The Secretariat of State of the Holy See has formally called on the Italian government to amend a bill against homophobia, claiming that certain clauses would be contrary to articles of the concordat signed between Italy and the Vatican.
There is in fact a concordat between the Italian Republic and the Holy See, the famous Lateran Agreements, signed on February 11, 1929. These agreements recognize the creation of the Vatican City State.
The Villa Madame Agreement
A new concordat, drawn up in the early 1980s, was signed on February 12, 1984. This new concordat modifies the Lateran concordat on several points. It should be noted, for the question at hand, first of all Article 9.1:
“The Italian Republic...guarantees the Catholic Church the right to freely establish schools of all types and levels and educational establishments. Full freedom is granted to schools that achieve parity, and their students are treated the same as students in state schools.” This article forms the basis of what follows.
In addition, Article 2, §1 & 3, states:
“1. The Italian Republic recognizes the full freedom of the Catholic Church to carry out its pastoral, educational, and charitable mission of evangelization and sanctification. In particular, the Church is guaranteed freedom of organization, of public worship, of the exercise of the magisterium, and of the spiritual ministry, as well as jurisdiction in ecclesiastical matters.”
“3. Catholics and their associations and organizations are guaranteed full freedom of assembly and expression of thought through speech, writing, and all other means of communication.” It is on these last two elements that the intervention of the Holy See is based.
The Zan Bill
DDL Zan - for Disegno di Legge, or bill, named after MP Alessandro Zan, an LGBT activist - brings together several earlier proposals. It has been discussed for over a year and was approved by the House on November 4, 2020.
It covers “measures to prevent and combat discrimination and violence based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.” It was presented for discussion in the Senate.
This project has already been criticized at least twice by the Italian episcopate. In June 2020, the bishops of the peninsula ruled that “the possible introduction of new incriminating provisions would risk opening the way to draconian deviations, to discrimination.”
The episcopate returned to the charge last January: “For example, to subject to criminal proceedings those who believe that the family requires a father and a mother, and not the duplication of the same figure, would amount to introducing a crime of opinion. This effectively limits personal freedom, educational choices, the way of thinking and being, the exercise of criticism and dissent.”
Article 7, which wants to establish a National Day against homophobia, lesbophobia, biphobia, and transphobia, also poses a major difficulty, since it provides that schools would have to participate in the Day through various activities, without any exception being foreseen.
The Note Verbale from the Secretary of State
Msgr. Paul Richard Gallagher, member of the Secretariat of State, Secretary for Relations with States - in other words, the Pope's Minister of Foreign Affairs - communicated to the Italian Embassy to the Holy See a “note verbale” on June 17th.
In diplomatic language, the term “note verbale” designates a formal diplomatic communication, written in the third person and not signed.
This note specifies the concerns of the Holy See: “Certain current contents of the legislative proposal under consideration in the Senate reduce the freedom guaranteed to the Catholic Church by article 2, paragraphs 1 and 3 of the agreement for the revision of the Concordat,” in other words the agreement of the Villa Madame.
The note also expresses concerns about discriminatory behavior, with fears that approval of the law could even pose legal risks. “We ask that our concerns be accepted,” it concludes.
An Unprecedented Intervention
This is the first time, at least publicly, that the Vatican has used an official diplomatic channel in such circumstances. There is no precedent of the Church intervening in the process of the approval of an Italian law using the concordat made between the Holy See and Italy.
According to Corriere della Serra, the note was transmitted by the Italian Embassy to the Holy See to the office of the Foreign Ministry. It should then go back to the Prime Minister and be brought to the attention of parliament.
For the rest, various scenarios are possible. In particular, the activation of a mixed commission, provided for by article 14 of the 1984 Concordat.
One thing is certain, the turmoil around this bill will not abate.
In conclusion, it is gratifying to see the Holy See defending Catholic teaching in such circumstances, because it is not only in Italy where the situation is becoming problematic.
In many countries, laws similar to Ddl Zan outlaw Catholic doctrine on the family, and threaten to put simple catechism on the list of books to condemn. The error is spreading impudently, with the support of adulterated law.
It is therefore to be hoped that this intervention will succeed, and can serve as an example throughout the Catholic world.