By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The Vatican has protested to Italy over a draft law to combat homophobia, saying that in its present form it could restrict the religious freedom of the Catholic Church in Italy.
The protest, which was first reported by the Corriere della Sera on Tuesday and confirmed by a Vatican official, was delivered on June 17 by the Vatican foreign minister to Italy's embassy to the Holy See.
The protest is over the so-called "Zan bill," named for Alessandro Zan, a gay legislator of the centre-left Democratic Party. It has passed in the lower house of parliament and is currently being discussed in a committee in the Senate.
The Vatican believes that the law as currently written violates the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established Vatican City as a sovereign state and regulates relations between it and Italy.
The Vatican fears that the law as written could lead to criminalisation of the Church in Italy for refusing to conduct gay marriages, for opposing adoption by homosexual couples through Catholic institutions, or for refusing to teach gender theory in Catholic schools, according to a Vatican source.
While the Vatican has often condemned discrimination and violence against gays, it has also expressed concern about any type of gender theory that would blur or eliminate the differences between men and women.
In April, Italy's Roman Catholic bishops criticised the bill, saying that "a law that intends to combat discrimination cannot seek that objective through intolerance and by questioning the reality of the difference between men and women".
The bishops said the law did not significantly address the "uniqueness of the family" headed by a heterosexual couple.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League, applauded the Vatican's move.
"We say 'yes' to loving whoever you want and 'yes' to the fight against discrimination, and 'yes' to punishing any form of violence," he said.
"But we are against any censorship or trials for those who believe that mother, father and family are at the heart of our society," he said.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Angus MacSwan)