Rome's fall to gay pride march outrages Pope

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The Independent Online

The Pope launched a vehement attack yesterday on the colourful gay rights demonstration that wound its way through Rome on Saturday, calling it "an insult to Christian values" and "an offence to the city of Rome, so dear to Catholics around the world".

The Pope launched a vehement attack yesterday on the colourful gay rights demonstration that wound its way through Rome on Saturday, calling it "an insult to Christian values" and "an offence to the city of Rome, so dear to Catholics around the world".

Speaking from his balcony, the weary pontiff said he was bitter that the international World Gay Pride event had been allowed to disturb the centre of Christendom in the Jubilee Year, a period of deep religious significance. On Saturday, an estimated 200,000 people endured the sweltering sun to parade jubilantly past the ruins of ancient Rome in support of gay, lesbian and trans-gender rights.

The Pope did not speak of the event by name, but the reference in his stern speech was crystal clear. "The Church can- not keep the truth silent because ... this would not help in discerning good from evil," he said, before quoting the Catholic catechism, which declares that "homosexual acts are contrary to nature". Thirty thousand pilgrims in St Peter's Square applauded his remarks.

Still quoting the catechism, the Pope said "a significant number of men and women suffer from the inclination tohomosexuality, which is objectively a disorder and these people should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity", adding that "any trace of unjust discrimination must be avoided".

Behind the Pope's powerful condemnation lay his personal anger and that of the Vatican hierarchy that, despite having put intense pressure on central and local governments, they had been unable to prevent the week-long gay extravaganza, featuring concerts, fashion parades, sports tournaments and exhibitions.

In fact, the intervention of cardinals and bishops, backed by conservative political parties, turned into a boomerang. Many felt the secular state was being undermined and the gay march became a civil rights issue. Alongside gay activists from around the world were thousands of heterosexual Romans.

There was a heavy police presence because of fears of a clash with right-wing extremists who had scheduled a march in the same area. But Forza Nuova, which had dem-onstrated with fascist salutes and anti-homosexual slogans earlier in the week, called off their protest at the last minute.

Instead, the atmosphere was carnival-like and relaxed. Transvestites in exotic barely-there costumes danced and leather-clad boys flicked whips on the top of floats. Some marchers carried placards against the Pope and the Catholic Church. "Our Father who art in heaven, keep out of my life", read one. "Pope Wojtyla - I wear a dress too", said another. But the anti-religious provocation was limited, perhaps because the organisers felt they had won the battle. Left-wing and radical politicians, including the Equal Opportunities Minister, Katia Belillo, took part in the march, though some Catholic members of government had fought to stop the event. A Roman Catholic priest, Don Vitaliano, was at the head of the parade and other clerics also took part.

Patrizia, a lesbian from Naples, said: "The whole issue is visibility. Italy is a very hypocritical society, it prefers deceit to uncomfortable truths. This week we have not been hiding." Paolo, who had come to the event with his four-year-old twins, said: "I am proud to be a Roman today. We have shown that we are a secular state and a civil nation."

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