The Catholic Church has exerted cultural and political influence on the history of Italy since the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Today the mark of this millennial co-existence can still be seen in a landscape dotted with churches, church towers, monasteries, crosses and a large majority of the population continuing to declare itself Catholic and identifying with Catholicism, as well as looking to the Church as an important moral reference point.2 The current relevance of this institution is well-illustrated by those observing that:
Furthermore, especially during the last decade, the Catholic Church, in particular the CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference), has succeeded in claiming a key role in the ongoing national public debate, regarding both moral and ethical aspects (such as delicate questions on bioethics, abortion, and euthanasia), and relevant social and political questions concerning, for example, the reception of immigrants, the morality of the ruling classes and national unity. The national mass media dedicate increasingly more space to exponents of the Catholic Church on these issues, as can be illustrated, for instance, by data relating to the national television news programme most watched by Italians: in 2007, a bishop
or member of an ecclesial office intervened in some way (interview or reported declaration) in the evening news broadcasts on 227 out of 365 days.