Vatican launches heated debate over anti-homophobia legislation in Italy

VATICAN CITY (RNA) – As Italy envisages laws that would criminalize homophobia and discrimination against LGBTQ people, the Vatican has been forced to weigh how its own teachings on sexuality and its right to religious freedom will play out in a changing social context.

The Italian Senate is debating a law that, if passed, would add homophobia to the list of racial, religious and cultural discrimination currently being prosecuted as a hate crime in the country. The law, known as the Zan Law after its sponsor, politician and activist Alessandro Zan, could punish those responsible for anti-LGBT crimes with up to four years in prison.

The Zan Bill was passed in the Italian House of Commons, awaiting approval in the Senate, but it faces opposition from the Vatican, who are “concerned” with the legislation, according to the Prefect of the Vatican Department for Laity, Family and Life. Cardinal Joseph Farrell.

The Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday (June 22) that a few days earlier the Vatican had sent a written notice to the Italian government through its diplomatic channels expressing its concern that the zan Law would violate the agreement signed between Italy and the Vatican in 1929, known as the Lateran Treaty.

The Vatican’s note reflected the concerns of the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference about the impact of the law on religious organizations, particularly the numerous Catholic hospitals, schools and orphanages operating in the country. It is not clear whether Catholic schools are required by law to draw attention to homophobia, Catholic doctors must adopt gender theory, or whether orphanages must allow same-sex couples to adopt children.

The flag of the Vatican City, on the left, and a flag of pride. Images courtesy of Creative Commons

The Lateran Treaty, revised in 1984, grants “Catholics and their associations and organizations full freedom of assembly and expression”.

The Italian bishops have proposed changes to the Zan Law, indicating that existing measures will make the new legislation superfluous. The President of the Conference, Archbishop Gualtiero Bassetti, stressed that the fight against discrimination must not come at the expense of “pursuing intolerant goals”.

“It’s a very sensitive area,” said Agostino Giovagnoli, who teaches contemporary history at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan, adding that Zan’s Law uses “the ax” instead of a finer instrument.

The bill caused “an unprecedented act in the history of relations” between Italy and the Catholic city-state, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told AFP, referring to the June 17 announcement. The Corriere agreed and said that “the Vatican State never” knocked on the door of the Italian state to confront them directly with a law. “

But, according to Giovagnoli, “unparalleled” is a word to use with caution when referring to the Vatican. He stated that diplomatic notes are not intended for publication and therefore the frequency with which the Vatican uses this tool is not known. “So an interesting question is why and by whom this note was published,” he said.

Giovagnoli referred to a similar note sent to the Italian government by the Vatican Bureau of International Affairs in 1966, in which he opposed a law then being debated by the Italian parliament that would legalize divorce. According to the Vatican, this also violates the Lateran Treaty. The divorce was legalized in Italy in 1970, which proved, Giovagnoli said, that this note “led to no result”.

While there are cases in which Italian bishops and prelates speak out openly against Italian legislation or entire governments, the Vatican has a policy of silence – at least publicly – when it comes to state sovereignty. Pope Francis has his own story of not interfering in the affairs of his own country Argentina, which passed a law in 2021 allowing abortion on demand.

Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin will attend a meeting in Milan, Italy on Saturday, October 8th.  March 2020. (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni)

The Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Pietro Parolin will attend a meeting in Milan on October 3, 2020. Parolin recently sought to contain the controversy over a diplomatic communication from the Vatican to Italy by saying the Holy See’s intention was not to block the passage of a law that would further protect the LGBT community from discrimination. (AP Photo / Antonio Calanni)

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Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi rejected Vatican interference on Wednesday, telling the Senate that “Italy was a lay state” and that Parliament had taken into account the potential impact of the Zan law.

Matteo Renzi, a former Italian prime minister who leads the center-left Italia Viva party, called the Vatican’s efforts to stop the Zan Law “a mistake,” adding that “laws are made by MPs, not by.” Cardinals ”. Organizations working for LGBTQ rights in Italy have also joined the fight, accusing the church of “hating our children”, preaching tolerance and mercy, and at the same time supporting discrimination.

However, some conservative Catholics, including members of parliament, protested against the “soft” approach of the Italian bishops and criticized Bassetti’s decision not to “enter the conflict with a bayonet”, as Giovagnoli put it. Conservative Catholic voices may have pressured the Vatican to intervene in the struggle, he added, which could weaken Bassetti’s position.

Rosary and Bible-waving politician Matteo Salvini, who leads the right-wing Northern League party, and other influential politicians and bishops believe that the local Church should do more to promote teaching and Catholic teaching.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican foreign minister, told the internal Vatican press on Thursday: “First of all, I want to make it clear that there has never been a motion to stop the law”, but that the Catholic Church must protect itself from “unclear and unsafe content “of the measure, which could lead to a flood of lawsuits against the institution.

And for an official of a largely medieval institution, Parolin offered a lesson in policy-making: “Debate,” he said, “is always lawful”.

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