Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 22:54 UK

Vatican comment on paedophiles draws gay groups' anger

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone in Santiago, Chile, 7 April
Cardinal Bertone is seen as second only to Pope Benedict

Gay rights activists have criticised a Vatican official who sought to link homosexuality to paedophilia when commenting on child sex abuse scandals.

The UK's Stonewall group said it was astonishing gay people should still be dealing with "such an offensive myth".

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone had said homosexuality, not celibacy, lay behind the child sex abuse scandals.

The cardinal, the Vatican's secretary of state, was speaking in Chile, where his comments were also condemned.

Cardinal Bertone was attempting to defuse the scandals currently afflicting the Catholic Church, which are largely cases of priests molesting children, mainly boys, the BBC's David Willey reports from Rome.

He added that some "surprising" initiatives regarding the sex abuse scandal would soon be revealed but did not elaborate.

'I have the documents'

Visiting the Chilean capital Santiago on Monday, Cardinal Bertone told a news conference: "Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have demonstrated, I was told recently, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia.

"That is true. I have the documents of the psychologists. That is the problem."

Patricio Walker, a Chilean senator who helped draft anti-paedophile laws, said he would like to see what scientific studies the cardinal was referring to because he thought he was wrong.

A Chilean communist MP, Hugo Gutierrez, told AFP news agency: "Celibacy does more damage to a human being than homosexuality, which is a freely made choice.

"I'm shocked by these words from a senior dignitary of the Church."

In Rome, the head of Italian gay rights group Gaylib, Enrico Oliari, said it was "worrying that the foreign minister of a state that occupies the heart of the Italian capital would use arguments that are considered passe even in the Third World".

Aurelio Mancuso, former president of a Italian gay rights association Arcigay, said: "The truth is that Bertone is clumsily trying to shift attention to homosexuality and away from the focus on new crimes against children that emerge every day."

The Pope's spokesman has indicated that Benedict may have a discreet private meeting with victims of clerical sexual abuse in Malta during his visit there this coming weekend.

The Pope should not feel he is under the pressure of the glare of the media if such a meeting takes place, Fr Federico Lombardi said, so that he can listen and communicate with them.

In Malta, 10 men have taken three Catholic priests to court for alleged child abuse in their youth and have asked to meet the Pope. There has been a high incidence of reported cases on the small Mediterranean island, whose inhabitants are mainly Catholic, our Rome correspondent notes.

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