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A suggestion by Pope Benedict XVI that homosexuality is as much of a threat to the survival of the human race as climate change sparked outrage among gay rights campaigners on Tuesday.
"It's the latest homophobic attack by this pope," said Gustav Hofer, co-director of a documentary on the life of a gay couple in Italy called "Suddenly Last Winter".
"The Vatican talks about homosexuality or transsexuality as if it were a whim, never as suffering," Hofer told AFP, adding that the Roman Catholic Church "reduces sexual orientation to the sexual act as if it had nothing to do with a person's identity."
In his end-of-year speech at the Vatican on Monday, the pope said gender theory blurred the distinction between male and female, and he called for "an ecology of the human being" to protect mankind "from self-destruction."
Gender theory, which Benedict referred to in English, explores how society designates fixed roles to people based on their gender and many gay groups see it as helpful to improving tolerance and understanding.
Amid a global financial crisis, "does it really seem appropriate to talk about 'gender' to all these poor folks who are unemployed or vulnerable and don't even know what the word means?" left-wing lawmaker Paola Concia wrote in an open letter to the pope.
"People need words of comfort," she said.
British campaigners including some priests from the Church of England also took the remarks as an attack on homosexuality.
Reverend Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, called the comments "totally irresponsible and unacceptable."
"When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement, then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way because they feel that they are doing God's work in ridding the world of these people," she said.
Reverend Doctor Giles Fraser, president of the pro-gay Anglican movement the Inclusive Church and vicar of a London parish, said: "The pope is spreading fear that gay people somehow threaten the planet, and that's just absurd.
"As always, this sort of religious homophobia will be an alibi for all those who would do gay people harm. Can't he think of something better to say at Christmas?" he asked.
Mark Dowd, campaign strategist at Operation Noah, the Christian environmental group, said the remarks were "understandable but misguided and unfortunate."
Dowd, who is gay, said: "If you study ecology seriously as any intelligent man would do, and the pope is a fantastically intelligent man, you realise that ecology is complex, it has all sorts of weird interdependencies, and it is the same with human sexuality."
The pope's remarks "betray a lack of openness to the complexity of creation," Dowd said.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly spoken against gender theory, but Monday was the first time the pope referred to it directly.
"We are people like everyone else and should not be designated as sinners just because we are trans-gender," said Vladimir Luxuria, a transsexual actress and former communist lawmaker.
Monday's remarks follow hard on the heels of the Vatican's refusal to join a United Nations appeal for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality launched on December 18 by 66 countries.
More than 80 countries have laws against homosexuality, including nine in which it is punishable by death.
The Vatican is a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but fears the proposed UN resolution would encourage gay marriage.