Lesbian and gay Christians today denounced Pope Benedict's claim that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.
The Pontiff said humanity needed to listen to the "language of creation" to understand the intended roles of man and woman and that behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations was a "destruction of God's work".
He called on the Church to protect man from the "destruction of himself" saying that tropical rainforests deserved protection but man as a creature "does not deserve any less".
But the Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, described his remarks as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form."
She said: "It is more the case that we need to be saved from his comments. It is comments like that that justify homophobic bullying that goes on in schools and it is comments like that that justify gay bashing.
"There are still so many instances of people being killed around the world, including in western society, purely and simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
"When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way because they feel that they are doing God's work in ridding the world of these people."
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, Vicar of Putney and president of Inclusive Church, the pro-gay Anglican movement, said: "I thought the Christmas angels said 'Fear not'.
"Instead, the Pope is spreading fear that gay people somehow threaten the planet. And that's just absurd.
"As always, this sort of religious homophobia will be an alibi for all those who would do gay people harm. Can't he think of something better to say at Christmas?"
The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual orientation is not a sin but homosexual acts are. It opposes civil partnerships and gay marriage.
As Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Pope said homosexual inclination was not a sin, but it represented a "more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil".
Earlier this month gay rights activist Peter Tatchell welcomed a leaflet from the Catholic Church in England and Wales urging greater respect towards gay people.
The leaflet advises priests and churchgoers that "baptised persons with a homosexual inclination" deserve to be welcomed and participate in their local faith community.
It pointed out that homophobic jokes can be "cruel and hurtful" and encouraged greater awareness of what local help and social services are available as well as suggesting trying "not to assume that everyone is heterosexual".Reuse content