By Cindy Wooden | Catholic News Service
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The Vatican has informed Italy that elements of a draft law to fight homophobia and discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity could violate the freedom of Catholics to teach and practice their faith.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, told Vatican News June 24 that the Vatican never asked the government to block the law. “We are against any attitude or gesture of intolerance or hatred toward people because of their sexual orientation.”
“Our concern relates to the problems of interpretation that could arise if a text with vague and uncertain contents were adopted,” leaving it up to the courts to determine “what is and what is not a crime,” the cardinal said.
The Vatican press office had confirmed June 22 that a “nota verbale,” a form of diplomatic correspondence, “from the Secretariat of State was informally delivered to the ambassador of Italy to the Holy See June 17, 2021.”
The letter was first reported by the daily newspaper Corriere della Sera and was published June 24 in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
At issue is the “Zan Law,” named after the bill’s sponsor, Alessandro Zan; the law was approved by the lower house of Italy’s parliament in November and is under consideration by the Senate. The law would add to the definition of hate crimes acts motivated by the victim’s “sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”
The Vatican note said aspects of the proposed law could violate the formal treaty between Italy and the Holy See, originally signed in 1929 and updated in 1984, which guarantees to the church “freedom of organization, public exercise of worship, exercise of the magisterium and the episcopal ministry” and the freedom of Catholics to gather and to share their opinions and beliefs “by word, writing and any other means of dissemination.”
The note expressed concern that under the law as currently drafted, the church and individual Catholics could risk being taken to court for upholding church teaching on the creation of human beings as man and woman, on sexuality, marriage and parenthood.
“Various expressions from the holy Scriptures, church tradition and the authentic magisterium of the popes and bishops,” the note said, consider “sexual difference according to an anthropological perspective that the church does not believe it can change because it derives from divine revelation.”
Corriere had reported the Vatican also was concerned that no exemption is allowed for Catholic schools in the draft bill’s mandate that schools participate in the May 17 celebration of a national day against homophobia, with educational activities aimed at “promoting a culture of respect and inclusion and fighting prejudices” against gay and transgender persons. However, that is not mentioned in the note as published by L’Osservatore Romano.
The leadership of the Italian bishops’ conference published a statement April 26 saying it supported every effort to recognize the full dignity of every human person; “however, a law that intends to combat discrimination cannot and must not pursue the goal with intolerance, questioning the reality of the difference between men and women.”
Cardinal Parolin said the “diplomatic note” was intended to be simply that, a private communication from the Vatican expressing specific concerns that could be addressed before the law came up for a vote in the Senate.
“It was not interference,” the cardinal said. The Vatican recognizes that Italy is a secular state.
The Vatican, like the Italian bishops’ conference, did not ask that the proposed law be scrapped, only that it be modified to protect the religious freedom and freedom of belief of all Italians, he said.
The note, as published in L’Osservatore Romano, asked the Italian government to take the Vatican’s concerns “into due consideration” and “find a different modulation of the normative text” that would guarantee respect for the rights enshrined in the Vatican-Italy concordat.