ROME – Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, has defended a formal complaint made by the Holy See about a proposed anti-homophobia law in Italy, saying the move does not interfere with international politics, but rather raises concerns that could lead to bigger problems if the bill is passed.
Speaking to Andrea Tornielli, editorial director of the Vatican’s official information platform Vatican News, Parolin said he approved the nota verbale that was sent to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See, Pietro Sebastiani, and was prepared for “reactions.”
“It was an internal document, exchanged between government administrations through diplomatic channels,” he said, and appeared frustrated that the document was leaked, saying the note was “a text written and designed to communicate some concerns and certainly not to be published.”
The nota verbale, first reported in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera Tuesday morning, marks the first time the Vatican has invoked its sovereign status under the 1929 Lateran Pacts – which guarantees the Holy See’s sovereignty and governs relations between the Holy See and Italy – to protest a piece of Italian legislation.
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The bill in question, called the so-called “Zan bill” – named after Alessandro Zan, the openly gay Italian politician who introduced it – is meant to combat expressions of homophobia, but the Holy See in its complaint argued that the generic wording of the bill would violate the guarantee of religious freedom by essentially outlawing Church teaching on marriage and sexuality.
In his interview with Tornielli, Parolin stressed that in the Holy See’s complaint, “in no way has it been asked to block the law.”
“We are against any attitude or gesture of intolerance of hatred towards people because of their sexual orientation, as well as their ethnicity or their beliefs,” he said, insisting that for the Vatican, the issue involves “problems that could arise if a test with vague and uncertain contents were adopted, which would end up shifting the definition of what is a crime and what is not at the judicial stage, but without giving the judge the necessary parameters to distinguish.”
Specifically, he said the concept of discrimination in the bill is “too vague,” and that without a proper definition, the bill risks “making any possible distinction between man and woman punishable, with consequences that can prove to be paradoxical and which in our opinion should be avoided as long as there is time.”
“The need for definition is particularly important because the legislation moves in an area of criminal relevance where, as is well noted, what is allowed and what is forbidden must be well determined,” he said.
Parolin referred to the negative blowback the Vatican has received for intervening in the approval process of a civil law which has yet to be passed, saying the decision to make a preventative move was to highlight potential problems “before it is too late.”
To intervene only after the bill is approved would have been “belated,” he said, adding, “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.
Asked for his reaction to accusations that the nota verbale was an act of undue interference from the Holy See, Parolin said no, insisting that the note is a diplomatic tool aimed at opening a conversation, rather than imposing a point of view.
He referred to remarks made by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi to members of the Italian Senate Wednesday evening, in which Draghi rejected the Vatican’s complaint, saying, “ours is a secular state, not a confessional state,” and as such, Parliament “is free” to deliberate and draw its own conclusions the constitutionality of laws under consideration.
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“I fully agree with President Draghi on the secular nature of the state and on the sovereignty of the Italian Parliament,” Parolin said, insisting that in this context, the nota verbale is the “proper means of dialogue in international relations.”
Parolin also voice appreciation for Draghi’s insistence that Italian regulations ensure constitutional principles and international commitments, saying, “In this context there is a fundamental principle, the one for which pacta sunt servanda (agreements are to be kept).”
The text of the nota verbale, he said, was limited to select portions of the Holy See’s concordat with Italy which could be impacted should the Zan bill be passed as is.
The note was sent “in a relationship of loyal collaboration and I would dare say friendship which has characterized and characterizes our relations,” he said, noting that the issue of freedom of opinion “does not only concern Catholics, but all people, touching on what the Second Vatican Council defines as the ‘shrine’ of conscience.”
Despite repeated attempts from the Italian bishops to have the bill modified, it was still necessary for the Holy See to act, Parolin said, saying “there is full continuity of views and actions” between the Holy See and the Italian bishops on the issue.
“Thus, also the nota verbale concludes with the request for a different ‘modulation’ of the text,” he said, adding, “Discussion is always permitted.”