Milestone reached in italy; Church gains legal status

A milestone has been reached in Italy, with that country granting legal status to the Church.

The legal status was finalized May 12 following formal registration with the courts, said Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy and president of the Europe/Mediterranean Area. The decree was signed in February by the president of Italy, he noted."The neighbors and business associates of Italian members of the Church in 58 regions of the country were interviewed by the police regarding what kind of people the Italian Mormons are," said Elder Condie.

"The reports came back unanimously positive and this was part of the basis for the legal recognition. Our Latter-day Saints are a credit to their country and are outstanding citizens."

The application to have the Italian government officially recognize the Church was filed four to five years ago, said Dan Bushnell, attorney in the Church's general counsel office in Frankfurt, Germany, representing the Europe/Mediterranean Area. The application underwent several reviews, he said. These included reviews by the Minister of the Interior for Religion, and the Council of the State, which is a group of administrative law judges. Next, the application was reviewed by the Council of Ministers, which is similar to the U.S. Cabinet. After these groups approved the application, it was sent to the president of Italy for his signature, explained Brother Bushnell.

"The decree was signed by Italy's president, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, on Feb. 22, 1993," Brother Bushnell said.

"You don't have to be registered to be able to proselyte," he explained. "We have had missions and stakes and wards in Italy for many years. But to be officially recognized means that we can have tax advantages and we can have our priesthood leaders recognized as ministers who can perform marriages. We've been able to open bank accounts and own property in the name of Church."

Now, he said, he hoped that the Church would become known for what it is - an international organization in 146 countries, one of the larger churches in the United States, and a great humanitarian organization that stands for a high moral code, education, and physical fitness.

The first LDS missionaries arrived in Italy in 1850, and from their efforts, some 100 people were baptized. Most immigrated to America.

In 1965, the Church received permission to enter the country, and in 1966, the Italian Mission was re-opened. The Milan Italy Stake was created in 1981, and by the end of 1991, membership was 16,000.

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