Screen grab taken from video by Reuters

A Catholic church about an hour from Naples, Italy is receiving criticism after it displayed a gay nativity scene during the Christmas season. The nativity scene, featured at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Capocastello di Mercogliano, removed Joseph, St. Joseph to Catholics, who was the earthly stepfather to Jesus and husband to his mother, Mary. In his place, the scene featured an unknown woman, draped in a rainbow garb. The church’s priest, Father Vitaliano Della Sala, told Reuters he wanted the scene to be representative of the parishes. “I wanted to show with this scene that families are no longer just the traditional ones. 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,” he said.

Della Sala has often shown sympathy for LGBT causes within the church. The self-proclaimed “Disobedient Priest” was removed from his parish in 2002 for his support of LGBT causes, including marching in a Pride parade. He was reinstated in 2018 at Mercogliano. He has said that his disobedience to the Catholic church’s official stance against gay marriage is an essential part of his faith. “I am a Catholic priest who is often not in agreement and often in dissent with the Catholic hierarchy. 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.” In speaking with Reuters, he said he believed the scene was in line with the Vatican’s latest ruling in allowing priests to offer spontaneous blessings of same-sex couples.

Others disagreed. Senator Maurizio Gasparri of the Forza Italia party, said the scene “offends all those who always had respect and devotion for the Holy Family.” The conservative group Pro Vita & Famiglia started a petition to remove the scene. The petition called the scene “A blasphemous and provocative representation” and that it “distorts the meaning of the Nativity scene itself and of the Holy Family: both with the removal of Saint Joseph , sacrificed on the altar of political correctness, and with the very serious message relating to the ‘two mothers’ which ‘sanctifies’ a practice as illegal as the buying and selling of gametes.” The Christian Post noted that the petition was referring to surrogacy, which has been illegal in Italy since 2004, with the possibility of further bills being passed to make it illegal for individuals to contract women from other countries for surrogacy. The petition to remove the nativity scene currently has over 25,000 signatures.

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