13 Apr

Vatican attacked over cardinal’s claim of homosexuality and paedophilia link

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Pope Benedict’s number two, said homosexuality – not celibacy – is linked to paedophilia

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, whose comments on homosexuality and paedophilia have outraged gay groups. Photograph: Plinio Lepri/AP

Gay rights groups have condemned the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, for claiming that the Catholic church’s sexual abuse crisis was linked to homosexuality and paedophilia and not celibacy among priests.

Bertone, who is considered Pope Benedict’s number two, sparked the controversy on a visit to Chile when he suggested gay sexuality was to blame for the church’s child abuse scandals.

Homosexual associations in Italy reacted with anger and indignation. The biggest group, Arcigay, called the cardinal’s words “shocking and irresponsible”. The president of the gay media service, Gaynet, said if senior church officials “feel constrained to dump the blame on homosexuals, it says a lot about the current state of desperation in the Vatican”.

Gay rights advocates in Chile also waded in. “Neither Bertone nor the Vatican has the moral authority to give lessons on sexuality,” Rolando Jiménez, president of the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation in Chile, told AP.

No reputable study exists to support the cardinal’s claims, said Jiménez added. “This is a perverse strategy by the Vatican to shirk its own ethical and legal responsibility by making a spurious and disgusting connection.”

The cardinal, who is known for his blunt and sometimes tactless manner, made the remarks at a televised press conference in Chile’s capital Santiago.

He said: “Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia. This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms. The behaviour of the priests in this case, the negative behaviour, is very serious, is scandalous.”

In apparent embarrassment, the Holy See’s official daily, L’Osservatore Romano, did not mention Bertone’s remarks in its report on the press conference.

Five years ago the Vatican implicitly linked homosexuality and paedophilia when, following the child abuse scandals in the US, it banned men from studying for the priesthood if they “showed deeply rooted homosexual tendencies”.

But the connection was questioned last year in the preliminary version of a report commissioned by the American Catholic bishops, which is due to be published in December. They said the data they had studied so far did not support a link between a homosexual identity and a higher probability of sexual abuse.

Cardinal Bertone’s remarks in Chile may have been prompted in part by renewed calls in Latin America and elsewhere for the church to drop its celibacy rule. Costa Rica’s president Oscar Arias last week urged the Vatican to “correct that error”.

The church is also under pressure in Argentina, Mexico and other Latin American countries which have ignored its injunctions against granting civic rights to same-sex couples.

Santiago was not an ideal venue for the cardinal’s remarks given that one of the Chilean church’s highest-profile paedophile cases involves a priest having sex with young girls. Despite multiple complaints the church hierarchy kept Father José Andres Aguirre, known to parishoners as Father Tato, serving at several Catholic girls’ schools in the capital.

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