Rome’s gay community has criticised a bishop for disciplining a priest who celebrated a same-sex civil union.

– Prelate sends priest on “period of reflection” for making a “mess”: “Celebrating a civil union is too much”

On July 11, Father Emanuel Moscatelli, priest of St. Lorenzo’s parish in Sant’Oreste in the diocese of Civita Castellana in the province of Rome, officiated in the Sant’Oreste town hall at a civil union ceremony – described in Italian media as a “wedding” – between two female friends of his.

Moscatelli celebrated the union not in liturgical vestments but in the red, white, and green ceremonial sash Italian public officials often wear while conducting government business, after having asked and being granted permission by mayor Valentina Pina to officiate.

The priest’s involvement in the ceremony, however, did not please his bishop, Romano Rossi, who three days after the event called the cleric in for “a dialogue”.

Moscatelli subsequently announced that he had “spontaneously resigned” from the parish, but bishop Rossi denied that the priest had been forced to do so.

“On the afternoon of Tuesday, July 14, we met in the bishop’s office with Fr. Emanuele, and we agreed that he would resign his assignment as pastor, as a sign of taking distance from what had happened”, Rossi said in a statement.

Rossi stated that in the “dialogue” he had with the priest he “made him [Moscatelli] understand the mess he made”.

“I can understand that in certain circumstances of weakness, friendship or the spirit of the time comes into play, but celebrating a civil union is too much”, the bishop affirmed.

“We also peacefully agreed that he should take a suitable period for reflection in order to recover the clarity and joy of his presbyteral ministry in the concreteness of today’s world”, the bishop continued.

That “period of reflection” for Moscatelli will take place in Milan, north of Sant’Oreste, and for the next year and outside of the active ministry, according to Rossi, the priest will reflect on the need for “clarity on a doctrinal level and communion on a pastoral level”.

Regarding civil unions, the Church teaches that “respect for homosexual persons cannot lead in any way to approval of homosexual behaviour or to legal recognition of homosexual unions”, as a 2003 Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith instruction put it.

– “These prejudices should be overcome, the Church should be closer to her faithful”

Though Moscatelli may face yet a canonical trial for his actions in officiating at the civil union, Rome’s gay community is of the opinion that the priest has already been punished enough.

Speaking to the La Repubblica newspaper, spokesman of the Gay Centre in Rome Fabrizio Marrazzo explained that “we heard about the civil union from a person in the area. He, the priest, knew the two women and asked the mayor… to be able to celebrate a civil union as a free citizen”.

“It is a civil liberty granted by the State, which should not influence the activity linked to the Church of a parish priest. There have been priests who bless the wedding rings of homosexual couples. We don’t understand the difference”, the spokesman for the Gay Centre deplored.

The association Arcigay, meanwhile, applauded priest Moscatelli for his example, recalling that “in Sant’Oreste a parish priest married two women in an official capacity, with the official proxy of the mayor”.

“This is the Italy we like, a sign of change, inclusion, openness and equality”, Arcigay added.

An unnamed representative of the Gay Centre also urged the bishop to rethink his decision to send Moscatelli away from the active ministry. “These prejudices should be overcome, the Church should be closer to her faithful”, that representative reflected.

More on Novena on the push for gay rights in the Church:

“No real risk to fundamental freedoms”: Italian Catholic group backs new homotransphobia law

Spanish priest, on LGBTQ outreach: “We became priests to bless people, not to curse them” (watch)

Spanish Jesuits show support for LGBT Pride: “Each person must be proud to be as God created them”

Italian Bishops’ newspaper accused by Catholics of “one-way debate” on new homotransphobia law

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.