- The Washington Times - Monday, July 10, 2000

VATICAN CITY Pope John Paul II yesterday denounced a large homosexual pride festival in Rome as offensive to Christians and said that homosexual acts are "contrary to natural law."

The pontiff spoke from his St. Peter's Square balcony the day after tens of thousands of people took part in the Rome parade that capped a weeklong celebration the Vatican had tried to get canceled.

In pointed language, John Paul expressed "bitterness for the insult" of having the festival "during the Grand Jubilee of the Year 2000 and for the offense to Christian values in a city that is so dear to the heart of Catholics all over the world."

The Roman Catholic Church is celebrating a holy year that has attracted millions of pilgrims to Rome. The "World Gay Pride" parade Saturday featured many anti-Catholic banners along with the usual complement of drag queens in leather thongs and stiletto heels, snaking around the side of the Coliseum.

One of Italy's leading homosexual activists, Franco Grillini, swiftly rebuked the pope and his remarks, which state TV called a "sentence without appeal."

"The true offense is homophobia and anti-gay prejudice fed by the Vatican hierarchy," Mr. Grillini said.

The day after the parade was a busy one for the pontiff, dedicated to prison inmates, and John Paul visited the capital's oldest prison. He celebrated Mass for murderers, thieves, rapists and drug dealers, offering them his personal blessing.

Later, speaking to the faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, the pontiff condemned the homosexual pride parade and reminded his listeners of church teachings: "Homosexual acts are against nature's laws," he said.

"The church cannot silence the truth, because this … would not help discern what is good from what is evil."

All the same, he said, homosexuals should not be the victims of discrimination. Homosexuals should be treated with "respect, compassion, [and] delicacy" because homosexuality is a "disorder."

The Vatican's staunch opposition to World Pride 2000 came in the midst of an intense political fight over the issue, with the homosexual festival receiving harsh criticism from a number of conservative political parties in Italy. The church's stance also put homosexual rights issues on Italy's public agenda for the first time, mobilizing the homosexual community.

Conservative politicians, many of whom had tried to stop or postpone Saturday's march, applauded the pope and struck out at members of the center-left government who had marched in the parade.

"The gay pride march, with ministers and leaders of the left at its head, was a depressing spectacle," said Pierfrancesco Casini, leader of one of Italy's main center-right parties.

World Pride organizers said they chose Rome for the festival in hopes of opening a dialogue with the church. Instead, the event heightened tensions between the two and between Italy's secular and Catholic establishments.

The influential secular Rome daily Corriere della Sera, in a front-page editorial, chided the Vatican for not having dedicated a Jubilee day to homosexuals, as it has done for some other groups. "It would have been proof of a real ecumenism and rich generosity in this year of pardon."

La Repubblica, another major Italian daily newspaper, remarked tartly that the Catholic Church has not resolved the problems of pedophilia and homosexuality among its own clergy.

The paper's veteran Vatican watcher, Marco Politi, wrote that a report on pedophilia among American priests prepared in April by the pope's guardians of orthodoxy, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, was sealed as a "pontifical secret."

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