ROME — An Italian cardinal has said that proposed legislation to allow same-sex unions and adoption by same-sex couples in Italy is “fundamentally against the Italian constitution” as well as Catholic doctrine, "the natural moral law" and "common sense.”
“We believe that marriage is a natural reality, and one cannot alter that through the law,” Cardinal Velasio De Paolis told the Register Jan. 30.
“It’s a point of civil legislation, and we must respect the civil order; but we are also citizens who have a responsibility to the country and to doctrine, and we have the right and obligation to support the faithful,” he said.
The cardinal was speaking on the same day that hundreds of thousands of people from all over Italy descended on Rome’s Circus Maximus to defend marriage in the face of the legislation.
The event organizer, Massimo Gandolfini, said the numbers of those attending were “many, many more than we thought” and estimated the crowd size to be 2 million. (The more likely figure, based on the size of Circus Maximus and crowd-density calculations, was 200,000-300,000, but the number nevertheless filled the historic venue almost to capacity.)
If passed, the so-called Cirinnà bill would grant same-sex couples — as well as non-married couples of the opposite sex — the same legal rights as married couples of the opposite sex. Among the legal allowances would be the adoption of a child by the same-sex partner of his or her parent.
Italy is the only major Western European country to offer no legal rights to same-sex couples. Gandolfini, a member of the Neocatechumenal Way and a married father of seven adopted children, said protesters didn’t want amendments but the entire rejection of the bill. “Without limits, our society will go mad!” he told the rally. “We are here for the family; we’re not against anyone,” he added.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who has pushed for such legislation since his election in 2014, has said a total rejection of the bill would be “unacceptable” because Europe has repeatedly criticized Italy for not allowing rights for same-sex couples. Last July, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Italy violates the European Convention on Human Rights by not recognizing same-sex couples’ right to family life.
Saturday’s event comes nearly a decade after the 2007 Family Day helped scupper a previous civil-union bill under Romano Prodi’s government. At that time, the Italian bishops took a leading role in opposing the legislation under the leadership of Cardinal Camillo Ruini, former president of the Italian bishops’ conference.
This time around, the cardinal warned members of parliament they “would do well to listen” to the protesters at Family Day.
Asked why he opposed the bill even though proponents claim it won’t affect Italy’s ban on “womb rental” for surrogacy, Cardinal Ruini said he believes the stepchild-adoption provision would open the door to such a practice. “How else can two men have a child?” he said.
Cardinal De Paolis, president emeritus of the Prefecture for Economic Affairs of the Holy See, said that, despite the resistance, the bill will probably pass.
“Unfortunately, I have little optimism, because the overall mentality of the majority is in favor,” he said.
But some saw Saturday’s rally as a hopeful sign — the beginning of a possible backlash against a culture that views same-sex relations as licit.
“This event is a very positive development, because, three years ago, most Italian people were unaware of what was going on,” said Riccardo Cascioli, editor of the Italian daily newspaper La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana. “Now you can see more and more, also compared to a demonstration in June, that there’s a much greater desire to participate and to say, ‘No’ to all the bad consequences of this law.”
The “continuing momentum” to oppose it, Cascioli told the Register, contrasts with recent protests by those in support of the legislation. Despite having the media and powerful lobby groups on their side, “they couldn’t gather very many,” he noted.
Professor Roberto De Mattei of the pro-life group Famiglia Domani said public displays of resistance have been forming since Italy’s March for Life, now in its fifth year, which “gave an impulse to manifestations like this.”
Whereas the 2007 protests were spearheaded by the Italian bishops and backed by then-opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi, he noted how, “in this case, the decision has been promoted from the bottom up, not the top down.” The bishops’ conference, he said, has been obliged to follow the general mobilization by laypeople. “This is very interesting: The bishops were pushed to protest.”
It is no secret that the Italian episcopate was divided over how or whether to support Family Day. Bishop Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian bishops’ conference, appointed by Pope Francis, wanted a non-confrontational approach, as opposed to that of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops, who wanted to repeat the example of Cardinal Ruini and Benedict XVI in 2007.
Bishop Galantino is hoping for a “pacific agreement on this, if possible,” said De Mattei, but he added that, in his opinion, such an approach is “not possible” because of widely differing “conceptions of life” between those campaigning for a change in the law and those who are opposed to it from the point of view of the natural moral law.
The lack of participation by the Italian bishops, the reluctance of Vatican institutions to give the rally much attention (L’Osservatore Romano gave it a cursory mention on the inside pages of its Saturday edition), and the seeming reticence of Pope Francis to speak out in support of the event, caused considerable concern in the run-up to the event, as it came to be seen by some, as a “No” to Catholics to mobilize against the legislation.
Throughout his papacy, the Holy Father has defended marriage and has criticized same-sex unions. Although he most recently spoke out strongly in favor of marriage in a speech to the Roman Rota on Jan. 22, saying there can be “no confusion between the family willed by God and every other type of union,” he said no more on the issue.
But this papal approach was in many ways in line with that of the rally organizers. They asked that the meeting not be associated with any “movement, association, group, party, committee or any other religious leader” because they didn’t want it to have any “sectarian connotation” or be seen as only a Catholic gathering.
Even Kiko Argüello, founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, which transported many families to the event, was told not to speak just days before the event, according to a letter obtained by Vaticanist Sandro Magister. Argüello did eventually address the rally, but in a personal capacity.
Despite the absence of senior Church figures (only one bishop reportedly attended) and public papal support for the event, some saw it as an important strategy. “Such an approach showed it’s not about religion, but about human nature,” said Augusto Silberstein, a Brazilian student at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, who attended the event. “That’s the power of it. If it were tied to the Catholic hierarchy, some Catholic movement, religious group, or any group, it would have put limits on it.”
He said he thought it was “very, very well thought out” to show that it was open to everyone. “You had people from the political left and people from the right. It also showed this was a movement of laypeople,” he noted.
On the Pope’s silence, he said it was important not to give the idea to adversaries that the event was “being steered by the Pope, which it wasn’t,” because it allowed politicians to see what the people really think.
What is crucial now, he believes, is to “go much deeper” and try not just to change the law, but also to “change culture.” The rally was very important to show “that people who think this way are not alone,” he said, but added that changing the culture cannot be done with one or two events and needs a “series of initiatives.”
“That’s where the laymen have to mobilize and be creative” and show that the way of living they are fighting for is “much better than the alternative,” he said.
Dominican Father Ezra Sullivan, an American studying at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas, also attended the rally. He told the Register he is hopeful that it will mark a start in changing people’s opinions and believes it will unite them in creating “good political consequences.”
“As Rome is still the capital of the world, I believe Americans can take their cue from Romans who fight for the truth,” he said.
Cause for Political Reflection
Although pessimistic about the outcome of this legislation, Cardinal De Paolis also believes the rally forced politicians to “take into account the will of the electorate.”
The Cirinnà bill was passed in the lower house of the Italian parliament last week. The Senate will begin debating it tomorrow. A final vote on the text, with additional amendments, is expected on Feb. 11.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.