ROME (ChurchMilitant.com) - A cleric who officiated at the civil same-sex union of two lesbians in a town hall on the outskirts of Rome has resigned as parish priest after a conversation with his bishop.
Father Emanuele Moscatelli, vicar of San Lorenzo Martire parish church, donned a civic mayoral sash with colors of the Italian flag and performed the civil ceremony on July 11, the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) website reported.
A few days before the wedding, the priest who is shepherd of 3,600 souls in the small town of Sant'Oreste in the province of Rome, went to the municipal registry to ask if he could conduct the service for his two lesbian friends.
Mayor Valentina Pini says she authorized the cleric to perform the ceremony as it was within her rights to do so and she did not want to infringe anyone's civil liberties.
Three days later, Bp. Romano Rossi of the diocese of Civita Castellana met Fr. Moscatelli for "a dialogue." Moscatelli then announced that he had "spontaneously resigned" from the parish.
"There is no ongoing complaint, he decided that it was appropriate to resign," Bp. Rossi said. "The parish priest is a free citizen but there is a canon that prevents priests from officiating at civil ceremonies."
The civil union was celebrated "in the name of peaceful friendship ... These women were not unknown to the parish priest" and "they are baptized," Rossi explained.
"We talked for a long time. It was not a decision resulting from my authority," Rossi insisted. "He did not incur any censorship. He decided that it was appropriate to resign."
The Gay Center in Rome issued a statement in La Repubblica defending Moscatelli: "The parish priest asked the mayor of the country to be able to celebrate a civil union as a free citizen. It is a civil liberty granted by the State. There have been priests who bless the wedding rings of homosexual couples. We don't understand the difference."
Faithful Catholics are highlighting the incident to warn of the danger to Church teaching and discipline if Italy's parliament passes the proposed Zan-Scalfarotto-Boldrini law which outlaws so-called hate crimes against "homotransphobia."
"Otherwise he would already be on trial for having instigated discrimination, leading to [the] resignation [of] a young priest for having united in a civil ceremony two people with homosexual orientation. 18 months in jail for the monsignor!" the parliamentarian added.
In a letter to his diocesan priests, Bp. Rossi writes how he "preferred to move with extreme delicacy and discretion for a week."
Rossi says that he and Moscatelli "also peacefully agreed on the opportunity that he should take a suitable period of reflection to recover the clarity and joy of his priestly ministry in the concreteness of today's world."
"I made him understand the stupidity of his action. I can understand that in certain moments of fragility, friendship or the spirit of the age comes into play, but celebrating a civil union is too much," Rossi told La Nuova Bussola.
"Last Sunday, I concelebrated with him in the parish by announcing the events to that community. Since Sunday evening Don Emanuele has lived with his family," Bp. Rossi wrote in his pastoral letter to his clergy, adding:
Fr. Emanuele expressed his full trust in the Church as Mother and in the bishop and also declared his readiness to follow the plan that will be proposed to him. It is important for us to have clarity on a doctrinal level, communion on a pastoral level and lucid and delicate attention to fellow priests in difficulty. Now I have the duty of helping this priest of mine to see clearly inside himself. And relaunching his priestly life on new foundations, I believe there is room for recovery after the mistake he made. Anyway, let's take a year and let's see."
"It would be very nice to make Fr. Emanuele feel our closeness and the confidence that he can resume when the Lord wills his service alongside us," the bishop added.
Same-sex "marriage" is not legal in Italy, though the predominantly Catholic country began recognizing same-sex civil unions in 2016.
About six in 10 Italians support same-sex "marriage," a 2019 Pew Research Center study revealed.