The Vatican has issued statements for years about LGBTQ issues. But on June 22 it was revealed the Vatican has inserted itself in a national debate over an LGBT+ rights bill in the Italian parliament. The action is causing an uproar in Italy.
The Vatican confirms that the Holy See’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, hand delivered a letter at a Vatican event last week to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See expressing deep reservations about the bill, called the Zan bill, after gay activist lawmaker Alessandro Zan.
The Vatican is known for commenting on same-sex marriage, gay adoption and other LGBT+ issues, rights, or abortion. What makes this different is the Vatican is arguing as a nation state. According to the Holy See, the law would violate the “concordat” — the very agreement that structures the Vatican’s relationship with Italy.
“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.
Benedetto Della Vedova, an Italian foreign ministry undersecretary said the Vatican city-state had not previously attempted to influence the Italian government on highly contentious issues such as abortion and divorce.
“The effects of this escalation aren’t positive for anyone,” Della Vedova said, calling the letter “heavy interference” by the Vatican.
In November 2020, Italy’s lower house of parliament approved a bill to add LGBT+ people to an existing law that makes discrimination, violence or incitement based on one’s race or religion a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
To improve awareness and sensitivity to the issue, the law also establishes a national day of awareness of the dangers of anti-LGBT+ violence, including in schools.
Many EU democracies have enacted similar laws. In Italy, the Zan bill has faced opposition from Catholic unions and right-wing politicians.
“Surely if it is a matter of concern to the Holy See, it is a matter of concern to each of us. And a concern to which we naturally agree,” said Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, prefect for the Vatican Office of the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.
An official from the Vatican’s state secretariat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the contents of the letter, said the letter did not go into details, but referred to an article of the Lateran Treaty that explicitly guaranteed religious freedom for the church in the practice and teaching of its beliefs. He said the proposed law, if passed, would trample those rights.
The official said the Vatican often sent such letters after laws were passed, but in this instance was invoking privilege during the legislative process to try to stop the bill’s passage.
The Vatican, the official said, considered itself well within its rights to do so, given the terms of the Vatican’s treaty with Rome.
The Vatican’s reading of the Zan bill argues that accepting only men as priests, prohibiting marriage to one man and one woman, and refusing to teach gender doctrine in Catholic schools would all be considered discriminatory and a crime.
The letter to the Italian government said that differences between the sexes are a matter of faith and dogma, and recognizing that difference is not discrimination, but part of the church’s belief system and the church should be able to teach those beliefs in Italy.
According to Rainbow Europe, an LGBT+ advocacy group, Italy has some of the weakest legal protections in the EU for LGBT+ people. A series of murders and assaults targeting trans people led to the bill being put forward last fall.
Several EU countries are condemning Hungary, also an EU nation, for passing an anti-LGBT+ law, it was reported on June 22.
Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, France, Ireland and Belgium have expressed disapproval of the new Hungarian law that prohibits sharing with minors any content that promotes homosexuality or gender reassignment.
Hungary’s extremist right wing ruling party claims the law is an effort to fight pedophilia. Human rights groups say the law will stigmatize LGBT+ people and prevent youth from accessing critical information.
Germany’s Europe minister, Michael Roth, told reporters that Hungary and Poland were trampling freedoms in their countries. Sweden called the law “grotesque.”
“The European Union is not primarily a single market. We are a community of values, these values bind us all,” Roth told media.
“There should be absolutely no doubt that minorities, sexual minorities too, must be treated respectfully.”
Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto was quoted by Reuters saying the new law was meant to protect children. Szijjarto said the law grants “an exclusive right of the parents to educate their kids regarding sexual orientation until the age of 18.”
The condemnation from EU countries comes as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) declined Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter’s request on June 22 to allow the city’s stadium to display rainbow colors to protest Hungary’s law.
As PGN has previously reported, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has insisted that he wants to “safeguard traditional Christian values” from what he calls “Western liberalism.”
Last summer Orban signed a law disallowing transgender and intersex people from changing their gender identities on legal and identifying documents. The Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic described that law as a “blow to the human dignity of trans people.”
PGN has been reporting on the encroaching extremism in Poland and how the government of far-right president Andrzej Duda has used LGBT+ issues to stoke animus against the LGBT+ community and to promote his own restrictive “family values” policies. Duda declared “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology” while also claiming that LGBT people are “even more destructive than communism.”
On June 19, in defiance of Duda, the largest gay pride parade in central Europe took place in Warsaw. The Equality Parade was the 20 year anniversary of the first such parade in the Polish capital.
Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski walked at the head of the parade in a sign of support for LGBT+ rights. Ambassadors and other diplomats from 14 embassies in Warsaw also took part, including the U.S. charge d’affaires Bix Aliu, who tweeted “Let’s choose love not hate.”
“The day of the parade is always a bittersweet moment for our community,” said Rafal Wojtczak, a spokesman for parade organizers. Some people in the parade carried Hungarian flags in solidarity with the new anti-LGBT+ legislation in Hungary and others carried Russian flags in protest of the anti-LGBT+ actions in Russia.