One of Italy's most eminent philosophers, Paolo Flores d'Arcais, has jumped into the controversy over the attitude of the Catholic church to the growing presence of Muslim immigrants.
Professor Flores d'Arcais, of "La Sapienza" University, Rome, is editor of the cultural journal MicroMega and an outspoken champion of atheism in countless radio and TV debates. He has become a leading light for Italians who aspire to a lay state free from religious pressures.
He said: "The only possible response to this rivalry between Catholicism and Islam is a rigorously lay state that rejects any religious interference in public life and forces religion into the private sphere."
Cardinal Biffi, archbishop of Bologna, inflamed the controversy when he demanded selective immigration.
Catholics, or Christians, he said, should be allowed to settle in Italy while Muslims, who "could impose Islamic culture", should be kept out. This raised a furore of protest from within and without Catholicism, but also some cautious agreement.
Soon afterwards, the populist Northern League staged a demonstration in Lodi, near Milan, against plans to build a mosque for the town's 5,000 Muslims. The Vatican has also become increasingly vociferous in demanding state support for private (Catholic) schools, which would clash with an article of the Italian constitution, and calling on Italian researchers to boycott research techniques condemned by Catholicism.
"Some Islamic immigrants refuse to accept individual rights that we, instead, consider essential," said Professor Flores d'Arcais. "But the response to this cannot be a clash between Christian and Islamic identity.
"If the pope demands Catholic schools financed by the state, tomorrow we will also have Muslim schools paid for by the state. A pluralistic society is not a society of many clericalisms, but one without clericalism."