually telling me I might die while trying to tuck me into bed to relax? It was just so strange to me!!!

    Looking back, I can see it was just the casualness that Christians have towards death, suffering, and Hell. Seriously, like this article says, half of their imagery and preaching are about punishments and suffering, the NEED for suffering in order for spiritual purity, the casualness of their talking about the tortures of Hell, etc. They fundamentally LOVE their pain and guilt it seems!!!

    …but remember, he’s the God of “Unconditional Love”…apparently. Not seeing any signs of hat of course, but I guess if they say it enough times they start to believe it. (seriously, there’s a condition to everything in the Bible! How do they not see that?)

  5. jrkrideau says

    Before repeal in December 2018, blasphemous libel was an offence under section 296 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

    Old laws can hang around for a long time.

  6. PaulBC says

    Can we have a quick shout out to the establishment clause? Maybe it sounds trite, but it’s a significant part of the US constitution, and it has been protecting us from this kind of crap for over two centuries.

    While it’s true that there have been state-funded religious displays in the past and sectarian prayer in public schools, thankfully with more challenges today, apparently the last prosecution of blasphemy law occurred in 1838. Toscani’s comments sound no worse than something Robert Ingersoll might have said over a century ago. And though William Jennings Bryan was religious, his ‘cross of gold’ analogy sounds a little blasphemous to me.

    Anyway, just saying that we sometimes get some things right. On paper at least.

  7. PaulBC says

    (OK, last person jailed for blasphemy in the US was in 1838. That is different. Now I’m almost afraid to check when was the last person burnt at the stake for practicing witchcraft. Maybe more recently than I think.)

  8. says

    Ray Ceeya,
    Most in my family changed to Methodist or the like. My own immediate family became Unitarian Universalist. Sister converted to Judaism.

  9. blf says

    So truth is no defense in Italian courts? That’s disappointing.

    Presumably a bit too harsh, but there does seem to be a problem (possibly caused by anti-mafia laws?). A notorious very recent example: A multi-year trial of an entirely innocent man, Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, was concluded with the determination he was not the accused notorious people-smuggler, Medhanie Yehdego Mered. It was apparently obvious from essentially the first day the authorities had the wrong person, when the wanted Berhe’s vicrtims came forward to say the arrested Berhe was not the person who smuggled them, and continuing on-and-on with DNA tests showing otherwise, the wanted Berhe’s family and relatives saying that’s not him, and so on (and on, and on), including an obvious difference in voice. Nonetheless, the Sicilian prosecutors continued with the case — despite not being able to produce any witnesses that the arrested Berhe was the wanted Berhe — until the judge dismissed the case earlier this year, eventually granting the falsely-accused Berhe refugee status. To-date (as far as I know), neither the Italian / Sicilian authorities nor British Intelligence (which was also involved) have admitted they got the wrong man or have responsibility for the error.

    A fair amount of the evidence showing the innocence of the arrested Mr Berhe (including tracking down the wanted Berhe) was uncovered by Swedish TV and the Grauniad. The case hasn’t had (much) ongoing coverage elsewhere, including in Italy. (The Grauniad’s post-acquittal summary story on this farce, Long road to freedom for farmworker accused of being notorious trafficker (July 2019).)

  10. says


    the author of this poster was arrested and awaits trial facing the risk of 2 years in jail.
    In Poland.
    Apparently adding the rainbow to the “most sacred painting in the country” is offending the religious feeling.
    In Poland there is no blasphemy law per se, but offending the religious feeling is a crime.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    I take it, then, that I’m allowed to insult Muslim fundamentalism in Italy, but not Catholic fundamentalism?

    Apparently not;

    Blasphemy is an administrative offence under Art. 724 of the Italian Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine between €51 and €309.
    Additionally, publicly insulting a religion by expressing contempt for those who profess it is a criminal offence under Art. 403 of the Criminal Code. The punishment is a fine ranging from €1,000 to €5,000. Higher fines (€2,000 to €6,000) apply when the offence is committed via contempt of a minister. Additionally, whoever, in a place of worship or in a public place, vilifies a religion via insulting objects of worship, may be punished with a fine ranging from €1,000 to €5,000 (Art. 404).

