The Minister of Justice in Italy has given prosecutors permission to use a Fascist-era law to punish a comedian for mocking the Pope.

Sabina Guzzanti is accused of “offending the honour of the sacred and inviolable person” of Pope Benedict XVI.

The satirist and comedian, during a routine at a rally in Rome in July, condemned the Vatican‘s interference in issues such as gay rights.

“Within twenty years the Pope will be where he ought to be, in Hell, tormented by great big poofter devils — and very active ones, not passive ones,” she said.

Now the Rome prosecutor has been given permission to proceed against her under the 1929 Lateran Treaty.

The treaty, between the Vatican and the Italian government, was signed when fascist leader Benito Mussolini was in power.

It stipulated that an insult to the Pope carries the same penalty as an insult to the Italian President.

Permission to bring a prosecution has to be given by the Ministry of Justice.

Nobel prize-winning playwright Dario Fo said of the decision to take action against a comedian: “This is Fascism pure and simple.”

Ms Guzzanti’s father, a centre Right MP, was shocked by the prosecution.

According to The Times Paolo Guzzanti branded it: “a return to the Middle Ages. Perhaps my daughter should be be submitted to the judgement of God by being made to walk on hot coals.”

Conservative media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi won the Italian general election in March and began his third term as Prime Minister.

His predecessor Romano Prodi’s commitment to increased gay rights caused tension in the previous administration.

It lost the support of parliament in January after the nine-party coalition government he was leading fell apart.

Proposals from ministers to bring forward a draft bill that would grant any unwed couple, gay or straight, the right to register themselves as a family stalled.

The proposed new law would also have granted some pension and health insurance rights, but falls far short of the civil partnerships gay and lesbians in the UK enjoy.

Italy is perhaps the only country in Europe where the Roman Catholic Church retains such strong influence over politics.

Church-state relations have improved following Pope Benedict XVI’s repeated attacks on the proposed legislation to recognise gay couples.