Reports that the Vatican has formally opposed an Italian bill expanding anti-discrimination protections to the LGBT community have sparked indignation in the southern European country.
Leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported on Tuesday that the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, sent a letter last week to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See saying the bill violates Rome's diplomatic agreement with the Vatican.
The Holy See was seeking changes to the text, the Milan-based paper said.
Euronews reached out to the Vatican and to the Italian embassy to the Holy See but did not get a response.
According to AP news agency, Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that a diplomatic communication had been sent on June 17 but did not elaborate.
What are the Vatican's objections?
The Holy See objected to a requirement that schools - including Catholic schools - organise activities on a future national day against homophobia and transphobia, Corriere reported.
The newspaper also said the Vatican's letter raised broader fears about the "freedom of thought" of Catholics and the possible judicial consequences of the new legislation.
The bill was approved by the lower house last November but remains stalled in a Senate committee due to objections from right-wingers.
It is known as the "Zan Law", named for the Democratic Party lawmaker and gay rights activist Alessandro Zan.
Under the proposed legislation, women and people who are gay, transgender or have disabilities would be added to the classes of those protected under a law banning discrimination and punishing hate crimes.
Activists slam 'unprecedented' interference
Italian politicians and activists immediately denounced the alleged move as an unprecedented attempt by the Vatican to meddle in Italy's legislative process.
In the past, the Vatican has objected to Italian laws legalising abortion and divorce and backed unsuccessful referendums to try to repeal them after their adoption.
"We support the Zan law, and naturally we are open to dialogue,’’ on any legal issues, Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta told RAI state radio on Tuesday. But he said his party wants to see the law enacted, calling it “a law of civilisation."
An atheist group in Italy protested the Vatican’s actions, saying they “violated the independence and the sovereignty of the Republic.”
"The government has the political and moral obligation to not only just resist pressure but to unilaterally denounce this unprecedented interference in state affairs," the secretary of the Union of Atheists and Agnostic Rationalists, Roberto Grendene, said in a statement.
A gay-rights group, Gay Party for LGBT+ Rights, called on Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government to reject the Vatican’s interference "and improve the law so that it truly has, at its heart, the fight against homophobia and transphobia."
"We find worrying the Vatican meddling in the law against homophobia,'' said the group’s spokesman, Fabrizio Marrazzo.
Marrazzo said Gay Pride Parades in Milan and Rome on Saturday would send a clear message from the streets on the topic "and defend the laicity of the state."
But Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy's far-right League party, praised the Holy See's position. "Fighting against any kind of discrimination, abuse and violence is in our DNA because everyone must be free to love, live and choose with whom to share their life."
But he added that he rejected "censorship and lawsuits for those who believe that a mom a dad, and family are the heart of our society."