President of Pontifical Academy for Life Backs Italian Anti-Homophobia Bill

Even though the Holy See has sent a diplomatic note to the Italian government expressing its concerns about the bill, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia has twice voiced his support on his own.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is shown arriving for the afternoon session of the Amazon Synod on Oct. 15, 2019.
Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia is shown arriving for the afternoon session of the Amazon Synod on Oct. 15, 2019. (photo: Daniel Ibanez/CNA)

VATICAN CITY — Despite the Holy See making a rare intervention in Italian politics last month to express concerns about an anti-homophobia bill passing through the Italian Parliament, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia has twice voiced his support for the proposed legislation and called for greater social commitment to root out discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In his latest comments, given to the Italian monthly magazine Famiglia Cristiana on Thursday, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life said the legislation, called the “Ddl Zan bill,” “addresses a real issue,” as “there are too many attitudes of discrimination based on sex.” 

“The Church, which has never been indifferent, wants to help fight any abuse,” he continued. “It is not just about promoting the freedoms of Catholics, but of everyone.” His only criticism of the proposed law was that it could be better written, as it currently looks “more like a ‘manifesto.’” 

Archbishop Paglia also went on to say that the “idea of a ‘no’ Church is false,” and it is incorrect to say the Church is opposed to rights. “Nor is it true that there has been, in history, a pure opposition between those who stood as champions of the rights of individuals and humanity and a Church that imposed only prohibitions aimed at stifling individual freedoms,” he said.  

The Ddl Zan bill aims to criminalize “discrimination and violence for reasons based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability” and to add an annual day against “homophobia” and “transphobia” to the national calendar. The legislation, first introduced in 2018, passed the lower house of Italy’s Parliament last November but still must pass in the Italian Senate.

The Holy See and Italy’s bishops are concerned the bill could lead to the criminalization of the Church in Italy for refusing to bless same-sex unions, for opposing adoption by homosexual couples by Catholic institutions, or for not complying with gender theory in Catholic schools, which could include mandating them to take part in national days for homosexual rights. 

The Vatican’s secretary for relations with states, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, sent a very rare verbal note to the Italian Embassy to the Holy See on June 17 in which he argued that the proposed legislation violates the 1929 Lateran Pacts between the Holy See and the Italian state and a 1984 amendment to that treaty that guarantees religious freedom for the Catholic Church in Italy. 

The Italian bishops have already firmly contested the bill, sparking an outcry from pro-homosexual organizations and members of Parliament. 

Archbishop Paglia had previously voiced his opposition to the Holy See’s verbal note, saying last week it should not have been written. “It has nothing to do with the [1929] concordat,” he said at a Rome event. He also joined others in expressing a wish to change the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality and advocated recognizing other forms of cohabitation. 

In his latest interview, he ignored the concerns of the Holy See and Italy’s bishops. Instead, he said that the Church’s “patrimony of wisdom” leads it to condemn countries that discriminate against homosexual or transgender people. “We condemn this, and we work so that no one is discriminated against,” he said. 

“In Italy I think it’s important to work on the level of mentality,” he continued. “Bullying and racism because of sexual orientation are fought, first of all, with a strong educational commitment. A law is not enough, all the more so if it is badly written.”

He called for “an alliance between public institutions, educational agencies, families and associations,” adding that a “calm, open and multifaceted confrontation is urgently needed.”

The Italian prelate argued that the Church has “always been concerned with safeguarding the dignity of all,” but added that it’s important “not to multiply individual rights indefinitely without the counterbalance of duties; otherwise we risk endangering peaceful civil coexistence.” 

His comments are consistent with previous remarks he has made on the issue. In 2013, Archbishop Paglia, then the newly appointed president of the now-defunct Pontifical Council for the Family, said the Church should do more to protect homosexuals from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal and also voiced support for giving unmarried couples legal protection. 

His latest comments follow remarks Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, gave on the verbal note, in which he said the intervention was not intended to be made public and “was in no way a request to block the law.”

“We are against any attitude or gesture of intolerance or hatred towards people because of their sexual orientation,” he said. “Our worry concerns problems of interpretation that could arise if a text with vague and uncertain contents were adopted.” 

Update: In a June 25 interview published in Il Giornale, Archbishop Paglia walked back his comments that the verbal note shouldn't have been written, saying “If Europe can legitimately intervene if and when a country threatens the rights of citizens with homosexual orientations, I don’t see why the Holy See can’t do the same in Italy.” He blamed the media for “extrapolating” some of his remarks at the Rome event and reporting on the Vatican's note which, he said, “should have remained secret.”