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Pope calls gay fest an affront to church

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ROME — Pope John Paul II expressed "bitterness" Sunday about a gay pride festival in Rome during this Roman Catholic Holy Year, saying that the event, which ends Monday, was an affront to the church and the "Christian values" of the Italian capital.

"In the name of the Church of Rome, I cannot not express the bitterness for the affront to the Grand Jubilee of the year 2000 and for the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Catholics across the world," the pope said in a message delivered from a balcony over St. Peter's Square.

For months, church officials lobbied to cancel the festival, but Sunday was the first time the pope personally addressed the issue. The fact that he did so even after the most contested part of the program, Saturday's gay pride parade, was a sign of how strongly this pope feels about the issue.

So was the fact that he spoke out right after celebrating a special Jubilee Mass for inmates at a Rome prison, effectively eclipsing the appeal he made there for governments to reduce sentences for prisoners during the Holy Year.

"The church cannot silence the truth," the pope said in his message. "because it would not live up to its faith in God the creator and would not help discern what is good from what is evil."

He then reminded his audience of church teachings on homosexuality, saying that "homosexual acts go against natural law." Citing the Catholic catechism, John Paul said, "This inclination, objectively disordered, is for most of them a trial." The pope added that gays should be accepted with "respect, compassion and sensitivity."

"Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided," he said.

The pope's remarks caused anger and indignation at Capocotta, a nude beach near Rome, where the gay pride event, World Pride, was holding a final beach party after a week of conferences, fashion shows and concerts.

"The pope is wrong to condemn World Pride," said Franco Grillini, the honorary president of Arcigay, an Italian gay rights organization. "The real offense is homophobia and antigay prejudice fueled by the Vatican hierarchy."