Saturday's pro-family demonstration set a record in numbers
By Juliana Freitag
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Episcopal Conference and archbishop of Genoa, has changed the direction of what has turned out to be a historic pro-family rally in Italy, held Saturday in Rome. Estimates say 2 million — a record number — showed up to pledge their support of the traditional family.
Since Cdl. Bagnasco's powerful statementearlier this month, where he said Family Day is "absolutely necessary," many other bishops have joined in support of the demonstration against the Cirinnà bill, which if approved will legalize homosexual unions and grant them the same legal benefits as marriage, including the right to adopt.
The committee that organizes Family Day saw such a surge of support for the rally it had to change the traditional rallying place from San Giovanni Square to Circo Massimo. Last year's Family Day gathered one million Italians; this year the number has doubled.
The declaration issued by Bagnaso maintained that the family should be defended, promoted and politically assisted. Bagnasco criticized the government for its lack of pro-family policies, and also called the Cirinnà bill "a serious irresponsible distraction, considering the real problems in this country."
Not only did he confront the politicians who insist the Cirinnà bill is a priority, he also encouraged a nation of Catholics in one of the most difficult cultural battles of our time. Before Cdl. Bagnasco stepped forward, the newspapers were filled with ambiguous interviews from bishops who didn't clearly declare their support for Family Day, an initiative of the pro-family group "Difendiamo i nostri figli" ("We Stand for Our Children"), a lay organization sustained by donations and whose volunteers are constantly in the media defending traditional family values, andwho travel all over Italy to promote the teachings of the Church on the family.
The uncertain support from these bishops was being used by the press to discredit Catholic opponents of the gay unions bill. After Bagnasco's statements, however, even the progressive newspaper La Repubblica acknowledged that his attitude contrasted with those of other bishops, and that Bagnasco "is again wearing the helmet from his military days" and is "on the attack."
One of the bishops who had expressed a lukewarm opinion of Family Day is the archbishop of Perugia, Cdl. Gualtiero Bassetti. He gave an interview to national newspaper Corriere della Sera, where in the same fashion as the secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Bp. Nunzio Galantino, his words conveyed approval of legalization of immoral unions.
"Listen, regardless of the rally, which I know nothing about," Bassetti said, "I'll say this: Civil unions should be recognized as such, homosexual civil unions included, but they shouldn't be made equal to marriage. As for adoptions, it takes a man and a woman."
When asked if the State should recognize homosexual unions, the cardinal said the State should provide for the common good of all of its citizens, and that there are rights that should be guaranteed to every couple. "This could be an advantage to the State, because to assist a single person costs double. But none of this should be mistaken for marriage."
Immediately after Cdl. Bagnasco voiced his support for Family Day, Cdl. Bassetti invited his faithful to participate in the rally. From claiming he knew "nothing about" the rally to asking the faithful to take part was quite an about face for the cardinal. "I make mine the words of the committee spokesman, Massimo Gandolfini: We will not put up with it," he insisted. "We shall go and state what we believe in: our vision of family according to the Italian Constitution, the principles of anthropology and Christian ethics. Keep this statement in your hearts, as the good of the family is very dear to us all."
Even though the support of Church leaders for a public demonstration that may be decisive for Italy's future is of extreme importance, so is holding accountable a cardinal that shows sympathy for the gay agenda. While many argue that the media distorted his statements regarding his appreciation for the "Difendiamo i nostri figli" committee, his assertions about the recognition of homosexual couples by the State were his own quotes. He has made no follow-up remarks clarifying his earlier statement.
Among other bishops who've followed Cdl. Bagnasco in publicly pledging support for Family Day are Matteo Maria Zuppi, archbishop of Bologna, Massimo Camisasca, bishop of Reggio Emilia, Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, archbishop of Campobasso-Boiano, and the conferences of bishops of the regions of Umbria, Triveneto, Liguria and Piedmont.
But the note from the bishops conference Piedmont also includes an inclination for the legalization of homosexual unions: "Homosexual unions, like all couples in domestic partnerships, need a clear regulation of rights and duties. We certainly recognize this is an important and delicate subject that needs to be confronted and debated," the note reads.
The statement attractedcriticismfrom Catholic periodical Corrispondenza Romana, which quickly reminded the bishops of Piedmont of the 2003 document from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons." The document, addressed to bishops and politicians, reminds them of their duty of "clear and emphatic opposition" to any legal recognition of homosexual unions. It also declares that "those who would move from tolerance to the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil."
Meanwhile, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco used his opening speech for the Italian Episcopal Conference winter meeting to reaffirm that the bishops remain "solid and united in sharing the difficulties and trials of the family: To suggest oppositions and divisions means a lack of love for the Church and a lack of love for the family."
"We are messengers and heralds of the Gospel of the family and marriage," he continued. "We don't only believe that the family is the 'Constitutional Letter of the Church,' but we also dream of a country of family dimensions."
The cardinal didn't directly mention the Family Day rally, but said "believers have the duty and the right to participate in the common good ... . [It's] expected of the laity that they inscribe divine law into the life of the earthly city."
He went on to say that children are never a "right," and "are entitled to grow up with a mother and a father; they need a complete microcosm with its most essential elements. The family is an anthropological fact, not an ideological one."
He again criticized politicians for their lack of interest in fostering the family.
The Cirinnà bill went up for debate in the Italian senate Tuesday, and the preliminary vote is being postponed until February 2. There's speculation the postponement was actually made in order to wait and evaluate the impact of Saturday's Family Day rally. There's no date set for the final vote, but political opposition to the gay unions law is strong, in spite of pressure from the European Union to promote gay rights in the country.