John Paul II offended by attacks on Church
From Bruce Johnston in Rome
MAJOR RII-TS appeared in the Vatican's special relationship with Italy this week as the Pope expressed disappointment over a gay pride march — for which he was attacked for meddling in the affairs of a secular state.
The procession, which developed into a carnival on the Circus Maximus, involved as many as 200,000 people. Romans turned out with the children to watch while lesbians kissed each other before the television and news cameras, and observers cheered while transsexuals bared their breasts as they were driven in open lorries past the Coliseum.
The Vatican had tried to have the march stopped, saying it feared that it would mar its Jubilee celebrations of the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.
But the Church failed to overcome a growing liberal mood in Italy over the issue of homosexuality. One government minister, declaring he was gay, even threatened ahead of the march to have Italy's Lateran Treaties with the Vatican re-examined in order to free Rome from Church interference.
Vicious anti-Catholic rhetoric and the presence of a minister and a priest at the head of the procession, along with anti-religious slogans and banners, turned the march into a threat and an insult to the Church, which felt compelled to comment publicly.
"The popes blessed Hitler's guns, military parades, burnings at the stake, and the Crusades," one placard read, "but not bisexual love?". "God loves me too" said the cardboard papal mitre worn by one gay demonstrator sporting sunglasses.
"1943, the Vatican kept quiet about the deportation of gays and Jews," read a slogan, "2000, the Vatican shouts at gay pride. When will the Vatican ask our forgiveness'?"
"In memory of all the homosexuals persecuted by the Catholic Church," said one placard." "Atheist Pride," stated one, while another said "Our Father. who art in Heaven, stay out of my life".
At the concert held later to wind up the eight days of what organisers said was the first world Gay Pride festival, a young man dressed as the Pope pressed his face against the bared naval of former Spice Girl singer and United Nations goodwill ambassador Geri Halliwell as she performed on stage.
The following day Pope John Paul II, in his Sunday Angelus spoke "in the name of the Church of Rome" to 30,000 applauding people in St Peter's Square.
He said: "1 have to express disappointment for the offence bruught to the Jubilee of the Year 2000 and for the offence made to a city which is so dear to the hearts of the Catholics all over the world.
"The Church cannot remain silent before the truth, because in so doing it would be unfaithful to God the Creator, and would not help to distinguish between good and evil."
Ile then quoted the Catechism, saying: "This inclination (homosexuality), which objectively is a disorder, is a trial for the major ity of those involved. For that reason they should be welcomed with respect, compassion and gentleness."
The events overshadowed the Pope's celebration of Mass in Rome's Regina Cecil prison, on the banks of the River Tiber, the same morning, to mark the Church's Jubilee Day for Prisoners, and sparked a domestic political row which divided Italy's Centre-Left coalition.
His comments also stirred widespread indignation in the media, which had given large coverage to the march before concluding that it had been peaceful, positive and "unoffensive".
Milan's Corriere della Sera, Italy's largest daily, attacked the Pope and the Church in a front-page commentary.
"Rome is no longer the capital of the pontifical state," it said. "Rather, it is the capital of a secular state, and so, has to exert its sovereignty over everyone, without discrimination of a religious or — why not'? sexual nature. . .
"Judging by the Pontiff's words," the Corriere continued, "it seems to us that for the Vatican the 'injury' which it suffered 130 years ago in Porta Pia (the symbol of the Italian forces' occupation of Rome) still continues to fester..."
The paper added: "Wasn't it John Paul II himself who asked for forgiveness for the persecution of the Jews, Galileo's trial, and the Inquisition? And so when is he going make a similar gesture for homosexuals?"
Rome's La Repubblica, also in a front page commentary, said: "By allowing the march, Italy showed itself to have a more open, understanding and tolerant sensitivity than the Church. Judging from his words, the Pope appeared to not take this into account.
"He saw Gay Pride only as an affront to the Jubilee and as an offence to Rome's Christian character. But Rome today is something more, and the Italian context during the millennium is not something that can only be boiled down to the Jubilee."