“Certainly if it’s a worry for the Holy See, it is a worry for each one of us,” Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell, the prefect for the Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life, said when asked about the letter in a news conference on Tuesday. “And a concern of which we naturally agree with.”
An official from the Vatican’s Secretariat of State said that the letter did not get into details, but referred to an article of the Lateran Treaty that clearly guaranteed religious liberty for the church in the practicing and teaching of its beliefs. He said the proposed law, if passed as is, would trample on those rights.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the letter’s contents, said that while the Vatican often sent such letters after the passage of laws, it decided in this instance to intervene early, during the legislative process, to try to stop it. The Vatican, the official said, considered itself well within its rights to do so, given the terms of the treaty.
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. Asked why the Vatican had not intervened so strongly in other countries that have passed similar laws, the official said that, as far as the Vatican understood, the proposed law went further than other places.
The letter delivered to the Italian government, the official said, asserted that in the long tradition and teaching of the church, the differences between the sexes is critical, and that recognizing that difference was not discrimination, but part of its belief system. He added that the treaty guaranteed that the church would have the right to practice and teach that difference in Italy.
On Nov. 4, Italy’s lower house of Parliament approved a bill to add anti-L.G.B.T. motives to an existing law that makes discrimination, violence or incitement based on someone’s race or religion a crime punishable with up to four years in prison. To improve awareness and sensitivity to the issue, the law also establishes a national day of awareness about the dangers of anti-L.G.B.T. violence, including in schools.
Most Western European democracies have implemented similar laws, but in Italy, its passage in the Senate has met opposition from Catholic associations, right-wing politicians and even some feminist groups.