Priest: Earthquakes Are “Divine Punishment” for Civil Unions in Italy

The Vatican forcefully rejected assertions by an Italian priest that recent earthquakes in Italy are divine punishment for the nation’s passage of same-gender civil unions earlier this year.

A man is rescued alive from the ruins following an earthquake in Amatrice
Earthquake survivor being pulled from the rubble by first responders

Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli told Radio Maria, a rightwing news outlet, that recent earthquakes were “divine punishment [for] the offence to the family and the dignity of marriage, in particular through civil unions.”

Cavalcoli, a Dominican, said elsewhere that “the sins of man” caused the earthquakes, reported The Guardian. Citing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Scripture, Cavalcoli said the alleged sins of same-gender partners deserve divine punishment. He said, according to La Repubblica, that “a homosexual is a person who sins against nature.”

A series of severe earthquakes have rocked central Italy recently, killing hundreds and leaving thousands homeless because of widespread damage, including the destruction of the Basilica of St. Benedict in Nursia. The Catholic Church, and in particular Pope Francis, has offered its support for survivors.

Church leaders swiftly and sharply criticized the priest for his damaging statements on the radio. Archbishop Angelo Becciu, a top deputy in the Secretariat of State, said, according to La Repubblica:

” ‘They are offensive statements for believers and scandalous for those who do not believe. . .[Such beliefs are] dated to the pre-Christian period and are unresponsive to theology of the Church because they are contrary to the vision of God offered to us by Christ who revealed to us the face of God’s love, not a capricious and vengeful God. . .The earthquake victims forgive us, they deserve the Pope’s solidarity.’ “

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Caskets of earthquake victims lined up in an auditorium

Becciu said the church is like Mary, mother of mercy, “who bends over a weeping child and wipes their tears, especially in terrible moments like those of the earthquake.” He called on Radio Maria to “moderate the tone of its language” and practice mercy. The outlet has in the past been charged with being anti-Semitic, reported Reuters, but in this case it suspended the priest as an on-air personality.

Bishop Domenico Pompili of Rieti said “the idea of divine punishment is in itself a divine caricature,” and described Cavalcoli’s remarks as “blasphemous nonsense,” reported La Repubblica.

Bishop Antonio Napolioni of Cremona said Christians should respect those people in central Italy as any other victims of violence rather than hurling “unfortunate words that do more harm than stones.”

In response, Fr. Cavalcoli said church leaders critical of him should “read their catechism.” Sadly, his thoughts are not isolated. Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register provided less than critical coverage of this incident, and featured an op-ed from church historian Robert de Mattei who said of the Cavalcoli incident:

“If there is a scandal there, it is caused by the position of the Vatican prelate who displays ignorance of Catholic theology and the teachings of the pope. . .This law [for civil unions] is a moral earthquake because it breaks down the natural walls of divine law. . .How can one imagine that this wretched law won’t have consequences?’

” ‘[The law] does not destroy houses, but the institution of the family, producing moral and social devastation no less serious than that of a physical earthquake. Who can deny us the right to think that the disorder of nature is allowed by God as a result of the denial of the natural order implemented by the ruling classes of the West?’ “

The Guardian reported another incident in Italy where a priest made troubling and homophobic remarks. Fr. Gino Flaim, pastor of San Giuseppe and Pio X Church in the Archdiocese of Trent, told a local television statement that he “understands paedophilia” because “children often seek affection.” Like all sins, Fr. Flaim said pedophilia “has to be accepted.” But homosexuality is “a disease” which he was not sure he could understand. The Archdiocese rejected his statements and suspended the priest immediately.

Statements like those of Fr. Cavalcoli, Fr. Flaim, and other voices in the church are indefensible. They could be easily dismissed if they were not so damaging. I will not respond directly to their statements here though because there is deeper issue present  on which I want to focus.

The ecclesial atmosphere cultivated since Pope John Paul II allowed, and in some ways encouraged, violent and harmful rhetoric to be voiced by ministers of the church on LGBT issues. While it is great that a Vatican official condemned hate speech against LGBT people , we still need Pope Francis to use his powerful voice to make such a condemnation.  Only that kind of message will help turn the tide of the negative atmosphere left over by the previous two popes.

Yes, these priests are extremists and represent a minority of Catholics (though this minority can be quite vocal). Yes, multiple bishops condemned the statements unequivocally, and, yes, the priests were sanctioned. But harmful statements from church leaders, and actions like the denial of Communion to LGBT people and their loved ones are not anomalies. They still happen too regularly, and while some make headlines, many go unreported.

