BY FREDDY GRAY
POPE BENEDICT XVI this week offered his support to the Archbishop of Genoa who has received a string of death threats including a bullet in the post following his opposition to the legal recognition of same-sex unions.
On Monday the Pontiff telephoned Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian bishops' conference, as "a personal call of solidarity", according the Fr Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office.
Archbishop Bagnasco, whose home is under armed guard, also received a telegram from Benedict XVI, urging him to "continue in his work for the corrunon good, defending and promoting those human and religious values without which it is impossible to build true, free and stable democracies". The Pope expressed "his profound and painful shock' at the "grave and despicable events that aim to disturb the serene coexistence of the civil and ecclesial community".
Italian President Giorgio Napolitano also stood by Archbishop Bagnasco and the Church.
"I wish to assure you that Italy will not leave Archbishop Bagnasco alone to face the present threats," the Italian leader said in a message to the Vatican.
Archbishop Bagnasco has received several ominous threats since he issued a strong statement condemning the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.
The walls of Genoa Cathedral were spray-painted with aggressive messages and Communist symbols.
According to Vatican Radio. the envelope with a bullet also contained a photograph of the prelate inscribed with a swastika.
The Italian police have given Archbishop Bagnasco a heavy escort whenever he goes out in public.
As he celebrated Mass in Genoa cathedral last Sunday, bodyguards stood just feet from the altar. Fr Domenico Pompili, a spokesman for the Italian bishops' conference, said: "It is not the intention of the Church to fuel a clash that it never went looking for."
"Well, that's not entirely true," commented the Irish gay magazine GCN. "The conference has toed the Vatican party line by opposing same-sex marriage. So they did, in fact, look for the fight. They just didn't bank on a potentially armed rebellion."
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Archbishop Bagnasco's predecessor as president of the bishops' conference, said that Church leaders would not be silenced by threats.
"We will speak even more clearly and forcefully," he promised.
In his speech against samesex unions, Archbishop Bagnasco said that accepting gay marriage severely damaged the dignity of the family.
"Why not say no to the incest of a brother and a sister who live together and have children in Great Britain?" he asked. "Why not say no to the party of pederasts in Holland?"
The debate in Italy is likely to intensify in the next few weeks as the Italian parliainent considers legalising same-sex unions following the introduction of a Bill by the Left-wing government.