By Andrew Williamson
Mitt Romney’s recent presidential campaign has generated a great amount of media and public awareness of Mormons in Italy. On Thursday, two Italian scholars presented their research on the Italian media and the LDS Church as part of the Mormon Media Symposium at BYU.
Mauro Properzi, a BYU Religion professor, analyzed all Italian media this year from January to October that contained the key phrases “Mormon” or “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” What he found was 344 unique articles written this year referencing to Mormonism, the vast majority linking the religion to Mitt Romney.
Over half of the articles were positive, most highlighting Romney’s church service and philanthropy, while others highlighted service projects and community efforts Italian church members had performed.
But there are still large misconceptions in Italy of who exactly the Mormons are, with “the Mormon Utah Jazz,” the “Mormon NSA espionage building,” and the “Mormon Amish” all being reported on in Italy. But despite the inaccuracies, Properzi pointed out that media coverage in 2012 had been much more fair and accurate to Mormons than in the previous presidential election in 2008.
“The Church is becoming more and more well-known to the Italians,” Properzi said. “With the Italian National Archives cooperating with Family Search, the LDS Church receiving official recognition from the government, and the building (of) a significant temple in Rome, the Church is really starting to break out of obscurity.”
But challenges are still present for the Italian saints, according to Giulia Vibilio, a graduate student at BYU. In her research, she found that 62 percent of Italian Mormons feel that media provides a negative image of the Church.
“For many who join the Church it becomes a question of, ‘Do I trust the media or do a trust my member-friends?’” Vibilio said. “Those who trust the media eventually stop investigating the Church, while those who are baptized do so by relying on their own testimonies, Church members and the missionaries.”
While 68 percent of Italian converts encountered opposition from their parents and friends when they joined the Church, Vibilio is optimistic about the future of the Church in Italy. Awareness and respect will only increase as more people begin to understand the Latter-day Saints and what they actually believe and stand for.