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Gay rights campaigners in Britain have rejected reported claims by the Vatican's second-in-command that child sex abuse by priests is linked to homosexuality.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's Secretary of State, is said to have denied that celibacy is to blame for child abuse.
But he reportedly told a news conference in Chile that research had shown a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia.
"Many psychologists and psychiatrists have demonstrated that there is no relation between celibacy and paedophilia," he is reported to have said.
"But many others have demonstrated, I have been told recently, that there is a relation between homosexuality and paedophilia. That is true. That is the problem."
Peter Tatchell, spokesman for the Protest the Pope campaign, mounted against Pope Benedict's visit to Britain in September, denounced the remarks as "really sick".
He said: "The Vatican is trying to deflect attention from the sex crimes of Catholic clergy by blaming gay people. This is really sick.
"The truth is that priests and bishops abused girls and boys alike. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between paedophilia and loving, consenting adult gay relationships."
Tony Green, spokesman for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, rejected the Cardinal's remarks and said the Catholic Church was in a "dreadful mess" over the issue. "As I heard someone saying on the news, they have not learnt the basic principle - when you are in a hole, stop digging," he said.
Cardinal Bertone's remarks come as the Catholic Church faces calls for it to drop its celibacy rule for the priesthood following a wave of revelations about sex abuse scandals across the world.
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