- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

ROME — A battle of the bells has broken out in Italy as churches face a wave of complaints from locals fed up with endless ringing.

The chimes that for centuries have marked the hours, half-hours and quarter-hours of Italian life are under threat from “noise pollution” orders now being enforced in several towns.

The complaints have alarmed officials at the powerful Italian Bishops Conference, who oversee the running of the nation’s churches. They have hired lawyers to defend their right to ring, arguing that the sound of bells is an essential percussion to the rhythm of Italian life.

Among those who disagree is Flora Leuzzi, a retired university professor who has an apartment in Lavagna, near Genoa. His court case against the local priest, the Rev. Don Stefano Queirolo, and the bells of St. Stephen Church is due to end next month.

“I bought the place so I could enjoy my retirement and have some peace and quiet. But the bells ring every 15 minutes from 5.15 a.m. I tried double-glazing but the sound still got through,” Mr. Leuzzi said.

“I asked the priest if he could start later but he refused, so in the end I brought a complaint of noise pollution against him. I cannot listen to the television or the radio, and reading a book or a newspaper is out of the question.”

In Genoa itself, the council is to introduce fines of up to $670 for churches that breach noise-pollution edicts, which prohibit chimes before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m. The rules also forbid them chiming the quarter or half-hour, and advise priests to use bells “in moderation.”

“We carried out a number of measurements of church bells across the city and found that several places were in breach of noise regulations,” said Luca Dall’Orto of the Genoa council. “We have also asked that even during religious festivals, chimes last no longer than three minutes. If these guidelines are breached, the churches involved will be fined.”

He said the council decided to act after receiving numerous complaints that noise limits were being breached. “It is a proven fact that noise can be disturbing to health,” he said.

Monsignor Paolo Urso of the Italian Bishops Conference’s Judicial Office confirmed there have been complaints against the pealing of church bells, and court cases are ongoing.

He said the bishops conference has advised priests not to chime bells before 7 a.m. and after 10 p.m., but in some cases this request had been ignored, especially in the early morning.

“The sensibilities of locals must be considered, but at the same time there are also the liturgical practices of the church to bear in mind,” he said.

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