Bishops call for mobile mast ban

Oh Brother, where art thou mobile network coverage?

Catholic bishops have called for mobile phone masts to be banned from church buildings in Italy.

The Italian Bishops' Conference announced on Sunday that mobile phone masts should be removed.

Many churches in Italy -- as in the UK -- are paid by mobile network operators in return for allowing mobile aerials to be attached to tall buildings such as bell towers.

Monsignor Ennio Antonelli, secretary general of the Italian Bishops' Conference, warned in the directive that permitting religious buildings to be used for non-religious reasons could result in the loss of tax breaks granted to churches in Italy.

"Any permanent use, even partial, of a religious building for reasons unrelated to its principle purpose would not only violate canon law but could also jeopardise its special civic status," Antonelli said.

However, this circular will not necessarily mean that every mobile mast attached to a church in Italy must be removed. According to officials at the conference, the circular is only an "authoritative opinion", and the final decision will remain with local bishops in each area. In Florence, the archbishop has already banned aerials from all bell towers in the city.

The directive will not apply to churches in the UK.

A spokeswoman for the Catholic Media Office explained that such as decision would have to be taken by a gathering of bishops from England and Wales. "At the moment, the issue is handled at a Diocesan level," she said, adding that she wasn't aware of any plans to discuss the issue.

She also explained that, in some circumstances, allowing a mobile mast to be erected on a religious building could be a positive move for non-financial reasons. "In parts of Africa where there is no fixed telephone access, it could be appropriate for the Church to assist in the creation of a wireless network", she explained.

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