Divorce Italian style becomes easier as Catholic Church influence further wanes

Italy has slashed the time it takes to get a divorce to six months from three years in the latest sign of the Catholic Church’s waning influence over life and politics here.

The change is part of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s efforts to tame the country’s much-hated bureaucracy. “Another promise kept. Let’s move forward,” he tweeted after the law passed in parliament late Wednesday.

Quick passage of the law also underscores how the Catholic Church is gradually loosening its grip over Italian morals and politicians. A growing number of young Catholics are living together and having babies outside marriage. Several Italian mayors have registered gay marriages celebrated outside Italy.

Virtually the only peep of dissent over the divorce law came from the Catholic newspaper Avvenire, which called it “a devastating anti-family downward slide”.

The “fast divorce law”, which the lower house approved with an overwhelming vote of 398 for and 28 against, cuts the time Italians have to wait for a divorce to six months in uncontested cases and a year in contested ones.

“The Church really didn’t even put up a fight this time because they realised that it was a lost cause and did not want to fall flat on its face with a useless act of heroism,” Alberto Melloni, a leading Church historian, told Reuters.

Italy has come a long way since the classic 1961 comedy “Divorce Italian Style” in which a Sicilian man played by Marcello Mastroianni desperately seeks a lover for his wife so he can catch them in the act, kill both in an “honour crime”, get a light prison sentence, and marry his younger cousin.

Divorce did not become legal here until nine years after the Oscar-winning film. As a concession to the Church, the 1970 law imposed a mandatory five-year separation period intended to make couples reconsider. In 1987, this was reduced to three years.

As the European Union grew, it became easier for Italians to skirt the legislation without having to resort to the drastic tactics deployed by Mastroianni’s character.

Some couples unwilling to wait years before starting a new life set up false residences in other EU countries, notably Romania, got quick divorces there, and had them recognised by Italy in line with EU regulations.