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Last week, I said a United Nations report detailing anti-LGBT violence in the world would be a prime opportunity for the Vatican to defend the human rights of sexual and gender diverse persons. These incidents in Italy, representative of many other queerphobic incidents, are a prime opportunity for Pope Francis himself to defend the human dignity of LGBT people.

Pope Francis could and should explicitly reject every word and every act that denigrates these communities, naming specific examples like the criminalization of homosexuality, the discrimination of LGBT church workers, or the denial of Sacraments. To continue remaining silent when the church is so ill is to make a very strong statement that aside from non-judgement, the lives of LGBT people may not mean much to this pope.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 6, 2016

Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 

Pope Francis Calls for Conscientious Objection to Officiating at Same-Sex Ceremonies

For the first time since Italy’s Parliament approved a civil unions bill for lesbian and gay couples two weeks ago, Pope Francis has commented about the issue of legally recognizing same-sex relationships.

In an interview with La Croix, a French newspaper, Pope Francis said that Catholic public officials should be excused from officiating at same-gender union ceremonies if they have a conscientious objection to such relationships.  The following is an English version of the interview on the newspaper’s website:

Pope Francis

“In a secular setting, how should Catholics defend their concerns on societal issues such as euthanasia or same-sex marriage?

“Pope Francis: It is up to Parliament to discuss, argue, explain, reason [these issues]. That is how a society grows.

“However, once a law has been adopted, the state must also respect [people’s] consciences. The right to conscientious objection must be recognized within each legal structure because it is a human right. Including for a government official, who is a human person. The state must also take criticism into account. That would be a genuine form of laicity.

“You cannot sweep aside the arguments of Catholics by simply telling them that they “speak like a priest.” No, they base themselves on the kind of Christian thinking that France has so remarkably developed.” [boldface emphasis is in the original text]

Pope Francis made similar remarks about the conscience decisions of government officials on his plane ride home from his U.S. visit in September 2015.  The issue also came up during the same visit  when the brouhaha developed over his unplanned and secretly orchestrated meeting with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refuses to perform same-sex marriages.

Francis’ exhortation on conscience would ring truer if he would call on church officials to respect the consciences of LGBT people who have discovered that living in a committed same-gender relationship or transitioning to their true gender is the most authentic way to follow the call of God.  They, too, should be welcomed into the Christian community, which unlike employment, is not simply an economic form of association.

News that Pope Francis will visit Ireland in 2018 for the World Meeting of Families, provides him a golden opportunity to meet with recently married Catholic gay and lesbian couples to learn of their experiences and of the formation of their own consciences.  Such an encounter would surely prove educational for the pontiff, who has shown an un-pope-like curiosity to learn more about the real lives of people.

Such an education would also serve well for Cardinal Antonio Bagnasco, the president of the Italian bishops conference, who recently said that the civil unions bill equates gay and lesbian relationships with marriage. What the cardinal fails to recognize is that there is a great difference between the Italian civil unions law and marriage law, and that LGBT advocates, while glad for the civil unions bill, also lamented the fact that such unions were not on a par with marriage.   Robert Mickens, a seasoned Vatican observer in Rome, noted in a Commonweal dispatch:

“. . . . [A]ctivists that have been fighting for civil unions, and especially those who continue to call for gay marriage, say the new law is far from satisfactory. They are upset that Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi watered down the original bill to appease conservative members of parliament who closely follow the bishops’ directives.

“One of their biggest complaints is that a so-called ‘stepchild adoption’ clause, which would have allowed people in civil unions to adopt the biological child of their partner, is not in the new law. Family court judges will decide on a case-by-case basis.”

Francis’ call to conscience would also sound truer if he would begin a more honest and open conversation about sexuality in the Church.  Mickens writes:

“The Italian hierarchy, which presides over a Church where every honest person knows a large percentage of the clergy are homosexually-oriented men, has done everything to perpetuate their country’s longstanding hypocrisy regarding gay people.

“Thanks to their efforts, especially to enforce deeply conservative views on family life in Italian society, many people in this country have been trapped into leading double lives. They get married, have children and some—some—secretly find sexual intimacy or a relationship with other people of their same sex. Or they join the ‘celibate’ priesthood and do the same.

“Italy’s new law has opened the door to a more honest conversation in a changing society. And hopefully it marks the beginning of the end of one of the great Italian hypocrisies.”

