A leading Italian bishop has urged churches not to do deals with telecommunications companies that are eager to use church spires and towers to install antennae for the nation's booming portable phone market.

Italy is undergoing a telecommunications revolution, and the portable phone market here is now worth billions of dollars. Italy's telecommunications market has been privatized, resulting in vigorous competition, especially for the portable phone market—Italy's 57 million residents own a total of 40 million portable phones, one of the highest rates in the world.

To ensure the efficient functioning of the mobile network, antennae and transmitters need to be placed at the top of buildings across the country. As in some other European countries, telecommunications companies decided that churches, generally the highest buildings in Italian cities and villages, would be ideal places for the telecommunications antennae.

In Italy the Catholic Church has 27,000 parishes, 100,000 churches, and 1,500 monasteries—in other words, tens of thousands of spires and church towers.

Dozens of parishes have already accepted contracts with companies that want to install antennae. But some of the nation's bishops, alerted to the swift growth of this phenomenon, decided to seek advice from the Bishops' Conference.

Bishop Ennio Antonelli, the 64-year-old general secretary of the Bishops' Conference, which groups Italy's 200-plus Catholic dioceses, wrote to his fellow bishops in December (though the letter was not published until this month) advising them to refuse requests to install antennae on churches.

Bishop Antonelli gives a number of reasons for his advice. Canon 1220 of church law stipulates that anything that could harm the sanctity of a ...

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