Catholic church stokes outrage for 'blasphemous and provocative' same-sex Nativity scene

A Nativity scene featuring 'two mothers' of the baby Jesus instead of the biblically accurate Mary and Joseph went on display in a church in southern Italy, sparking fury among many Catholics and Christians worldwide, December 23, 2023.
A Nativity scene featuring "two mothers" of the baby Jesus instead of the biblically accurate Mary and Joseph went on display in a church in southern Italy, sparking fury among many Catholics and Christians worldwide, December 23, 2023. | Screengrab: Reuters/YouTube

A Roman Catholic church in Italy has stoked outrage for displaying a Nativity scene that replaced Joseph with a second woman decked out in rainbow garb.

"I wanted to show with this scene that families are no longer just the traditional ones," said Father Vitaliano Della Sala of the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, according to Reuters.

"In our parishes we see more and more children from the new types of families that exist and are part of our society, children of separated and divorced people, gay couples, single people, young mothers," Della Sala added.

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The creche at the church in Capocastello di Mercogliano, east of Naples, prompted condemnation from Italian Senator Maurizio Gasparri, who said it "offends all those who always had respect and devotion for the Holy Family."

The display also provoked a petition from the pro-life group Pro-Vita & Famiglia, which denounced the display as "a blasphemous and provocative representation that distorts the meaning of the Nativity scene itself and of the Holy Family," and called on Bishop of Avellino Arturo Aiello to have it removed.

The petition, which has garnered nearly 25,000 signatures as of Wednesday, specifically condemned "the removal of Saint Joseph, sacrificed on the altar of political correctness," as well as "the very serious message relating to the 'two mothers' which 'sanctifies' a practice as illegal as the buying and selling of gametes."

Surrogacy in Italy has been illegal since 2004, and Italian lawmakers have been debating another law that would ban engaging a surrogate mother in another country, punishable by up to three years in prison and 1 million euros in fines, according to The Associated Press.

Della Sala, who has been dubbed "the disobedient priest," has clashed with the Catholic hierarchy over the years and was removed as a parish priest of Sant'Angelo a Scala in 2002 for his activism, which included marching in a Pride parade, according to the organization Portraits in Faith. Aiello reinstated him as a parish priest in Mercogliano in 2018.

"I am a Catholic priest who is often not in agreement and often in dissent with the Catholic hierarchy," Della Sala said during an interview with Portraits in Faith. "But I think that dissent is necessary in bettering my faith, to be in such a way that my faith is lived better. I think that dissent is also necessary to better the church that I belong to."

According to Reuters, Della Sala suggested his views align with Pope Francis, who signed off earlier this month on "Fiducia Supplicans," a controversial declaration from the Vatican's Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith that allows for "spontaneous pastoral blessing" for "same-sex couples" and other couples in "irregular situations."

The guidance has prompted mixed reactions from Catholic prelates around the world.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) emphasized that the declaration from the Vatican made a "distinction between liturgical (sacramental) blessings, and pastoral blessings, which may be given to persons who desire God's loving grace in their lives."

"The Church's teaching on marriage has not changed, and this declaration affirms that, while also making an effort to accompany people through the imparting of pastoral blessings because each of us needs God's healing love and mercy in our lives," the USCCB said in a statement.

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