Yes, far from being the end of civilization, the marriage equality debates and laws have been an opportunity for people to live more authentically and freely.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

PinkNews.com: “Pope says Catholic government officials should be able to ‘opt out’ of recognising gay unions”

Despite Vatican Opposition, Italy Passes Civil Unions Bill for Lesbian and Gay Couples

In what is being referred to as a rejection of Vatican influence into Italian politics,  the Italian Parliament voted in a civil unions bill this week, becoming the final nation in the 28-member European Union to do so.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi had called a confidence vote, as a way to prevent further delays and amendments, and he received a victory of 369-193. A later vote on the actual bill in the lower house of Parliament resulted in a tally of 372-51, with 99 abstentions, paving the way for civil unions to become the law of the land. The Senate had already approved the bill in February.

Rome’s Trevi Fountain was lit up in rainbow colors to celebrate the passage of the civil unions bill.

In their news report of the decisive vote, The New York Times stated:

“It was a historic occasion for a nation that is still dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, which opposed the measure, and where traditional family norms are still strong.”

CNN noted in their reporting:

“Previous attempts to legalize gay unions had been stymied and fiercely contested by conservatives and the Roman Catholic church, which holds significant sway in the nation.”

Despite the historic victory, the bill is not an ideal law, say some Italian LGBT leaders.  One leader spoke to the New York Times, noting the waning of church influence, buy also dissatisfaction with the bill:

” ‘The wall erected mostly by the Vatican against civil rights in this country has fallen, so it is a historically and politically important moment,’ said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, and advocacy group, and a gay rights advocate. At the same time, same-sex couples in Italy wanted marriage equality, a right held by their counterparts in the United States and many Western European countries, and he said that struggle would continue.

“It has been 30 years since lawmakers first proposed giving legal recognition to civil unions in Italy.  The Vatican under Pope Francis, while expressing more liberal positions on some social issues, has kept us steadfast opposition to legal recognitions of same-sex couples, influencing some Italian lawmakers.”

The San Diego Gay & Lesbian News provided a succinct summary of the bill’s negatives and positives:

  • Does not go as far as civil union laws elsewhere in Europe, the US and Canada, critics say
  • Clause that would have enabled gay people to adopt a partner’s biological children was dropped
  • No blanket ban on adoption, but family judges will decide on a case-by-case basis
  • Requirement for gay couples to pledge loyalty was dropped – to make civil union less like marriage
  • Gay couples get right to take each other’s names and receive deceased partner’s pension

Bishop Nunzio Galantino, the head of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, called the Prime Minister’s confidence vote “a loss for everyone,” according to Reuters.  EUobserver reported that after the passage of the bill, Galantino said to Vatican Radio that the law should stress the “importance of the family consisting of father, mother and children.”

The work to defend and expand the law will continue.  Already right-wing Italian politicians, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, are promising to call for a referendum to nullify the law.

In the meantime,  we rejoice with the Italians for preserving family and honoring Catholic principles of human dignity by extending civil union rights to lesbian and gay families.  We pray that they will soon expand those rights to include marriage and adoption so that all Italian families will be respected and protected equally.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

Related articles:

Religion News:  “Italy OKs gay civil unions despite strong church opposition”

Slate.com: “At Last, Italy Defies Catholic Church and Legalizes Same-Sex Civil Unions”

 

For LGBT Rights, Is Pope Francis a Partisan or Not?

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Pope Francis

Should the pope be political and/or partisan or not? Pope Francis’ trip to Mexico raised these questions after he challenged whether Donald Trump could be considered Christian. The question also bears on LGBT issues, particularly in Italy where legislators are debating the legalization of civil unions.

Pope Francis gave an in-flight interview returning from Mexico, as he regularly does when apostolic journeys conclude. When asked about the civil unions issue in Italy by Il Sole 24’s Carlo Marroni, the pope responded:

“First of all, I don’t know how things stand in the thinking of the Italian parliament. The Pope doesn’t get mixed up in Italian politics. At the first meeting I had with the (Italian) bishops in May 2013, one of the three things I said was: with the Italian government you’re on your own. Because the pope is for everybody and he can’t insert himself in the specific internal politics of a country. This is not the role of the pope, right? And what I think is what the Church thinks and has said so often – because this is not the first country to have this experience, there are so many – I think what the Church has always said about this.”

From this answer, one would believe the pope refrains from partisan engagement over specific policy questions, and this would include legal recognition of same-gender couples in Italy. But Francis’ record is not so clear. Here are a few relevant facts to consider.

First, in Italy, he has refrained from explicitly condemning civil unions or using the church’s influence to lean on Catholic politicians. This approach directly refutes some Italian bishops’ highly partisan campaigning and is notably different from his predecessors, said theologian Massimo Faggioli. But speaking to the Roman Rota in January, Pope Francis offered his strongest criticism yet of marriage equality saying “there can be no confusion between the family as willed by God, and every other type of union.” This was seen by some observers as a comment on Italy’s civil union debate.

