Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Wednesday rebuffed Vatican criticism of a bill against homophobia, stressing that the country is "a secular state".
The text on "measures to prevent and combat discrimination and violence on the grounds of sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability" was approved by the Chamber of Deputies in November. It is currently being debated in the Senate.
In a highly unusual diplomatic "note verbale" delivered to Italy on June 17, the Vatican objected to the formulation of the bill.
In an address to senators on Wednesday, Draghi stressed that Italy is "a secular state, not a confessional state so Parliament is certainly free to debate and legislate."
"Our legal system contains all the guarantees to ensure that laws always respect constitutional principles and international commitments, including the Concordat with the Church."
"Secularism is not the indifference of the State to the religious phenomenon, secularism is the protection of pluralism and cultural diversity," he added.
The technocratic leader also flagged that Italy had been among the European Union member states to condemn recent anti-LGBT laws in Hungary in a joint statement.
The Vatican note stated that some parts of the text contravene a Concordat in force between Italy and the Holy See, because they "reduce the freedom of the Catholic Church" in terms of organisation and exercise of worship, as well as "the full freedom" of expression and thought granted to faithful and to Catholic associations.
The bill, introduced by Alessandro Zan, a lawmaker from the centre-left Democratic Party, does not exempt Italian Catholic schools from an obligation to participate in activities for the national day against homophobia, which will be set on May 17.
Zan welcomed Draghi's "excellent" words on Twitter, writing: "Now it is up to the Senate to approve a law that puts Italy in the Europe of rights, distancing itself from the discriminatory and shameful model of [Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor] Orban, without wasting any more time."
Italy and the Holy See normalised their relations with the Lateran Agreement in 1929, after sixty years of crisis. They include a Concordat that was revised in 1984 to put an end to the special status of the Catholic religion, which is no longer the state religion in Italy.