Hardly two weeks have passed since a successful demonstration was held in Rome on June 20 in defense of the traditional family and its children, and the first contradictions are starting to crop up. As reported in Il Giornale (June 26, 2015), some of the politicians who joined the more than one million Catholics and non-Catholics (according to organizers) who convened at Piazza San Giovanni for “Family Day” sided with the government and voted in favor of a civil union bill providing for homosexual partners and their adoption of children. This is nothing new, in the sense that history is rife with examples of self-proclaimed Christian or Catholic legislators who, when confronted with crucial decisions, end up “siding with the enemy,” so to speak.
But the Family Day demonstrators were also protesting another bill, part of a package of school reforms aimed at introducing mandatory teaching of so-called gender theory—that is, the concept that the sexual differences between men and women have no objective or biological basis, but are the mere product of educational options and/or cultural patterns imposed by society.
That’s why banners reading “No gender in school” and “Defending children’s future” could be seen at the rally. “In my children’s schools they are talking about families made up of two fathers or two mothers, without asking parents’ permission,” 41-year-old doctor Giuseppe Ripa was reported as saying (AFP, June 20), adding: “It’s dangerous and wrong.” His words were echoed by fellow protester Piero Uroda, a 78-year-old pharmacist, according to whom it was “not honest to say these things to the very young, it’s not like they are students who can debate these ideas … I don’t want gay marriage or gay adoption, the natural family is like ours,” he said, pointing to his relatives gathered around.
The call for Italy to keep pace with its western European neighbors on these issues has grown since Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favor of gay marriage in May, becoming even stronger last week after the US Supreme Court’s historic 5-4 vote ruling that the US Constitution requires all states to grant legal recognition to same-sex marriages.
La Stampa’s Vatican Insider noted on June 20 that not even the torrential rain that swept down upon Rome stopped the protestors. “They were coming from all over Italy to defend the family,” Vatican Insider reported. “They were the silent majority of Italian Catholicism without political banners or affiliation. A street protest without slogans or violent ideological confrontations. A ‘do it yourself,’ spontaneous Family Day with a self-managed mobilization.”
This was the protest of those who are not accustomed to taking to the streets, organized with just a few weeks’ notice; “anonymous” Catholics without flags, spontaneous committees created in the parishes or in the neighborhoods, a marching people, without any official endorsement from Church hierarchy, but able to work as a team and to spread the news by word-of-mouth on social networks. A real and not virtual mobilization. “We had asked for at least a small discount on train tickets,” the spokesman of the organizing committee “Difendiamo I nostri figli” (“Let’s defend our children”), Massimo Gandolfini, was quoted as saying. “But we did not even get that.”
The news agency Zenit (June 21, 2015) spoke of several factors underlying such unexpected and resounding success. First, it was an inclusive, non-political, and non-denominational event, and at a time of a serious crisis of credibility for political parties and the political establishment at large. Beside the massive presence of Catholics, who managed to mobilize even without an explicit greenlight from their bishops, there were also Orthodox, Muslims, and Sikhs. Jews were not present, due to the Saturday festivity, but they nonetheless manifested their support through a message from the Rabbinate of Rome.
A second factor, according to the Zenit report, was the unity and solidarity among associations, which, without any leadership or any hegemonic temptation, were able to constructively team up with each other, as evidenced by the extraordinary zeal of many young volunteers involved. The organizers managed also to exclude the most extreme and controversial groups and people, some of whom had expressly criticized the event for its supposed line of “compromise” with the establishment. Among the critics was the traditionalist Catholic intellectual Roberto De Mattei, who in a statement on the blog Intelligonews (June 9, 2015) described the demonstration as a possible “funeral, if they renounce naming the enemies of the family,” tacitly lamenting that he had not been involved in the organization of the event. But if over a million people are a funeral…
The last point made by Zenit was that the “compelling charisma” of a number of pro-family figures contributed to the event’s success. In particular, among those who spoke from the stage were Costanza Miriano, mother of four and journalist and writer of books upholding the Christian vision of marriage, Alfredo Mantovano, magistrate and former undersecretary, and the Turin sociologist Massimo Introvigne. The latter two, who were also among the organizers of the event, made the crowd repeat a resounding and clear “no” to adoptions by homosexual couples.
Also among the speakers was Kiko Arguello, founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, who spoke of the right and duty of parents to educate their children, and of the unhappiness of children raised by homosexuals. But above all he pointed out that whereas the secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference, Nunzio Galantino, appeared to have distanced himself from the demonstration, “the Holy Father is with us.” In fact, some time ago Kiko Arguello wrote to the Holy Father, after receiving letters from some families in Brescia and Verona complaining of attempts to include in schools educational projects aimed at deconstructing the sexual identity of their children. “The Pope responded to me last Sunday,” Arguello claimed, “when he said there are ideologies that colonize families and against which we must act.”
In La Stampa (June 20, 2015) Msgr. Galantino was quoted as saying that although he shared the sense of the initiative, he did not agree with the way the protest was being conducted. For its part, the Diocese of Rome entered the fray with a letter to school religion teachers. The diocese is not an official sponsor of the protest, the text read, but supports it and urges participation, at least to show that certain sensitive educational themes may not be rammed through. However, approval of the event was granted by the Pontifical Council for the Family and by the Holy See, with the latter wishing the event “a full success, with the certainty that it will provide a valuable contribution to the life of the Church and all the people who have the good of the entire humanity at heart.”
Eight years ago a civil-unions bill was stopped by the first Family Day demonstration; will the same happen this time?