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The BBC's David Willey in Rome
"The Pope said he couldn't refrain from expressing his bitterness"
 real 28k

Sunday, 9 July, 2000, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Pope condemns gay rights march
Gay Pride march
Gays dressed as priests outside the Coliseum
Pope John Paul has delivered a powerful condemnation of the gay rights march held in Rome on Saturday, describing it as an offence to Christian values.

Addressing thousands of pilgrims in St Peter's Square, he said the Roman Catholic Church could not keep quiet about the truth. He said it regarded homosexual acts to be against natural law.


I must express sadness for ...the offence to Christian values of a city that is so dear to the heart of Catholics

Pope John Paul

Correspondents say his remarks will anger gay activists. They were hoping the Gay Pride march, attended by an estimated 70,000 people, would help improve relations with the Church.

But before the march - held as part of World Pride Week - the Vatican tried to get it banned.

Applause

The Pope re-affirmed the Church's position that it would not compromise in its opposition to homosexuality.

"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 offence to Christian values of a city that is so dear to the heart of Catholics of the whole world," he said.

One of the floats
Transexuals taking part in the procession

He went on to deliver a catechism lesson to the crowd, stressing the Church's belief that homosexual acts are against nature and are therefore intrinsically evil.

During his address, the Pope read from an entry on homosexuality in the Catholic Church's catechism, which calls it "objectively disordered".

Many in the crowd applauded his words.

At the same time, the Pope acknowledged that a considerable number of people had deeply rooted homosexual tendencies, and said they should be treated with respect, compassion and delicacy.

All types of unjust discrimination towards such people must be avoided, he added.

Saturday's march from the Coliseum and the Circus Maximus - two of Rome's most famous ancient sites - was one of the biggest to take place in Rome for decades.

Jubilant

The mood was jubilant, as gays and their supporters from around the world joined in tooting whistles and carrying banners proclaiming gay pride.

Some marchers carried placards denouncing the Catholic Church.

Activist Imma Battaglia
Imma Battaglia (rght) fought hard to have the event staged

"1943: The Vatican says nothing about the deportation of Gays and Jews," one placard read. "2000: The Vatican speaks out against Gay Pride."

Among the marchers was a soberly dressed provincial priest marching in solidarity.

"I'm not the Pope, but I'm here!" the Reverend Vitaliano Della Sala said.

Many families joined in the parade - the first occasion on which gay rights has been openly presented to Italians as a legitimate human rights issue.

Prominent Italian left-wing and radical politicians were also there for the event, which took place amid heavy police security after threats by neo-Fascists to disrupt the proceedings.

Criticism

The Vatican had earlier criticised the Italian government and the Rome city authorities for allowing the parade.

Italy's prime minister Guiliano Amato ordered the country's minister for equal rights to cancel her ministry's official sponsorship of World Pride.

World Pride Week has dramatically brought gay rights issues out of the closet in Italy.

Activist Imma Battaglia, who led the battle for the parade permit, said: "No one will be able to stop us ever again. We'll continue the fight for freedom, equality and respect."

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See also:

08 Jul 00 | Europe
Gay pride triumphs in Rome
30 May 00 | Europe
Rome divided over gay festival
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