ROME – In a recent interview, the Vatican’s top official on life issues criticized both a proposed anti-homophobia law in Italy and the Holy See’s resistance to the bill, which he said was poorly written but highlights an important issue

Speaking on a recent panel as part of the Bepop! Senza perdere l’amore (Be Pop! Without Losing Love) event happening at Rome’s Nemorense park, Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia acknowledged that hatred and discrimination against those with homosexual orientation is a problem.

“That the problem exists is obvious; that it must be fought is even more obvious still,” he said.

Head of the Pontifical Academy for Life and president of an Italian government commission on care for the elderly, Paglia said the merit of the proposed anti-homophobia law – called the “Zan bill” after the openly gay legislator who introduced it – is that it “brings to light a very important issue that must be faced.”

“I think that in the ordinary Italian legal system, there is already everything that is needed to firmly combat any form of discrimination…Everything is already there,” he said, noting that the drafting of new laws can also be a tool if an “emergency” happens that requires further legislation.

Referring to the current Italy-Vatican fracas over the Zan bill, Paglia said he believes “the mistake was on both sides.”

“The law as I’ve read and studied it is poorly done,” he said. “It identifies a problem but doesn’t help to resolve it. It’s more of a manifesto, and as a manifesto, it’s fine, but if you have to translate it into legislative language, it must be precisely written.”

On the other hand, Paglia also criticized the Holy See’s decision to issue a formal complaint in the form of a nota verbale – a formal diplomatic communique – saying the debate over the bill “is a problem regarding only the Italian republic.”

“It has nothing to do with the concordat,” he said, referring to the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established the Vatican City State as a sovereign entity and which governs relations between the Holy See and Italy.

“So, to me, that note, in my opinion, should not have been written. Absolutely,” he said.

It was the first time it has been reported the Holy See has issued a nota verbale to the Italian government to object to pending legislation. The Zan bill is still being evaluated by the Italian senate.

The unprecedented move was met with enormous backlash, with many arguing that the Vatican was overstepping its bounds and speaking out of place.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi was among those who criticized the move, saying in a scheduled speech to the Italian Senate that Italy “is a secular state, not a confessional state,” and as such, its parliament “is free” and capable of making its own decisions without outside interference.

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Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, responded to the criticism two days after the news first broke in an interview published on the Vatican’s formal information platform, Vatican News, insisting that the nota verbale was not an attempt to block the law, but to flag issues that could cause more serious problems down the line.

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Specifically, critics of the bill argue that if it were to be made law, it would require Catholic schools to incorporate state-mandated lessons on tolerance and gender into their curricula and it could criminalize public expressions of Church teaching on marriage and the family.

“We are against any attitude or gesture of intolerance or hatred towards people because of their sexual orientation, as well as their ethnicity or their beliefs,” Parolin said, but insisted that the bill, as written, is “too vague,” and risks “making any possible distinction between man and woman punishable.”

Defending the decision to make the complaint while the bill is still under consideration, Parolin said that intervening only after the bill is approved would have been “belated,” and that “The Holy See could have been accused of guilty silence, especially when the matter concerns aspects that are the subject of an agreement,” meaning the 1929 Lateran Pacts.

In his remarks, Paglia recalled how in a speech some months ago, when the Zan bill was first being discussed, he had encouraged “a joint, in-depth reflection to reformulate a legislative dictation which, to me, is very superficial, especially in some articles.”

At the moment, the bill lumps the problem of homophobia together with other issues, such as disability and feminism, he said, adding that there are “short circuits” in the bill “which in a text you can do, but in a legislative proposal” can cause problems.

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