ROME — Even though Pope Francis has declined to get involved in Italy’s ongoing debate over a bill to legalize same-sex civil unions, saying the pope belongs to everyone and shouldn’t comment on local politics, two of the Vatican’s top cardinals weren’t so reluctant.
On Tuesday, the Vatican secretary of state, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said it was “essential” that the Italian legislation not equate civil unions with marriage, a message he reiterated Wednesday at the presentation of a print to commemorate the Holy Year of Mercy at the Vatican library.
Parolin, the Vatican’s top diplomat, told journalists that “the positions [of the Church and the government] are clear,” adding that he found it “appropriate” that the stepchild adoption clause, which would have allowed a gay person to adopt his or her partner’s biological child, was removed from the proposed bill.
“The key point is that you do not in any way equate marriage to civil unions and that they remain two completely different disciplines,” he said.
On Thursday, a second high-ranking Vatican prelate waded into the debate. At a Vatican conference, “Charity will never end,” German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said that it’s not possible to have a marriage between two men or women.
Straying away from his prepared remarks, he added, “This is not a political interference, but it is to say to the politicians to respect the human nature over which they aren’t masters.”
“Politicians must serve the community and not impose a false ideology,” Müller added.
The conference at which he spoke commemorated the 10-year anniversary of Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), an encyclical letter written by Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. Müller explained the papal document in the light of Pope Francis’ Holy Year of Mercy. Talking about love in Benedict’s document, Müller said it explores different kinds of love, such as the love between friends, siblings, but also love for the arts, music, or science.
“The most sublime aspect, however, in which every culture talks about love, especially in the context of biblical revelation, is the physical and spiritual communion between a man and a woman in the marriage bond,” the cardinal said.
Italian Premier Matteo Renzi is battling to have parliament approve the law that would give legal rights to same-sex couples. Earlier in the week, he had to water it down, taking the so-called stepchild adoption out of the proposed legislation.
The move was made to try to win the backing of conservative and Catholic senators, needed to pass the proposal, known as the Cirinnà bill for the lawmaker who authored it, Monica Cirinnà, of the premier’s Democratic Party.
But it’s possible that even the weaker version won’t pass, or might still be heavily amended. Renzi’s alliance with the New Centre Right party comes after he lost the backing of the populist Five Star Movement, Italy’s second largest political movement.
The country is the only one in Western Europe with no legal recognition of same-sex couples, and is heavily divided by the debate, with rallies organized in favor and against the bill.
Until this week, the Vatican had remained mostly at the sidelines, with even the Italian Catholic bishops divided on how outspoken they should be regarding the law.
During a press conference on his way back from Mexico, Francis was asked about the bill, particularly on the adoption issue. The pontiff declined to answer, saying, “the pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics.”
However, he said his beliefs match “what the Church thinks,” and pointed out that his position has been stated before, given that Italy is not the first country to engage in this debate.
For instance, last year, when same-sex marriage was approved in a referendum in Ireland, Parolin called it a “defeat for humanity.”