Pope Benedict XVI has drawn sharp criticism in Europe for comments made in his end of the year address critical of people who choose to have sex changes or enter into same-sex marriages.
The pope claimed that "what is often expressed and signified with the word 'gender' leads to the human auto-emancipation from creation and the Creator. The human being wants to make himself on his own and to decide always and exclusively by himself about what concerns him."
"But in doing so, the human being lives against the truth and against the Spirit creator. Rainforests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being -- as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom -- does not deserve less."
"This is not out-of-date metaphysics," he said. "It comes from the faith in the Creator and from listening to the language of creation, despising which would mean self-destruction for humans and therefore a destruction of the work itself of God."
A number of gay rights groups, politicians and a famous German theologian are interpreting the pope's words as a harsh attack against homosexuals and transsexuals.
In Germany, Volker Beck, an out gay man with the Green Party, described the pope's statements as "agitating words." And Uta Ranke-Heinemann, a prominent German critic of the pope, described Benedict's words as "a threatening message to homosexuals." She said his views could not be left unchallenged, adding that the history of homosexuals in Christianity has been a "bitter one."
"As soon as the Christians came to power, they immediately sought to eradicate homosexuals," the theologian told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Ranke-Heinemann was the world's first woman to be given a professorship as a Catholic theologian. For one and a half millennia, she said, Christians "burned homosexuals on the pope's orders."
Meanwhile, Rev. Sharon Ferguson of Britain's Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement described his statements as "totally irresponsible."
The head of the Inclusive Church in England, accused the pope of "spreading fear that gay people somehow threaten the planet." That, he said, "is just absurd."
Aurelio Mancuso, the head of the Italian gay rights organization Arcigay, told SPIEGEL ONLINE: "Nature has different answers than the pope." Mancuso said he was deeply disturbed by such church-directed discrimination. "Last year was a bad enough year for homosexuals in Italy, and we are very concerned." The number of violent attacks in the country against gays and their organizations has risen dramatically in Italy in the past year. "All signs are pointing towards a confrontation," said Mancuso. "People are really scared."
The pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope had not intended his attack directly at gays and lesbians and noted that homosexuality had not been explicitly used in the speech given to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.
The official Catholic Church position is that homosexuality in and of itself is not a sin, but homosexual acts are. As recently as October, a member of the Vatican described same-sex relationships as an "aberration and irregularity."