VATICAN CITY — In a powerful speech Tuesday at the opening of the Italian bishops’ general assembly, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa decried the civil-unions bill passed in the nation’s parliament last week, emphasizing that Pope Francis himself always advocates for the natural family.
The president of the Italian bishops’ conference peppered his May 17 speech with several lengthy quotes from Francis and lamented that the Pope’s affirmations of the family are so often ignored in the mainstream press.
The annual gathering of the Italian bishops, May 16-19, is on the topic of “Renewal of the Clergy.” Pope Francis began the assembly with a brief speech on the priesthood on Monday, followed by a closed-door question-and-answer session with the bishops.
Italy’s civil-unions bill passed May 11.
Championed by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, the bill passed the Chamber of Deputies by a 369-193 vote of confidence for Renzi. It had already passed the Senate in February, after being watered down “to win the backing of conservative and Catholic senators,” according to The Guardian.
The bill affords couples in civil unions many of the rights of married couples, but its concession added to gain the support of some conservative senators is that parental rights are not granted to non-biological parents in a civil union.
Sen. Monica Cirinna, who sponsored the bill, said the watered-down version is a “hollow victory” and only “a first step,” according to the BBC.
Cardinal Bagnasco decried the new law and said that it “certifies an equivalence” between civil unions and marriage, even “though the law affirms that civil unions and marriage are different things.”
Such “differences are only tricks of terminology or juridical artifacts, which can be easily bypassed.”
According to Cardinal Bagnasco, the law is just an intermediate step “on the path to the final strike, which will eventually include the approval of surrogate motherhood, a practice that exploits women, taking advantage of their poverty.”
Surrogacy is currently illegal in Italy.
Cardinal Bagnasco underscored that people “want the parliament to be committed” to tackling real issues, such as unemployment and poverty. “What are public institutions doing,” he asked rhetorically, to give a long-term response to these issues?
He added that Catholic Relief Services in Italy had provided 12 million meals for the poor and is on the frontlines assisting migrants who arrive, often illegally, on the nation’s shores.
“These are the real problems of the country, of the people. So, it is not understandable why (the Italian Parliament) spent so much emphasis and energy on causes that do not tackle these issues and merely respond to ideological schemes,” the cardinal stressed.
Cardinal Bagnasco also noted Pope Francis’ repeated defense of the natural family.
He quoted from the Pope’s joint declaration with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, in which the bishops said that “the family is based on marriage, an act of freely given and faithful love between a man and a woman. … We regret that other forms of cohabitation have been placed on the same level as this union, while the concept, consecrated in the biblical tradition, of paternity and maternity as the distinct vocation of man and woman in marriage is being banished from the public conscience.”
The cardinal also recalled that Pope Francis called the family “the foundation of coexistence and a remedy against social fragmentation” in his speech to the community of Varginha in Rio de Janeiro on July 25, 2013.
The Pope also, Cardinal Bagnasco continued, stressed at a colloquium held Nov. 17, 2014, that “complementarity lies at the foundation of marriage and the family,” and for this reason, “children have a right to grow up in a family with a father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s growth and emotional development.”
Cardinal Bagnasco also recalled that the Pope has often underscored that gender ideology is “a mistake of the human mind” and doubted whether “gender identity” is “an expression of frustration and resignation, which seeks to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it.”
“It cannot be understood why these clear statements from Pope Francis, which the bishops often reiterate, are kept under silence, as if the Pope had never said or written them.”
The bishops of Italy, Cardinal Bagnasco said, “underscore the Pope’s statements, so that they can turn into effective commitment.”