Vatican City, Jul 10, 2021 / 02:00 am (CNA).
Under fire for a new law touching on homosexuality and threatened with sanctions by the European Commission, Hungary might find an unexpected ally in the Holy See.
For Hungary, the alliance with the Holy See could repay the country for Pope Francis’ speedy trip to Budapest. The pope will go there on Sept. 12, celebrating the final Mass of the International Eucharistic Congress and then leaving for a three-day pastoral visit to Slovakia. When he announced the trip after last Sunday’s Angelus, the pope did not even describe his journey to Budapest as a pastoral visit.
Although there is a clear divide between Pope Francis’ views and the policies of the Hungarian government, especially on the issue of migration, Hungary can potentially serve as an ally with the Holy See in promoting some values.
Western media describe the country’s new law as an “anti-LGBT bill.” But according to the Hungarian Conservative website, “the main body of the law is made up of a set of strict, yet quite understandable provisions with a goal of deterring would-be sexual predators from committing offenses by simply increasing the severity of the legal punishment such a person would need to face.”
The magazine added that “the length of possible prison sentences for child molestation and possession of child pornography has also grown considerably, and in some specific cases (with violence involved), the law excluded the possibility of parole.”
But the Hungarian anti-pedophilia bill also bans the portrayal of homosexuality and gender reassignment in school education materials and television programs for under-18s.
“It basically means displaying the ‘PG-18’ sign on their screen,” the Hungarian Conservative wrote.
Critics of the law argue that it conflates pedophilia and homosexuality. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, took the strongest stance, saying: “Homosexuality is equated with pornography. This legislation uses the protection of children as an excuse to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. It is a disgrace.”
She also said that the Commission would start an infringement procedure if Hungary did not withdraw the law, which went into effect on July 7.
Von der Leyen has also criticized Poland over the introduction of “LGBT-free zones” in a number of towns.
The European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, passed a resolution in November 2020 lamenting what it called a “de facto ban on the right to abortion in Poland.”
The Holy See is facing similar criticisms in Italy amid a heated discussion around the “DDL Zan,” a bill named after the Italian MP Alessandro Zan, which would include transphobic, homophobic, and anti-LGBT acts among hate crimes.
The bill seeks to establish May 17 as a national day against homophobia and stresses that schools must commit to activities aimed at “promoting a culture of respect and inclusion and fighting prejudices” against gay and transgender persons.
On June 17, the Holy See confidentially delivered a “note verbale” to the Italian Ministry for the Foreign Affairs, lamenting that some of the bill’s contents would harm the principles of the Italy-Holy See concordat.
Signed in 1929 and revised in 1984, the concordat commits the Italian government to abstaining from regulations that might threaten the Church’s freedoms.
In particular, the Holy See argued that the DDL Zan harms freedom of expression and freedom of education since it does not imply any exemption for Catholic schools from celebrating the national day against homophobia, thus mandating the schools to hold activities that they consider to be against their educational project.
Since the “note verbale” was leaked, the Holy See has faced allegations of interference on Italian state issues by supporters of the bill. As a result, the Holy See is now seeking support in backing its initiative, which is aimed at defending freedom of expression.
According to sources in the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Holy See would appreciate support on the issues raised by the DDL Zan from countries that share the Holy See’s views.
The sources also explained to CNA that Holy See diplomacy had an informal approach with these countries to establish a diplomatic alliance on ethical issues. The source said that the casual approach concretely took place with two countries under fire for their views. The hidden reference was to Hungary and Poland.
In line with its usual custom, the Holy See will not take any public position on the Hungarian law, nor will it defend Polish constitutional tribunal ruling: these are internal issues of states.
But it is clear to the Holy See that it is fighting the same battle as Hungary, Poland, and certain other Central and Eastern European countries in the EU. The issues at stake are freedom of expression, freedom of conscience, and the fight against the so-called new rights, aimed at imposing gender ideology and “sexual and reproductive health rights” on member states. This trend was evident with the recent approval of the so-called Matić Report by the European Parliament.
If we are looking for an official Holy See statement, it is unlikely to appear. Instead, though, the Holy See will informally support and seek the support of any country that would share its views. This is, in the end, the Holy See’s realpolitik.