Vatican challenges Italian bill on homophobia saying it infringes on civil liberties

(REUTERS/Marko Djurica)Gay rights activists carry a rainbow flag during a protest at Tunel Square in Istanbul.

The Vatican has expressed concerns to the Italian government about a law being debated on homophobia currently passing through the Italian parliament which it sees as infringing on civil liberties.

The Vatican confirmed on June 22 that the Holy See's foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, hand delivered a letter at a Vatican event the previus week to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See.

The letter expressed deep reservations about the bill, The New York Times reported.

Those who support the legislation say it offers overdue protections to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestite (L.G.B.T.) Italians from violence and discrimination.

The Vatican said, however, that the bill infringes upon guaranteed religious liberties.

It said it risks exposing the church's core beliefs, such as limiting the priesthood to men, or only recognizing marriage between a man and a woman, to charges of criminal discrimination.

The proposed law is known at the Zan bill, named after LGBT activist and politician Alessandro Zan, and passed in the lower house of parliament in November, and now needs to pass the Senate, the BBC reported.

While it's common for church figures to take stances on affairs in other countries — whether on same-sex marriage, LGBT rights or abortion — in this case the Vatican is invoking its prerogatives as a "nation," arguing that the law, if passed, would violate the "concordat" that provides the framework for its relationship with Italy, The Washington Post reported.

"Some current contents of the draft being debated by the Senate reduce the freedom granted to the Catholic Church," the Vatican's note said, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, which first reported the letter.

The Vatican is a city state and its press office confirmed that it sent a note to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See but did not provide more details.


Benedetto Della Vedova, an Italian foreign ministry undersecretary who has read the document, called the message "heavy interference" according to the Post and said the Vatican city-state had not previously attempted to influence the Italian government on highly contentious issues such as abortion and divorce.

While the Catholic Church opposes same-sex marriages, Pope Francis has expressed support of civil unions and of guaranteeing gay couples equal rights.

Since his election in 2013, Francis has adopted a softer tone on homosexuality, notably saying "who am I to judge?" and agreeing to same-sex couples being granted legal recognition, Agence France-Presse reported.

Nevertheless, under Pope Francis the Vatican continues to defend marriage as being between a man and a woman, opposes gay adoptions, and sees "gender ideology" as a threat to traditional family values.

Specifically, the Vatican's letter objected to Catholic schools not being exempted from a proposed national day against homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia, to be held on May 17.

The Vatican also expressed concern that because of the Zan law, Catholics could in the future face legal action for expressing their opinions on LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) issues, Corriere said.

The law would call on schools and other public bodies to organize "ceremonies, meetings and any other appropriate activity" for the anti-homophobia day.

They should "promote the culture of respect and inclusion, combat prejudices, discrimination and violence motivated by sexual orientation and gender identity," says the bill.

Those opposing the law say it would enable the pushing of homosexual propaganda in schools.

But Zan of Italy's Democratic Party, rebutted the Vatican's stance.

"The text [of the law] does not restrict in any way freedom of expression or religious freedom. And it respects the autonomy of all schools," he tweeted.

Christian Today cited an interview between Francis and a priest published in 2020 in which the Pope decried "gender theory" as area where he sees evil at work in the world.

The pontiff called it a "dangerous" goal that seeks to "destroy at its roots" the plan of God for humanity it quoted the Catholic newspaper Crux as reporting.

"Diversity, distinction. It would make everything homogenous, neutral. It is an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women," Pope Francis said at the time.

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