Pope John Paul today slammed a gay rights march in Rome as an “offense to Christian values,” prompting outrage from gay groups for his condemnation of homosexual acts as being “against natural law.”
The pope’s unexpected and forceful remarks drew a stinging response from Italian gay rights activists who accused the Vatican of fuelling homophobia.
Rightist politicians, many of whom had tried to stop or postpone Saturday’s 70,000-strong World Gay Pride march, applauded the Pope and hit out at members of the center-left government who had joined the parade.
One of them described the march as “a depressing spectacle.”
The 80-year-old pope, speaking to tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists in St Peter’s Square, reaffirmed that the Church considered homosexuality “objectively disordered.”
‘Offense to Christian Values’
“In the name of the Church of Rome, I must express sadness for the affront to the Great Jubilee of the year 2000 and the offense to Christian values of a city that is so dear to the heart of Catholics of the whole world,” he said.
He said the Church “could not keep quiet about the truth” and had a duty to “distinguish between good and evil.”
He then quoted from an entry on homosexuality in the Church’s Catechism, which calls it “objectively disordered” but also says that homosexuals should be treated with compassion and respect and should not be subjected to “unjust discrimination.”
Within an hour of his speech, Franco Grillini, honorary chairman of gay rights group Arcigay, hit back.
“The real offence is the homophobia and the anti-gay prejudice which is fuelled by the Vatican hierarchy,” Grillini said in a statement.
“The pope is mistaken when he says homosexuality is unnatural. Who decides what is natural and what is not?,” he asked. “‘Objectively disordered’—what does that mean?”
Parade Headed By Priest
Grillini pointed out that a Catholic priest had headed the parade through the heart of Rome and many other priests from across Europe had joined the march.
But the pope’s words gave succour to rightist politicians who were largely silent on Saturday as the protesters, including drag queens in leather thongs and stiletto heels, snaked their way around the side of the Colosseum in a colourful parade.
“The Gay Pride march, with ministers and leaders of the left at its head, was a depressing spectacle,” said Pierfrancesco Casini, leader of the centre-right and Christian CCD party.
Francesco Storace, president of the Lazio region of which Rome is the capital, described John Paul as “an extraordinary pope” and said his words vindicated opponents of the parade.
Adolfo Urso, spokesman for the far-right National Alliance party which had threatened a counter-demonstration, said he understood the pope’s ire.
“The Gay Pride march took on a clearly provocative nature against the Catholic Church and all those who believe in the natural and constitutional values of the family,” Urso said.
“We always said the march was inopportune in terms of both timing and location.”
Marchers Had Protested Vatican
Many protesters on Saturday’s march carried banners and placards denouncing the Church’s attitude towards gays.
“1943: The Vatican says nothing about the deportation of Gays and Jews; 2000: The Vatican speaks out against Gay Pride,” one of the placards read.
A group of eight men draped a huge banner across the street which read simply: “In memory of all those homosexuals persecuted and killed by the Catholic Church.”
The Church teaches that homosexuality is not a sin but that homosexual acts are.
“Homosexual persons are called to chastity,” one section of the Catechism which addresses honosexuality reads. It also says Scripture calls homosexual acts “acts of grave depravity.”