Second, Pope Francis has commented on the “specific internal politics of a country” at least twice before when it comes to LGBT rights. In Slovenia in December 2015, during the week of a national referendum which eventually banned marriage equality and adoption rights by same-gender couples, Pope Francis encouraged all Slovenians, especially those in public life, “to preserve the family” .  A similar moment happened in February 2015 when the pontiff exhorted pilgrims from Slovakia to “continue their efforts in defense of the family,”  just days before an unsuccessful referendum in that nation against equal marriage and adoption rights.

Third, Pope Francis often speaks through gestures, actions, or the statements of his surrogates. For instance, this week, in the midst of the Italian civil unions debate, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said it was “essential” that Italian law differentiate between civil unions for same-gender couples and marriage for heterosexual couples.

It helps to remember, too, that Pope Francis is a solitary person shepherding 1.3 billion people, and that his voice can be used and misused, making it hard to know at times what comes from Francis and what comes from contrary parties.

Fourth, and finally, when called upon to be a voice for marginalized LGBT people, Pope Francis has remained silent. Advocates pleaded with him to speak against laws criminalizing homosexuality during his apostolic voyage to Kenya, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic last fall. Advocates have asked him to intervene in the Dominican Republic, where a cardinal has repeatedly used anti-gay slurs against U.S. Ambassador James Brewster. Last week, this blog commented that the case of Cameroon bishops calling for “zero tolerance” of homosexuality was a perfect case for papal intervention.

From my perspective, these facts suggest, despite the pope’s latest claim, the lack of a consistent position for Pope Francis when it comes to partisan involvement in a given nation’s politics. Pope Francis is, rightly I believe, a politically engaged pontiff and affirmed that to be human is to be political. But he has been partisan where it may be imprudent and even inappropriate for him to be so engaged. The damage U.S. bishops have done to the church in their country. because of their hyper-partisan agenda in recent years, is a cautionary tale. I speculate on two possibilities for why Pope Francis lacks a consistent position.

More negatively, it could be that he claims distance when convenient, and becoming more involved when similarly convenient. He chooses whether to speak about LGBT issues depending on whether he will obtain a positive reception from the audience. Could it be that Pope Francis changes not just the style, but the substance of his messaging depending on who is listening? That would be troubling.

More positively, maybe the humble Pope Francis is learning “on the job” as he navigates unprecedented reforms in a church that is now truly global and truly hurting. His inconsistencies arise because he admits to not having the answers and to shifting course when a better way forward appears apparent. Francis’ actions could reveal a leader who is willing to listen to others’ voices and to encounter those from different perspectives. That would be refreshing.

What do you think? Should the pope be involved in partisan national politics? If so, when? Should the pope be political, raising up issues without endorsing specific policy positions? Should the pope be neither? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Italian Prime Minister Rebukes Cardinal Over Civil Unions Involvement

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Prime Minister Matteo Renzi

Italy’s prime minister rebuked a Catholic cardinal for his involvement in the nation’s debate over civil unions, and suggested his government would call a confidence vote to advance the stalled bill.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco’s interference after the cardinal, who heads the Italian Episcopal Conference, said the Italian Senate should employ a secret ballot when voting on the civil unions bill. Renzi told state radio RAI:

” ‘Parliament decides whether or not to allow secret votes … not the head of the bishops’ conference. . .What is there to fear from two people who love each other? Why not give these rights to two people who love each other? The majority of the country is clearly in favor of it.’ “

Despite Bagnasco’s claim that a secret ballot would allow legislators a conscience vote, Business Insider reported that a secret ballot “could sabotage the legislation” if legislators vote against their party’s platform.

Prime Minister Renzi is correct that 70% of Italians endorse legal protections for those in same-gender partnerships, but the civil unions bill has been stalled due to disputes over adoption rights. Only 24% of Italians support allowing same-gender partners to adopt each other’s biological children, and even in Renzi’s own center-left Democratic Party there is resistance to legalize adoptions.

Renzi dropped the adoption provision from the civil unions bill. LGBT advocates criticized this action, saying it guts the bill and leaves children unprotected. They are expected to demonstrate in Rome today.

