The Vatican spokesman stated on Thursday that the Roman Catholic Church does not oppose efforts to decriminalize homosexuality despite its opposition against a U.N. declaration on gay rights.
Regarding a "penal code that criminalizes homosexuals or even foresees the death penalty for them, there is nothing to discuss: The Holy See is totally opposed," Vatican's chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters Thursday, according to Zenit News Agency.
"It is a position that respects the rights of the human person, in his dignity," Lombardi said during the presentation of the papal message for the World Day of Peace. He also stated the Church's opposition to "any unjust discrimination on the basis of homosexuality."
His comments were in response to a firestorm of protests by gay rights advocates surrounding the Holy See's opposition to a United Nations proposal condemning "discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity."
The non-binding resolution, backed by the 27-member European Union, calls on governments worldwide to decriminalize homosexuality. France, which put forth the initiative on Human Rights Day, is expected to submit a draft of the proposal at the U.N. General Assembly next week.
Controversy erupted over the issue after Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's envoy to the United Nations, told a French Catholic newspaper that the Vatican opposed the proposal, saying it would "add new categories of those protected from discrimination" and could "create new and implacable discriminations."
States which do not allow homosexuals to marry will be "pilloried" to recognize same-sex marriage and "made an object of pressure," Migliore said.
Under the proposed declaration, nations that "do not put every sexual orientation on exactly the same level can be considered contrary to the respect of human rights," Lombardi had earlier explained.
The Vatican position prompted several demonstrations by gay rights activists, including a protest inside the Vatican last weekend. The protesters hung nooses around their necks as they accused the Church of being an "accomplice in the martyrdom" of homosexuals.
Faith leaders belonging to a U.S. coalition of gay rights groups issued a statement Wednesday denouncing the Vatican's opposition to the proposed initiative.
"By refusing to sign a basic statement opposing inhumane treatment of LGBT people, the Vatican is sending a message that violence and human rights abuses against LGBT people are acceptable," read the statement.
"Most Catholics, and indeed most Catholic teachings, tell us that all people are entitled to live with basic human dignity without the threat of violence."
The statement also called on the United States to back the proposed initiative, claiming that "in more than 70 countries people can be imprisoned for homosexuality and in several countries same gender love is a crime punishable by death."
Lombardi made clear Thursday that while the Holy See opposes "legislation that penalizes homosexuality," the Church still disagrees with any initiatives that are aimed at "putting all forms of sexual orientation on the same level."
"The Church sustains that marriage is between one man and one woman and it does not accept that unions of persons of the same sex are placed at the same level."
Citing Migliore's comments, Lombardi noted that the Church was against any initiative that would impose the recognition of "rights," such as homosexual marriage and the possibility of same-sex couples adopting children, something which is not even permitted in France, Zenit reported.
On Thursday, Osservatore Romano printed a statement by Lombardi criticizing the press for misrepresenting the Vatican with provocative headlines.
Meanwhile, the Bishops' Marriage and Family Life Office of England has clarified that a pamphlet, which urges clergy and churchgoers to be respectful and welcoming towards lesbian and gay people, was not official teaching material of the Church.
The leaflet, published by the Marriage and Family Life Project Office of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales over a year ago, is titled "What is life like if you or someone in your family is gay or lesbian in their sexual orientation? ... and what can your parish family do to make a difference."
"It's always important to provide information about opportunities in the local area for moral and spiritual support for homosexual Catholics and their families," the pamphlet reads.
"Homilies and bidding prayers are excellent opportunities to demonstrate awareness and compassion and express appreciation for the gifts that homosexual Catholics bring to their faith community."
The pamphlet received praises from a leader of one gay rights activist group in the United Kingdom on his Guardian blog.
The Bishops' Marriage and Family Life Office explained to Catholic News Agency that the "leaflet merely offers pastoral advice on making everyone welcome to their parish" and does not run afoul to the Church's teaching on homosexuality.