The Vatican’s top diplomat has denied ever intending to block a controversial piece of proposed Italian legislation ostensibly designed to combat homophobia, saying a diplomatic note that leaked to the Italian press earlier this week was meant to address “preventatively” some “interpretative problems” that could arise from a law, the text of which contained “vague and uncertain” expressions.
The Cardinal Secretary of State of the Holy See, Pietro Parolin, made his statements in an interview published on Thursday by the official Vatican News portal.
Known as the “Zan Law,” after Alessandro Zan the LGBT activist and legislator who sponsored it, the “anti-homophobia” bill is being examined by the justice commission of the Italian Senate, after the lower house of parliament approved the text last November.
The bill seeks to prevent and oppose “discrimination and violence for reasons based on sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability.”
“Our concern,” said Cardinal Parolin, “regards interpretative problems that could arise in the event a text were adopted with vague and uncertain contents, which could end up shifting – in a judicial context – the definition of what is a crime and what isn’t.”
Cardinal Parolin explained that the text of the draft law appears at present to run the risk of shifting the definition of what constitutes criminal behaviour, “without, however, giving the judge the parameters necessary to distinguish,” what is a crime and what isn’t.
“The concept of discrimination remains too vague in its contents,” Cardinal Parolin said. “In the absence of an adequate specification,” he said the draft law as it stands “runs the risk” of treating various very different sorts of behaviour under one legal umbrella, “and thus to render every possible distinction between man and woman punishable” by law.
He said the consequences of any such legislation would be “paradoxical,” and “in our opinion, are to be avoided while we are in time to avoid them.”
“We are against any attitude or act of intolerance or hatred against persons because of their sexual orientation,” Cardinal Parolin said, “as we are also opposed to such hatred or intolerance on the basis of ethnicity or creed.”
Nevertheless, “The need for definition is particularly important because the [proposed] legal norm moves in an area of penal relevance, where – as noted – what is allowed and what is prohibited must be well determined.”
The Secretary of State also explained that he approved the use of the “Note Verbale” and the note’s contents, as “the proper means of dialogue in international relations.” He said the note was never meant for public consumption, though he was not surprised by the reaction to the news it had gone out.
“I fully agree with [Italy’s] Prime Minister [Mario] Draghi on the secular nature of the state and on the sovereignty of the Italian Parliament,” Cardinal Parolin said. “At the same time, I appreciated the call made by the Prime Minister to respect constitutional principles and international commitments.”
“In this context there is a fundamental principle,” Cardinal Parolin continued: Pacta sunt servanda. “It is against this backdrop that with the Note Verbale we limited ourselves to recalling the text of the main provisions of the Agreement with the Italian State, which could be affected.”
Cardinal Parolin said the Holy See acted in a spirit of “fair-minded cooperation,” and even “friendship,” which “has characterised and continues to characterise our relations.” He said the question of the so-called Lateran Pacts had not been “explicitly considered in the debate on the law,” and that the Note Verbale had the purpose of drawing attention to the point, “which cannot be forgotten.”
The Secretary of State also noted that the issue of freedom of opinion “concerns not only Catholics, but all people, touching on what the Second Vatican Council defines as the ‘shrine’ of conscience.”