ROME (AP) — Italian Premier Romano Prodi promised Monday to promote dialogue with the Vatican after churchmen were alarmed by the government’s proposal to grant legal rights to same-sex partners and unmarried heterosexual couples.
Prodi reviewed church-state relations in a meeting later Monday with Pope Benedict XVI’s top aide, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and with Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the politically influential head of the Italian bishops conference.
“We had excellent talks,” Francesco Rutelli, deputy premier and a pro-Vatican centrist in the governing coalition, said after the meeting.Bertone said the meeting had been positive, adding that we “talked with much calm and seriousness.”
He said family issues had been discussed but he did not give details.Both Bertone and Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema said the two sides discussed China, with which the Vatican would like to establish diplomatic ties. Bertone indicated Italy could do much to help the Holy See reach its goal.
During the meeting, he also expressed the Vatican’s appreciation for Italy’s efforts for peace in the Middle East and for the protection of holy sites.A few dozen demonstrators protested the traditionally close Vatican-Italian relationship outside the Italian Embassy to the Holy See as Prodi arrived. They held banners with slogans such as “Free church, free state” and “Save the Church from the Vatican.”
The occasion was the annual Italian-Vatican meeting to mark the anniversary of the 1929 pact governing relations between the two opposing sides.“We’ll have a dialogue on the subject of the family and also on the proposed law,” Prodi said, referring to the plan to grant many legal rights to unmarried couples living together.The proposed law, heavily lobbied for by Communists in Prodi’s center-left coalition, has alarmed the Vatican.
The pope has said he is worried about family identity, and the Italian bishops’ conference has been campaigning vehemently against the plan.If the proposal becomes law, unmarried couples would acquire inheritance rights after nine years of living together and would be granted other rights sooner, such as deciding medical treatment should a partner become incapacitated.
The 1929 Lateran Pact, signed by Pope Pius XI and Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, gave the Roman Catholic Church many privileges. It also aligned Italian law with church teaching, including declaring that marriage could not be dissolved. Italy legalized divorce decades later.
In 1984, the Vatican and the Italian government then led by Socialist Premier Bettino Craxi agreed to a revised pact that eliminated Roman Catholicism as Italy’s state religion.
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