Law.com is reporting that the LDS Church has taken the unprecedented step of hiring a federally registered lobbyist to help its efforts in obtaining a new legal status in Italy. The LDS Church has formed a coalition with several other denominations in an effort to lobby the Italian parliament for an intesa, or “understanding.” Like many countries, Italy has different status levels for religious denominations. According to John Zackrison, former in-house counsel for the Mormon Church and now outside counsel working at Kirton & McConkie, the intesa the Church seeks would provide benefits such as a streamlined process to license Mormon ecclesiastical leaders to perform civil marriages and easier missionary visa renewals. There are also significant tax benefits, such as easier property tax exemptions and some charitable contribution deductions for individual Mormons. The intesa sought by the LDS Church would actually entitle the Church to public funds, but Zackrison says the proposed draft agreement promises that the Mormon Church would never accept such funds.
These sorts of agreements take years to achieve, particularly in countries such as Italy where the government is not known for its efficiency. Additionally, the strong presence of the Roman Catholic Church impedes acceptance of new religions, causing tradition-oriented politicians to oppose such official recognition. But now that the Mormon Church has plans for a temple in Rome, the favorable conditions of an intesa are even more important.
This is not the first time representatives of the LDS Church have lobbied government officials for various causes or issues. The Church even maintains a Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., and has public relations and legal representatives in many countries. However, this marks the first time that the Church has hired an outside firm to help it’s lobbying efforts. Law.com reports Zackrison as saying: “The advice we’ve received is, if the U.S. government were to weigh in favor of the [agreements] in some way, that — with the current Italian government — could be helpful in the process . . . .” State Department spokesperson Darby Holliday says that the U.S. government hasn’t spoken with the Italian government on the issue, but the apparent goal of the new lobbying arrangement is to change that.