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Storm over bishop's gay remarks

2007-04-02 12:04

Rome - The head of Italy's bishops has outraged the gay community by comparing a bill that would grant rights to same-sex couples to allowing incest and paedophilia.

Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, who was appointed last month to head the Italian Bishops Conference, is leading the Church's campaign against the legislation which the Vatican says would weaken the institution of marriage.

The "DICO" bill's supporters have already criticised the Church for what they see as interference in politics, but comments by Bagnasco, reported in Sunday's newspapers, have further incensed the gay lobby.

"Why say 'no' to forms of legally recognised co-habitation which create alternatives to the family? Why say 'no' to incest?" he said at a meeting of Church workers, according to a report in La Repubblica daily.

"Why say 'no' to the paedophile party in Holland?" he added, referring to the Dutch Brotherly Love, Freedom and Diversity party which wants to cut the age of consent from 16 to 12 and legalise child pornography.

'Foolish' comparison

Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, Italy's environment minister and a vocal supporter of gay rights, said Bagnasco had made a "grave, foolish comparison which offends millions of people".

Equal opportunities Minister Barbara Pollastrini told La Repubblica: "I am stunned and I hope there will be an immediate clarification of the reported comments."

An editorial in Avvenire, official newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, said the controversy was a "storm in a teacup" and that Bagnasco was merely illustrating the fact that family policy cannot be guided simply by public opinion.

"No equating DICO with incest or paedophilia, then, in his words," the newspaper said.

Italy's bishops have called on Catholic politicians to vote against the bill which would grant rights in areas such as health care and inheritance to unmarried couples - including same-sex ones - who register their relationship.

That is a challenge for some members of Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition as many centrists, including Prodi himself, are devout Catholics.

Prodi says the bill, which falls short of recognising Spanish-style 'gay marriage', does not threaten traditional marriage.