  12. F.O. says

    I’m surprised.
    In most of Italy calling the name of god in vain is a revered past time.
    My friends in high school had competitions for who could swear the longest (the local record was about two minutes).
    I assume Toscani was a high-profile target, but this seems frankly very weird.

  13. Paolo says

    I had not heard about this: I quickly checked, and apparently only a couple of (very) right-wing newspapers reported it. Neither the tv nor the main newspapers said anything about this.
    Anyway, here in Italy blasphemy laws are widely regarded as a joke, and there’s a longstanding (it’s already described in XIIIth century literature) and proud tradition of “bestemmie”, that is freely insulting God, Jesus, Mary and all the saints/deities, often in a very creative and/or weird way such as “Buddha’s dick” or “Madonna washerwoman”. I can only surmise that Toscani ran into a very bigoted judge and that for some reason chose not to give publicity to his sentence: if this became widely reported, it would surely provoke quite a ruckus.

  14. lpetrich says

    I’d like to ask a broader question. Why Jesus Christ crucified? I must prefer how the Buddha is often depicted, as calmly meditating. Even his death is depicted as calmly lying down. The closest big-name artwork of JC like that is the big statue of him in Rio de Janeiro.

  15. Larry says

    If god is so offended, let it appear and pass sentence or appear as the plaintiff, not a bunch of old child-fuckers in satin robes.

  16. Chris Capoccia says

    What is the big deal about the word hanged? Catholics should see that as just a tribute to the Apostle Paul in Galatians 3 referencing / midrash of Deuteronomy 21:23 http://www.usccb.org/bible/galatians/3 : “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,’ that the blessing of Abraham might be extended to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”

  17. raven says


    … and I’m sure many of you know it well:

    “Now I lay me down to sleep
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep
    But if I die before I wake
    I pray the lord my soul to take”

    Sure do know it well.
    My Protestant mother used to sing that to me at night.
    I was 4 years old at the time.
    It really went over my head and I never thought much of it one way or another.

    These days, I would consider it morbid at best and not at all suitable for young children or anyone.

  18. brain says

    @23 John Morales: you’re a fucking ignorant asshole. Go and search for actual information on a topic before broadcasting your ignorant conclusions.

    Those “teenagers” (19 and 18 yo: in Italy legal age for adulthood is 18) killed an Italian officer stabbing him eleven times with a war knife, also in the back when he was already on the ground.
    The officer had no weapon at all with him when was killed.
    Finnegan Lee Elder, the one who physically used the knife, confessed.

    What happened that night is still not entirely clear, and to me at least it’s obvious that the police is hiding something: however that “teenager” is guilty as hell (but he’ll probably go back free to USA, as usual). So, fuck you.

  19. brain says

    And you look more than a bit racist with your “lying Italians”. In the Cermis massacre “Joseph Schweitzer, one of the two American pilots, confessed in 2012 that he had burned the tape containing incriminating evidence upon returning to the American base”. Talking about liars…

  20. John Morales says

    Lowercase brain, you claimed that “Americans here always get away without any problem”.

    You were clearly wrongity-wrong. Demonstrably.

    Go and search for actual information on a topic before broadcasting your ignorant conclusions.


  21. John Morales says

    Little brain:

    And you look more than a bit racist with your “lying Italians”.

    You’re not Italian? Whence your “visit us” when referring to Italy, then?


    So, do you still contend that any American will always get away without any problem for anything in Italy, contrary to actual evidence?

  22. ColeYote says

    “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 without the skin… I believe that a masochist club wouldn’t be such at the upfront.”
    Am masochist, can confirm.

  23. By the Will of Soros says

    As a child i was enrolled into a franciscan group for children where we learned timeless wisdom like “Man” is the proper name for our species “human” is just a term scientists invented to expel god and that the proper skin tone when coloring an illustration of a human is pink.
    We were once taken to a ranch for a spiritual retreat. In the chapel they had a lifesize statue of jesus carrying the cross. Painted in a naturalistc fashion it was the most realistic statue i had seen up to that point. Evenly distributed open wounds contrasted sharply against the lily white skin of the exhausted looking and mostly naked figure. The giant cross jutted out past the altar area making it look like jesus was keeping it from crushing down on our tiny bodies. i don’t remember if i felt anything at the time but i have seen catholics cry when during mass they are admonished for the suffering of christ.