The presence of the Vatican State in the heart of Italian territory is not only geographical. In fact, the Catholic Church has always had a strong influence on Italian politics too. The last case of interference on political matters concerns homo-transphobia. On the 22nd of June 2021, the Italian newspaper il Corriere della sera reported that five days before the Vatican delivered a letter to the Italian ambassador. What is the message from the Vatican State?
The Catholic Church protested against the ddl Zan, a drafted law (but already approved by the members of one of the two branches of the Parliament on the 4th of November 2020) against homo-transphobia. The ddl Zan was named after Alessandro Zan, a politician and LGBT+ activist that proposed the law. Basically, the ddl Zan worsens the penalty in case of discrimination, harassment, and incitation to violence due to gender identity, sexual preferences, and disability. Furthermore, it fosters strategies to prevent gender-related violence, i.e. the institution of special centres anti homo-transphobia. If approved, the ddl Zan would represent a great progress as regards basic human rights. Therefore, what are the objections of the Catholic Church to a law that protects people who are often discriminated?
In the note sent to the Italian ambassador, there is written that the Vatican finds that «some contents of the law would heavily limit the freedom that the Catholic Church assures to its worshippers». The Vatican appeals to the Patti Lateranensi, an agreement stipulated in 1929 between the Vatican’s Secretariat and Benito Mussolini, ex fascist dictator of Italy from 1925 to 1945. The treaty establishes that the Vatican City is a sovereign state. Therefore, according to the Holy See, the law that punishes homo-transphobia would limit the religious freedom guaranteed the Church under that accord. Indeed, although Pope Francis has always been defined as ‘progressive’, the position of the Catholic Church on homosexuality is still very conservative. If in October 2020 he claimed that same-sex couples should be allowed to have "civil unions", more recently he retracted his previous statement, saying that the Church cannot bless same-sex unions, because homosexuality is a sin. In a few words, the Vatican is afraid that some explicitly homophobic positions of the clergy could be prosecuted as a crime.
Another key-point expressed in the letter focuses on school and education. The ddl Zan proposes to institute a National Day against homo-, lesbo-, bi-, trans-phobia on the 17th of May. The Church fears that the schools (especially those that provide a catholic education) would be forced to celebrate something that goes against their moral and religious principles. However, as Alessandro Zan explains, the institution of the 17th of May aims to «promotes a culture founded on respect and inclusion, and to contrast prejudices, discriminations and violence related to sexual orientation and gender identity, in accordance with the principle of equality and equal social status enshrined in the Constitution». Something that should be in line with Christian principles as well.
What are the consequences of Vatican’s diplomatic protest? Right after the news was spread, it caused reaction of disapproval form the LGBT+ community, the politicians who promoted the law, and more generally the public opinion. «The Parliament is sovereign and won't accept interference» said Roberto Fico, the president of the Camera dei deputati (one of the two branch of the Italian Parliament). During one of his speeches, Italian’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi pointed out that Italy is a secular state, not a confessional one.
However, some politicians have express support for the Vatican – for instance Matteo Salvini, the leader of far-right Lega Nord, who declared that his party is aligned with the Church's stance. Surprisingly, Matteo Renzi’s centre-left party Italia Viva, which previously voted for the approval of ddl Zan, now claims that the law needs to be modified – Italia Viva’s amendments seem to lead to a more ‘liberal’ direction. The reason of this step backwards might be an attempt to not disappoint the clergy.
The 13th of July the ddl Zan will be voted by the members of Senato, the second part of the Italian Parliament. Although the pressure from the Vatican, the resistance from right-wing parties and now also from Italia Viva, the anti-homophobia law needs to be approved. Indeed, according to a report from Arcigay, in the last few years in Italy the cases of violence and discrimination due to homo-transphobia are increased by 30%. From 2018 until today, 187 are the victims of harassment for being part of the LGBT+ community (the statistics counts only those who have reported the violence). Approving a law that contrast and severely punishes such behaviours is the least that a State should do to protect all its citizens.