Monday, February 19, 2007

La Chiesa sul DICO: Sí o No?

As many of you know, the Italian hierarchy has waged war on DICO, as the proposal granting marriage-esque rights to cohabitating couples is known in the native tongue. Led by Cardinal Camillo Ruini and filling page after page of the episcopate's daily newspaper L'Avvenire, the CEI's counter-push is ostensibly being undertaken with the backing of Italy's primate -- Benedict XVI -- who's said to view it as the "mother of all battles."

Not far off the Boot's southwest coast, however, the newly-named archbishop of Malta is causing a stir by responding to a similar proposal in the Catholic mecca with what's been called a "resounding 'yes.'" A B16 appointee who served as a parish pastor on the island before being named to its top ecclesiastical post, Archbishop Paul Cremona OP was ordained and installed but three weeks ago.
Mgr Cremona said that the Church has already made it clear that the state must legislate to safeguard the rights and interests of those who live together, including, for example, brothers and sisters who share the same house.

This was also the declared aim of those proposing the new law in Italy. Referred to as DICO (“Diritti di coppie conviventi”, or “Rights for cohabiting couples”), the Italian government’s proposals fall short of the civil unions introduced in France, Britain and Spain in recent years.

The DICO bill would give cohabiting partners, irrespective of sexual orientation, inheritance rights after nine years of living together, and alimony rights after three.

It would also allow one partner in a couple to take decisions on funeral arrangements and organ donation when the other died.

According to the new law, cohabiting partners will have to go to the registry office to declare their de facto union, but no ceremony akin to marriage will be celebrated. In fact, the partners do not even need to register the union at the same time.

“These are all new rights: none is equivalent to marriage,” Italian family minister Rosy Bindi insists, to the consternation of those who wanted more wide-ranging reforms on the model of Zapatero’s Spain.

But for all the linguistic acrobatics conducted to appease the Catholic Church, the Italian government still ended up bearing the brunt of Papal condemnation.

“No man-made law can subvert one made by the Creator without society being dramatically damaged in its very foundation,” the Pope said in reaction to the bill approved by the centre-left government last week.

Pope Benedict XVI said such legislation goes against natural law, “weakens the family and penalises children.”

The CIE [sic] (Italian Episcopal Council), headed by Cardinal Ruini, has described the new law as an unnecessary measure which undermines the family....

Perhaps wary of treading on the Church’s traditional monopoly on family affairs – unaltered by 160 years of British rule, and only remotely tampered with by Dom Mintoff – the Maltese State has left cohabiting couples in a legal vacuum. Relegated to the status of second class citizens, they have no right of inheritance if their partner dies without leaving a will, no rights to the common home if abandoned by their partner, no say in any decisions affecting their partner’s health and not even a legal right to organise their partner’s funeral.

But with 40 per cent of respondents in a MaltaToday survey claiming to have a relative who cohabits with a partner, the Maltese political parties are now walking on a tightrope.

Archbishop Cremona’s green light came as a blessing to the Malta Labour Party, which has been busy approving a document that widens the definition of the family to include different forms such as unmarried and gay couples. Back in 1998, the Nationalist Party had also proposed recognising the rights and obligations of cohabiting couples.

Yet the apparent go-ahead given by Archbishop Cremona could prove deceptive if wrongly interpreted. Ultimately, the church position on the subject will depend on the way the law is worded. Getting the church’s blessing for any law concerning the family could prove elusive, even for the most Catholic of politicians.

One of the authors of the Italian law is Rosy Bindi, known for her strong Catholic convictions. The law strayed away from giving any semblance of marriage to cohabitation. Yet it was still deemed unacceptable by the Pope.

Informed sources within the Curia told MaltaToday that Cremona’ s position does not represent any departure from official church teaching. Even Cremona’s conservative predecessor Mercieca had called on the state to protect the rights of children born out of wedlock, and to legislate on cohabiting partners’ duties towards one another.

“When a cohabitation comes to an end, the state should also ensure the protection of the natural duties of one party towards another party and towards children,” the Maltese bishops said in a joint statement in a 1999.

The Curia also told MaltaToday that the Church would be willing to accept legislation that safeguards the individual rights of cohabiting persons.

SVILUPPO: The Malta curia has issued the following clarification, printed below in full.
Mgr. Paul Cremona O.P., the Archbishop of Malta, would like to clarify as follows regarding what has been stated concerning his position vis-a-vis marriage, cohabitating couples and other relationships of persons living under the same roof.

It is essential that one makes a clear difference between issues concerning what constitutes marriage, and the need to ensure justice in the various realities of relationships between persons.

As has been clearly stated by the Maltese Bishops in their statement of 24 March 1999 , the Church can never approve cohabitation or any measures that may encourage it. The Church believes that the State has to pay attention to maintain and sustain a full and clear distinction between the status of marriage and the status of cohabitation, which are and remain two different realities. The Church also believes that the State cannot encourage cohabitation or appear as if it were doing so. On the contrary, the State should do its utmost to strengthen the family built on marriage and so encourage everybody, primarily young people, to choose responsibly a mutual, full and permanent self-giving in marriage -- and not experiments in frail unions where one could abandon everything as if nothing had happened.

As has also been stated in the 24 March 1999 Maltese Bishops' statement, as regards cohabiation the State should protect the rights of those concerned, especially the children that may be born. It should see that everybody shoulders the responsibilities of his or her actions and that nobody evades such responsibilities. Even when, for some reason or other, cohabitation comes to an end, one has to ensure the protection of the natural duties of one party towards another party and towards children. Whoever lives a similar union that comes to an end should remain accountable for these obligations and the State should ensure the recognition and safeguarding of every right of those concerned. At the same time, one has to continue to keep in mind that marriage and cohabitation are not the same thing and can never be considered as if they were the same thing, not even when the State comes to determine the rights and duties that emerge from cohabitation.

When one speaks about State determination of rights and duties of persons living together in an experience which is different from that of a marriage between a man and a woman, one should not limit oneself to cohabitating partners. One should take into consideration the rights of other persons living together under one roof and sharing their lives with each other perhaps for many years, for instance brothers and sisters.