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Thursday, 7 February, 2002, 17:00 GMT
Spanish gays urged to leave the Church
Jose Mantero
Mr Mantero said he had a calling to ring the magazine
Spain's leading gay organisation has urged homosexuals to leave the Catholic Church in protest at the suspension of a priest who came out in a magazine last week.


The church does not allow homosexuality - it considers it to be a sin and a mental disorder

Juan Jose Asenjo
Spanish Bishops' Conference
Father Jose Mantero, 39, was suspended on Wednesday for breaking his celibacy vows and abandoning his parish.

"The church does not allow homosexuality. It considers it to be a sin and a mental disorder," said the spokesman of the Spanish Bishops' Conference, Juan Jose Asenjo.

Mr Mantero had told the glossy gay magazine Zero that he was a practising homosexual, and did not return to his parish after the interview was published.

Defending Mr Mantero, The Association of Gays and Lesbians accused the Church of operating a "well-oiled political machine for campaigning against homosexuality".

Church v Gays

Pedro Cerola, the president of the association, told a news conference that homosexuals should refuse to pay taxes "to an organisation that continues insulting and condemning us".

General Franco
Gays were persecuted under the Franco regime
"They should leave," he declared.

Meanwhile, the leader of the gay platform within the ruling conservative People's Party, Carlos Alberto Biendicho, threatened to reveal the names of three homosexual bishops with whom he claimed to have had sexual relations if the Church continued to punish Mr Mantero.

Mr Mantero, who is the first Catholic priest in modern Spanish history to have publicly declared his homosexuality, is keen to remain within the Church.

"I feel very happy in the Church and I love it," he told Zero. "I want to fight for change from within."

He said he had made public his homosexuality "because the Church had committed a grave sin in closing itself off to a very important part of God's people."

"Just as one feels calling from God to become a priest, I felt that God could be calling on me, to ring Zero magazine," he said.

Repression

Correspondents say Mr Mantero's suspension has sparked heated debate across the country.

While the Church retains a strong influence in Spain, homosexuality has become widely accepted in Spanish society since being severely repressed during the 1935-1975 dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

Thousands of homosexuals were jailed, put in camps or locked up in mental institutions under the regime, with which the Church was closely allied.

See also:

01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany approves 'gay marriage'
23 Sep 98 | Europe
Spain rejects abortion law
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