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04 March 2016


Called to the bar

DO YOU ever have time on your hands on a wet February Friday evening in Ancona? To help you place it: call to mind the Ancient Greek colony halfway down the back of Italy’s boot, which became one of the Adriatic’s most significant ports.

If so, no need to panic: the Liberty Bar will meet most needs that historical research, such a location, or its inclement weather, might provoke. A classically designed cocktail bar with art-nouveau fittings (“Libertystyle” for Italians), it proved the perfect location to improve acquaintanceship with fellow members of the Council of Christian Churches in the Marche, after one of its regular assemblies.

Tucked into a plush semi-circular banquette, furnished with Negronis, dry Martinis, and Virgin Marys according to taste (or Lenten discipline), a group that, even at the formal meeting, had little problem communicating, revealed itself as capable of still further volubility.


Soldierly devotion

FR OLEG (my banquette neighbour on one side) and I have known each other for a dozen years or so, since his Romanian Orthodox faithful and my Nigerian Anglican flock began sharing the use of a small Roman Catholic church in Macerata. He now has sole use of a larger church in Porto Reccanati, near by, and we have gone on to enjoy uniquely privileged access to St Mary at the Holy Cross, a much loved place of worship and ecumenical generosity.

On my other side was Oleg’s Romanian Orthodox colleague, who has a parish in the centre of Ancona, the improbably named Fr Lionel. After cocktail hour, and amid a heavy downpour, he insisted that we all take cover at his church, dedicated to St Durostorum Dasi (Santo Dasio), a martyr I had never encountered before.

A soldier victim (together with three companions) of the Decian persecution (mid-third century), Dasi is highly regarded in the Romanian and Bulgarian Churches — Durostorum was a Roman-legionary fortress in the Danube delta.

The specific reason for seeking his saintly patronage for this parish is that his relics were picked up by Italian merchants during the Middle Ages, and “translated” to Ancona. After the substantial migration of Romanians to Italy in recent years (more than one million currently, served by more than 400 Orthodox parishes), St Dasi was recognised as a welcoming presence.

An incredibly welcoming presence himself, Fr Lionel took pleasure in reminding me that his church was unique among those in the Orthodox family to have awarded some degree of recognition to Anglican Orders. To further this process of recognition, let me declare myself ready to discover a devotion to St Durostorum Dasi (and perhaps the Liberty Bar, too), as opportunity permits, and visits to Ancona dictate.


Admirals in action

REGULAR readers may recall my involvement in the complex bureaucratic process that led, in 2014, to the legal recognition of the Church of England by the Italian State.

If I thought that getting to that point in order to enjoy privileged “religious” tax status was complex, then I ought to have been prepared for the next Byzantine stage. The Church and the government appoint commissioners to draft what is, in effect, a treaty (intesa), outlining rights and obligations on both sides (most famously modelled by the Lateran Pact of 1929, between the Vatican and Fascist Italy, itself modified in the 1980s).

The commission has now met twice, although only once with its government-appointed president, a distinguished ecclesiastical lawyer. Government commissioners include representatives from the Interior, Finance, Education, Justice, and Defence Ministries, and the Council of Ministers (Cabinet Office). Little did I think I would ever be negotiating about the consciences of Anglican communicants with an Italian admiral.

Word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, we creep along, only to find that general revision is necessary from top to bottom, as a general principle emerges three-quarters of the way through the document.


Strictly not dancing

WE ARE immensely fortunate in retaining the pro bono assistance of two splendid lawyers who specialise in canon and ecclesiastical law: Professor Salvatore Bordonali, and Professor Fabiano di Prima, both based at the University of Palermo.

Few things have touched my funny bone quite as much as when, during the particularly repetitive consideration of the appropriateness of a phrase, Professor di Prima whispered to me, “Are you going to break into David Brent’s dance from The Office, or shall I?”

I only hope that the Church of England’s seeking an intesa with the Italian Republic is not another example of the internationally celebrated “British humour”.


Marriage questions

AFTER a mighty parliamentary struggle, led by the Renzi government, Italy has finally passed a law to recognise civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

A real irony could be that the Church of England in Italy acquires the legal right to conduct weddings at precisely the moment that religious organisations are called upon to recognise “equal marriage”. I’m glad to say that’s going to be someone else’s problem.


The Ven. Jonathan Boardman is Chaplain of All Saints’, Rome.

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