The Italian Bishops’ newspaper has been accused by Catholics of allowing only a “one-way debate” on a new homotransphobia law.

– Italian Bishops worry new laws could make expressing doctrine on family a “crime of opinion”

The controversy surrounding the Avvenire newspaper astarted June 11 when the publication, in response to further protections against homo- and transphobia currently being debated by Italian legislators, argued in a two-page spread that Italian law already has sufficient protections against anti-LGBTIQ hate and that no new statutes are needed.

In their June 11 edition, Avvenire journalists lined up in their opposition to the new laws firmly behind the Italian Bishops, who had argued in a statement a day earlier that on homo- and transphobia, “not only is there no regulatory vacuum, but also there are no gaps which justify the urgency of new provisions”.

What’s more, the Italian Bishops expressed free speech concerns around the new laws, and warned that the new legislative project against LGBT hate “rather than punishing discrimination… would end up striking the expression of a legitimate opinion, as learned by the experience of the legal systems of other nations in which similar internal regulations have already been introduced”.

The proposed laws raised the spectre of people “who believe the family requires a dad and a mum” being hauled before the courts due to a new “crime of opinion”, the Italian Bishops fretted.

– Prelates call for “authentic and intellectually honest discussion” on homotransphobia… then smother debate in newspaper

It is true that at the same time they firmly stated their opposition to the new laws, the Italian Bishops also stressed that all forms of discrimination, including that based on sexual or affective identity, is a “violation of human dignity” and that “injurious treatments, threats, aggressions, injuries, bullying [and] stalking” must be opposed as attacks on the sanctity of human life.

The irony was, however, that that appeal to oppose discrimination was accompanied by a call to avoid “mutual controversy or ostracism” on homo- and transphobia and to engage in “authentic and intellectually honest discussion” on the issue.

“To the extent that this dialogue takes place in freedom, both respect for the person and the democracy of the country will benefit”, the Italian Bishops underlined.

But “authentic and intellectually honest discussion” on the question is exactly what didn’t take place in the pages of Avvenire, as Italian Catholic news website Adista News and Italian LGBTQ Catholic defenders Progetto Gionata pointed out.

Though it is true that in its June 12 edition Avvenire carried statements of an Italian politician working on the homo- and transphobia laws guaranteeing that the proposed legislation would not muzzle freedom of speech, it wasn’t until June 14 that the paper finally ran a detailed article written by a Catholic – another parliamentarian – in favour of the new law.

Not only that, but it took Avvenire until June 16 to give space to a Catholic defence of the dignity of LGBT partnership, and that much only in a letter to the editor from a Catholic schoolteacher who wrote that “I have always thought that there are many types of families and they are real families even if they are not based on marriage between man and woman”.

– Catholics’ letters critical of Bishops, Avvenire not published in newspaper

Adista News said that it had received many letters criticising both Avvenire and the Italian Bishops for their position on the new law, and which were sent also to the Bishops’ newspaper but without ever being published.

Those letters came mostly from ordinary Catholics in the pews – married men and women with children included – who expressed disappointment with their pastors and their publication for criticising what is still in any case a draft law, for not defending “vulnerable” LGBTIQ people, for contradicting the ‘all are welcome’ message of Christianity and for imposing on Catholics the voice of their bishops.

One thing is for Avvenire to have an editorial line, but quite another is the pretension “that the Catholic world recognises itself in a unitary and unanimous way” in that position, Adista recalled.

Nor does its editorial line excuse the Italian Bishops’ paper from “giv[ing] account, on its own pages, of diverse and different opinions to those of the bishops”, Adista argued: “all the more so” if those divergent Catholic opinions represent only a minority in the Church.

More stories on Novena from the Italian Church:

“The Pope is the Pope”: Italian cardinal denounces “increasingly harsh and insolent attacks” on Francis

Cardinal Zuppi, on gays in the Church: “Every difference is embraced by the love of God, who does not discriminate”


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