In a television chat-show, Gianfranco Fini, leader of the ex-Fascist National Alliance party, said that homosexuals should be banned from teaching, especially in junior schools. He stoked up further ire by equating homosexuals with paedophiles.
"We can only say thank you to Fini," said Tatiana Palermi, a spokeswoman for Rome's Mario Mieli gay centre. "In a way, his words were an act of great courage. He came out and said what he thought. Now everyone really knows who and what they have to fight against."
Expressing what he said was "the opinion of 95 per cent of Italians" during a late-night chat show, Mr Fini said: "It would be extremely uneducative, and morally inopportune, to allow anyone who confesses to being homosexual, or who accepts paedophilia as normal, into the teaching profession. I'm convinced that teachers must reflect the norm, and the norm is heterosexuality."
Coming from a man who has worked painstakingly for the past eight years to modernise the image of what used to be an openly fascist party, bringing it out of the political wilderness and into the mainstream right, the outburst came as a shock.
"Perhaps he was just getting 'homosexual' and 'paedophile' mixed up," said Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of Italy's war time Fascist leader, in a clumsy attempt to mitigate her party leader's words.
But others were not so charitable. The fact that Mr Fini is widely acknowledged as one of Italy's most impressive political orators led the majority of commentators to conclude that the National Alliance chief was stating deeply-held convictions.
The National Alliance leader's outburst, Ms Palermi pointed out, fails to take account of recent research which shows that only an estimated one out of 10,000 paedophiles is homosexual. It also overlooks the fact that cases of child abuse involving homosexuals reported in Italian schools have been few and far between .
Police figures show that girls accounted for 52 per cent of child abuse victims last year, and that almost 70 per cent of all incidents involved family members.Reuse content