The Vatican has made a fairly rare move into secular politics, opposing pending legislation in Italy that would address discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people.
The seat of the Roman Catholic Church has expressed “deep reservations about the bill,” which it claims would interfere with religious practice, The New York Times reports. Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, delivered a letter to this effect last week to Italy’s ambassador to the Holy See. The news was first reported Tuesday by Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.
The bill would add LGBTQ+ people, women, and people with disabilities to those covered by Italian antidiscrimination and hate-crimes law, according to the Associated Press. It was approved by the lower house of Parliament last year but has not come to a vote in the upper house, the Senate. Conservative politicians in the nation are strongly opposed to it.
“In the Vatican’s reading of the bill, only admitting men to the priesthood, restricting marriage to a man and a woman, and refusing to teach gender theory in Catholic schools would all be considered discriminatory, and a crime,” the Times reports. The Vatican claims the legislation would violate its “concordat,” or agreement, that governs its relationship with Italy. Vatican City, the home of the church’s headquarters, is an independent city-state surrounded by Rome.
Catholic officials have expressed opposition to legislation in some countries establishing marriage equality, abortion rights, or the right to divorce, but the move in Italy amounts to deeper involvement in secular politics than is the norm. In Italy, Pope Benedict XVI denounced attempts to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples, but his successor, Pope Francis, largely stayed away from the subject. The civil unions law passed in 2016. Francis has softened the church's tone toward LGBTQ+ people and even supported civil unions as a secular institution (without any church recognition), but church doctrine has not changed.
Alessandro Zan, a gay member of Parliament who is the new bill’s sponsor, told The Washington Post that the Vatican’s concerns are “absolutely groundless.” While the Vatican would like to see the measure amended, it already includes protections for freedom of speech and religion, Zan said.
He also said the legislation would simply establish rights and protections that are common in European countries and that the Vatican’s interference with the lawmaking process was inappropriate. “No one can interfere with a sovereign Parliament that has the right and the duty to legislate in full independence,” he told the Times this week.
Fabrizio Marrazzo, a spokesman for the political group Gay Party for LGBT+ Rights, told the AP the Vatican’s “meddling” was worrisome. Enrico Letta, leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, of which Zan is a member, told state broadcaster RAI that his party is “open to dialogue” with the Vatican but wants to see the bill pass.