Renzi, who is Catholic, said he would call a confidence vote to jumpstart the bill in the Senate, where opposition legislators have drowned it in amendments. The confidence vote is risky because, if lost, Renzi and his party would face elections after only two years in office. But the prime minister is clear that LGBT rights are an essential part of his reform platform and the “debating game being played in the Senate” must end, reported The Telegraph. Addressing his party, Renzi reiterated:

” ‘The issue of civil rights is the biggest challenge currently for us. . .we have two alternatives. . .My proposal. . .is for governing parties to try to reach an accord and put forward an amendment on which I believe we must be ready to call a confidence vote.’ “

Matteo Renzi is a high-profile lay Catholic advancing LGBT justice in Italy, but as Bondings 2.0 noted a few weeks ago, unlike Catholics in other European nations like Ireland, the laity in Italy are split on the matter of civil unions.  Nearly 300,000 Italians rallied in Rome earlier this month during the church-supported Family Day protests.

Italy remains the only Western European nation to not grant legal protections to same-gender partners, a status criticized formally by both the Italian courts and the European Court of Human Rights. To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of LGBT rights in Italy, click here.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lay Catholics in Italy Split on Civil Unions Question

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Outside the Pantheon in Rome, equality supporters, including Catholics, call for civil unions to be legalized.

YesterdayBondings 2.0 explored how Pope Francis and the Italian hierarchy have engaged that nation’s present debate about civil unions for same-sex couples. One theologian’s analysis was that, for Pope Francis, this was an issue best left to the laity. Today’s post explores just how the laity have been involved and what their involvements could mean.

Italian Catholics on both sides of the civil unions question have participated in major demonstrations. Nearly a million LGBT supporters rallied on January 23 in public squares across Italy, bringing clocks with them to call on legislators to “wake up” about the necessity of recognizing same-gender partners in law. Rome’s Gay Center spokesperson Fabrizio Marrazzo said the 100+ demonstrations signal Italy’s “crisis point. . .about civil rights,” reported the National Catholic Reporter.

Among those experiencing this crisis is Andrea Rubera, a married gay Catholic in Rome, whose story, told in The New York Times ,reveals the urgent necessity of legal protections. Rubera married his partner, Dario De Gregorio, in Canada, and they became parents to three children. The Times article explained:

“But when they returned to their native Italy, a transformation occurred. Mr. Rubera suddenly became a single man, and his legally recognized husband in Canada became his single male roommate in Italy. Italian law also divided custody of their children.”

Of this, Rubera commented:

” ‘There are major injustices coming from this, all toward the kids. . .We are dreaming to be recognized as we are — as a family.’ “

Despite this reality, support for civil unions is declining, if the polls are accurate. Latest numbers have support below 50% whereas it peaked at 67% or higher last May, a decline tied to a clause supporting stepchild adoption for same-gender couples, according to some pundits. Attempting to assuage critics, the civil unions bill was watered down, reported Crux, when sponsors added “language clearly distinguishing the relationships from marriage” and other amendments.

Yesterday, groups and individuals against civil unions took part in “Family Day” protests, which received support from some church leaders, including Italian Episcopal Conference President, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco. According to Crux’s John Allen, lay support for conservative church leaders is one reason that the Catholic Church “still has significant social capital and packs a political punch” in Italy. He wrote:

“That doesn’t mean the Italian Church wins all the time; famously, it lost referenda in 1974 over divorce and in 1981 over abortion, and prevailed in 2005 over stem cell research only by persuading Italians not to vote in order to invalidate the ballot.

“Yet Mass-going Catholics remain a sizable chunk of the national population and are well represented in both major political parties, and their sentiments have to be at least considered.”

Yet, simply citing that Catholics are politically involved is not sufficient evidence that LGBT rights will fail. It may actually be evidence for the contrary, as Out Magazine noted:

“At one time, the power of the conservative Roman Catholic Church seemed an almost insurmountable obstacle to the progress of LGBT rights. In 2003, Belgium became the first Catholic-majority country to adopt marriage equality, soon to be followed by Canada, Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, France, and, most recently—and in a popular referendum—Ireland, revealing a trend that shatters such a pessimistic illusion. In fact, countries with a Catholic majority make up nearly half of those with marriage equality, and Catholics are overwhelmingly inclined to support same-sex marriages, or at least civil unions. So long as the false narrative of mainstream Catholicism’s lack of acceptance prevailed, LGBT progress for Italy looked bleak. Now, the country of 60 million looks poised to legalize same-sex civil unions. “

Ireland’s referendum and the marriage victories in many historically Catholic countries and states, aided in most cases by lay Catholics’ fervent efforts for equality, are true. But this is Italy, where the church’s political hold remains stronger due to the Vatican’s influence. With lay Catholics active both for and against civil unions, with Pope Francis advancing a more nuanced response, and with Italy’s bishops not united in strong opposition, it seems unclear just what influence Italian Catholics will have on Tuesday’s expected vote.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry