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ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - Italian bishops are challenging new legislation against "homotransphobia" that could criminalize the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality and even censor preaching against sexual pathologies like pedophilia, sadism or masochism.
The proposed Zan-Scalfarotto law equates homophobia and transphobia with racism by amending article 654 (sections 2 and 3) of the Italian criminal code against racial, national, religious or ethnic discrimination to include speech against homosexuality and transgenderism.
Cardinal Gualtiero Bassetti, president of the Conference of Italian Bishops (CEI), issued a statement on Wednesday warning that "introducing further incriminating norms would risk a drift towards liberticide" and "subject to criminal proceedings those who believe that the family requires a dad and a mother."
Such a "crime of opinion ... effectively limits personal freedom, educational choices, the way of thinking and being, the exercise of criticism and dissent," and is unnecessary since "there are already adequate safeguards with which to prevent and repress any violent or persecutory behavior" towards sexual minorities, the CEI stated.
Distinguished Catholic epidemiologist Dr. Paolo Gulisano spoke to Church Militant, confirming that the new law would create "new forms of discrimination against priests, catechists, teachers of religion and others, who would be forcibly prevented from expressing what Christian doctrine says with respect to homosexual acts, denying the right to have a different thought and opinion."
"The draft law on homophobia which parliament will debate in July risks creating strong and intolerant discrimination against those who think differently than the dominant politically correct thought," the expert in the history of medicine noted.
"Yet few are the voices of protest that rise up against this law, not even by the bishops who should protect their priests and committed lay people, and this for a misunderstood sense of respect for the so-called rights of homosexuals," Dr. Gulisano said, lamenting the delayed and weak response of the Italian hierarchy and laity.
"Why do I use the term 'so-called'? Because homosexuality is not a right," he explained. "It is in fact an aspect of the affectivity of many people, but not a subject of law. Transforming a lifestyle, an emotional inclination into a legally protected right does not make any sense, given that the rights of people as such are already constitutionally protected."
"There is no need for a law against homophobia. The hyper-legislative craving is the pathology that destroys democracies," he stressed.
Critics pointed out that instead of categorically restating the position of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on homosexuality, the CEI statement was timidly offering to "promote educational commitment in the direction of serious prevention, which contributes to avoiding and countering any offense to the person."
"There is no need for mutual controversy or excommunication on this, but availability for an authentic and intellectually honest confrontation," the statement said.
Simone Budelli, president of the Union of Catholic Jurists of Perugia, blasted "the Zan-Scalfarotto bill against homotransphobia" as "cloaked in freedom and progress, but in reality a liberticidal law, which does not bring further guarantees for the gender minority."
"The objective is not to punish haters, but to create a new caste, leading to a liberticidal drift which risks punishing not only discrimination, but the expression of a legitimate opinion," Budelli warned. "If I want to criticize the gender lifestyle even in private, I will risk jail."
"I will even risk losing parental authority," and "a mother could be sentenced if she suggested to her daughter not to marry a bisexual, or a father who decides not to send his own to transgender sex education class could be sentenced," Budelli reiterated.
A Catholic academic from northern Italy told Church Militant that the law made no provisions for those who felt they had "conscientious objections" on the grounds of religion. "Calling homosexual behavior a sin or a disorder would be outlawed if homosexuality is equated with race or ethnicity," she pointed out.
"So I can't refuse to let my daughter participate in a lesson given by a drag queen because it would be similar to withdrawing my child from a class taught by a black woman," she explained.
'Hate speech' targeting people on the basis of their race, ethnic origin, nationality or religion is currently criminalized in Italy. In 2013, the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Parliament) introduced criminal provisions prohibiting the dissemination of "ideas founded on homophobia or transphobia" and the instigation to commit or commission of "acts of discrimination based on homophobic or transphobic grounds."
However, the law provided an exception for "the free expression of personal opinions representing the pluralism of ideas ... adopted within organizations that carry out political, trade unionist, cultural, sanitary, educational or religious activities in compliance with the constitutionally protected values and principles that characterize them."
LGBTQ+ movements, as well as the United Nations' Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, have argued that the current bill "should not include any exceptions for institutions or particular groups which might generate loopholes in its application."
"With the Zan-Scalfarotto law priests and catechists risk jail, but priests and catechists will have closed their mouths alone well before the Zan law closes it," commentator Stefano Fontana laments. "But it doesn't worry everyone, not even all Catholics. Indeed, only a very small minority of Catholics are concerned."
Fontana estimates that Parliament has the votes to pass the bill.
"Some militant Catholic outposts will try everything" to fight it, he writes, "but, deluding themselves that they are supported by the Church and the Catholic world, they will then be disavowed and abandoned to themselves."