VATICAN CITY The Vatican will no longer automatically adopt new Italian laws as its own, a top Vatican official said, citing the vast number of laws Italy churns out, many of which are in odds with Catholic doctrine.
The surprise announcement in the Vatican's newspaper, Osservatore Romano, on Wednesday immediately prompted debate on whether the move was a rebuke to Italian government policies, with one newspaper commentator calling it a "masked warning."
The Vatican has had a sometimes tense relationship with left-leaning Italian governments over issues such as gay unions and stem cell research. It sees more eye-to-eye with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government, though it has expressed concern over its crackdown on immigration.
Under existing law, the Vatican accepts Italian law automatically except on bilateral treaties or when there is a sharp divergence with basic canon law, wrote Jose Maria Serrano Ruiz, president of the Vatican commission on law revisions.
But under a new law signed by Pope Benedict on October 1, Vatican authorities will first examine Italian laws before deciding whether to adopt them, he wrote in Osservatore Romano.
The change stemmed from the "really exorbitant number" of Italian laws, their "instability," and their frequent "contrast" with Catholic Church principles, Ruiz wrote. The new procedure comes into effect on January 1, he wrote.
Taken by surprise, Roberto Calderoli, Italy's minister for legislative simplification, complained that the Vatican ought to have made the change under the previous center-left government and said he hoped the Vatican would reconsider its decision.
"Frankly, until now I have not seen any move by our government that goes in a direction against Church values," he told the leading Corriere della Sera newspaper.
He later said the decision of a top Italian court that last month allowed an Italian man to let his comatose daughter die by cutting off her feeding tube was probably what swayed the Vatican, which had strongly opposed letting her die.
Corriere columnist Massimo Franco said the Vatican had not always accepted Italian law automatically even under current law, but that the new procedure was significant.
"It's significant because it sounds like a masked warning," he wrote. "It remains to be seen if this a declaration of mistrust toward the Italian state, or just a stubborn and pre-emptive emphasis just as parliament is set to discuss life and death issues."
Seeking to quell the growing controversy on the issue, Giuseppe Dalla Torre, president of the Vatican Tribunal, told Vatican radio that little would change with the new move since some sort of a filter for Italian law had always existed.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)