Head of Italian bishops says new law equates marriage, civil unions

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In recognizing civil unions of
heterosexual and homosexual couples, the Italian government has equated those
unions to marriage, said the head of the Italian bishops’ conference.

While some supporters of the new law, which passed the
legislature May 11, insisted the law did not recognize gay marriage, Cardinal
Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the bishops’ conference, said the
differences are only in the vocabulary used and in “easily circumvented
legal devices.”

The bill passed after its sponsors removed language
explicitly allowing one partner in a gay union to adopt the biological child of
the other partner. Supporters of the bill said it now would be up to individual
judges in adoption cases to decide.

“The final blow — which is already being spoken of
publicly” — Cardinal Bagnasco said, would be the legalization of
surrogate motherhood. Surrogacy, he said, “exploits the female body”
and profits from the poverty of women willing to carry a child for others.

Cardinal Bagnasco made his remarks May 17 to members of the
bishops’ conference. Pope Francis had opened the bishops’ general meeting the
evening before with a speech about the lives and witness of priests, which is a
topic on the bishops’ agenda.

Unlike the pope, the cardinal spoke about a wide range of social
and political issues facing Italy and the rest of Europe. In addition to the
civil-unions law, the cardinal decried the apparent inability of Europe’s
governments to find a fair and coordinated response to the refugee crisis.

“May Europe find its soul again and, therefore, its
love for peoples and nations,” the cardinal said. He echoed Pope Francis’
words to European leaders earlier in May, “I dream of a Europe that cares
for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers
seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter. … I
dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater
commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.”

Currently, the cardinal said, Italian parishes, religious
communities and other church institutions are providing a home and assistance
to about 23,000 migrants and refugees; the number, he said, has increased by
4,500 since the beginning of the year.

Anti-Christian violence is another serious problem, which
Cardinal Bagnasco said the international community is not doing enough to
resolve. “In the world there seems to be a growing indifference to such
violence as if the real problem was something other than the right to profess
one’s faith without undergoing persecution and death.”

And, he said, while the Italian government and politicians
spent months working on and debating the law on civil unions — an issue he
said impacts only a tiny percentage of the population — unemployment is
growing and so is poverty.

The percentage of Italians working has fallen 4.8 percent,
he said. “And current data tells us that close to 40 percent of people
between 15 and 24 are looking for work, compared to the European average of 22
percent” youth unemployment.

The country’s continually falling birthrate is another
indication of how bad things are, he said. “The data of 2015 are the worst
since the unity of Italy” in 1871.

“Last year, against 653,000 deaths, there were 488,000
births while 100,000 Italians left the country. Demographics are a crucial
indicator of a country’s state of health,” he said. Falling birthrates
show a lack of “hope in tomorrow and courage in generating new life.”

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