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Pope lashes out
at gays ahead of Italian elections

Pope lashes out
at gays ahead of Italian elections

Pope Benedict, speaking just 10 days ahead of Italy's national elections, lashed out against same-sex marriage and abortion on Thursday and said the church has the right to speak out on thorny political issues. Opposition center-left politicians who advocate some legal recognition of the rights of unmarried straight and gay couples accused the pope of meddling in politics.

Addressing lawmakers from the European People's Party, Benedict said the church's position on such issues is "nonnegotiable." He said the church has a right and duty to defend "the recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman based on marriage." It would oppose "attempts to make it juridically equivalent to radically different forms of union which in reality harm it and contribute to its destabilization," he added.

Opposition politicians slammed the pope's words on abortion and same-sex marriage as political interference. "It is ever more clear the church hierarchy have decided to jump in to the election campaign," said Daniele Capezzone of the leftist Rose in the Fist party, part of a coalition led by former European Commission president Romano Prodi.

"It is people who decide whether their relationships constitute a family.... Not everyone shares the pope's point of view," said Franco Grillini, a gay parliamentarian of the Democrats of the Left, Italy's largest leftist party.

The pope said the church is not interfering but "enlightening consciences." He asked lawmakers to defend its right to proclaim what he said are principles "inscribed in human nature itself and therefore...common to all humanity. Your support for Christian heritage...can contribute significantly to the defeat of a culture that is now fairly widespread in Europe, which relegates [religion] to the private and subjective sphere."

A survey released earlier this year cast doubt on how much influence the church will have on the elections, with a majority of Italian Catholics disagreeing with papal doctrine on some moral and social issues. But last summer a referendum on easing Italy's restrictions on artificial fertility failed when too few people turned out to vote--a victory for the church, which had called on people to abstain in a campaign explicitly supported by the pope.

Leaders of Berlusconi's coalition, which sees itself as the natural home for Roman Catholic voters, defended the pope. "This controversy is unfounded and out of place," said Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini. "Who can argue with the Holy Father's moral and religious authority to defend values and concepts that are fundamental to church doctrine?" (Reuters)

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