Some Italian Catholics Support Non-Discrimination Bill, While Vatican Is Now Quiet

Some Italian Catholics have offered their support for an Italian bill that would enhance LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Meanwhile, the Vatican, which at one point had intervened against the bill, is now remaining quiet.

One supporter for the so-called “Zan bill” is the Catholic group Noi Siamo Chiesa (the Italian branch of We Are Church). A spokesperson for the group, Vittorio Bellavite, told Crux that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people daily face incidents of discrimination and violence, necessitating “a specific norm which targets those who use violence and hostility against homosexuals.” Crux reported further:

“Should the law be passed without amendments or modifications, as many are expecting, it would mean homosexual individuals and families ‘are freer, they are convinced that they are more accepted,’ Bellavite said.

“‘This law is something important,’ he said, noting that while violent discrimination will almost certainly still happen, ‘at least they have the Republic that says these things are condemned and the tribunals must apply this law.'”

Noi Siamo Chiesa joined 71 Christian organizations in a public appeal for the Zan bill. Bellavite warned that if the Italian Senate does not vote to approve it, the bill could stall out in the legislature and never become law. Behind that appeal are groups like Cammini di Speranza and Progetto Gionata, both of which serve LGBTQ Christians specifically. The appeal reads, in part (via Google Translate):

“. . .as citizens, LGBT believers and their parents, groups, Christian and non-Christian associations, and pastoral workers who know the condition of LGBT + people closely, we believe that the Italian Parliament must approve the bill as soon as possible Zan for the ‘prevention and contrast of discrimination and violence for reasons based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability’.

“Aware of the complexity of the subject in question and of the perplexities expressed also in the ecclesial sphere, however, we believe that a secular state must still respond to an urgent need for the protection of all people, including LGBT+ people. In this case, we believe that the Zan bill is currently the most appropriate tool.”

Crux’s reporting included expected opposition from more conservative Catholics, but in a separate article, noted one opponenet of the Zan bill who is not speaking out now: the Vatican.

Earlier this year, the Holy See sent a nota verbale, or diplomatic communication, to the Italian government stating its opposition to the Zan bill. It was reportedly the first time the Holy See exercised this right under the Lateran Treaty since it was agreed upon nearly a century ago. But did this move make a difference? John Allen wrote that “the Vatican’s intervention now seems to be a non-factor,” explaining:

“At least publicly, proponents of the bill in the senate debate haven’t engaged the substantive concerns contained in the communique, formally known as a nota verbale. Nor have they tried to use the Vatican’s intervention as a rallying cry, urging the senate to demonstrate its independence by rebuffing the attempted interference.

“Opponents, meanwhile, don’t seem especially eager to wrap themselves in the Vatican flag either. In an extensive debate that began on Tuesday, so far the only senator to even refer to the Vatican protest has been Andrea Ostellari of the right-wing populist Lega party. . .

“Nor has the Vatican itself made any noise. Since Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Secretary of State, released an interview in late June to claim the intervention had been misunderstood, there’s been steady radio silence.”

Allen suggested the Vatican’s silence now is “strategic,” and this silence may have to do with Pope Francis whose position is not known:

“Shortly after the Vatican note [from the Holy See to Italy] was made public, close papal advisor and ally Andrea Riccardi, a layman and founder of the Sant’Egidio movement, gave an interview in which he suggested it came from ‘Italian clerical circles and not from the pope.’ Then during his Sunday Angelus address that week, the pope spoke these lines: ‘Don’t judge the personal and social situations of others. God loves everyone! Don’t judge, live and let live, and try to get closer to others with love.'”

Allen concluded:

“Whatever the case, it remains noteworthy that after breaking hundreds of years of diplomatic precedent to lodge a formal protest against a law before it had even been adopted, the Vatican now appears to be letting things take their course.”

It would likely have been best for the Holy See not to have participated at all in this Italian legislative debate, even if there is a diplomatic prerogative to do so. Opposing the protection of LGBTQ people from discrimination and violence hardly seems grounds for an historic first that the nota verbale was. Nonetheless, the intervention was made, the Vatican’s top diplomat defended it, and the archbishop who criticized it has since rescinded his comments. It was a poor moment for church leaders. There can be redemption from this debacle, however, if Pope Francis uses it as an opportunity to clarify his position and hopefully come out in support of LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 21, 2021

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