Vatican City – Remarks by a top Vatican prelate linking clerical paedophilia to homosexuality deepened the public relations crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church, commentators said Wednesday.
The Belgian daily La Libre Belgique — generally friendly to the Church — called the remarks "one gaffe too many," adding: "To stigmatise the homosexual community with groundless talking points is not the way to calm the waters between Rome and public opinion."
Bertone said during a visit to Chile on Monday: "Many psychologists, many psychiatrists have demonstrated there exists no relationship between celibacy and paedophilia, but many others have demonstrated… that there is a link between homosexuality and paedophilia."
The remarks by the Vatican secretary of state — Pope Benedict XVI’s right-hand man — drew official ire from France on Wednesday.
"This is an unacceptable linkage and we condemn this," said foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.
The Church is reeling from runaway paedophile priest scandals in Europe and the United States and allegations that the Church hierarchy worked to cover up for predator priests.
Vatican officials "are in a crisis situation and realise perfectly well that this scandal is very dangerous for the Church," said analyst Bruno Bartoloni.
As a result, "they are a bit panicked and are going too far," the veteran Vatican watcher told AFP.
An Italian group Tuesday led gay fury over the remarks.
"The truth is that Bertone is clumsily trying to shift attention to homosexuality and away from the focus on new crimes against children that emerge every day," said Aurelio Mancuso, former president of gay rights association Arcigay.
The fallout built further Wednesday, with editorialists and more gay rights groups joining the chorus of condemnation.
"This faux pas by the Vatican demonstrates one thing only: great desperation and great impotence," said a Spanish gay rights group, COLEGAS.
A Catholic gay association in Portugal, Novos Rumos, said remarks such as Bertone’s "deepen the gulf between the Church as a community of believers and a certain hierarchy."
The German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung charged in an editorial: "The Church does not want to accept full responsibility."
Bartoloni said Vatican officials were "piling up the gaffes without realising their impact."
Several Vatican officials have suggested that the Church is unfairly singled out for paedophilia, noting that it is a widespread social phenomenon.
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said last month, for example: "All objective and informed people know that the issue is much wider, and to focus accusations only on the Church leads to a skewed perspective."
A gaffe that infuriated Jews followed early this month when the pope’s personal preacher, speaking at a Good Friday observance, evoked a parallel between criticism of the Church over its handling of the paedophilia scandals and anti-Semitism.
Such controversies are "pointless and counter-productive," Andrea Tornielli, Vatican expert of the right-wing Italian daily Il Giornale, told AFP.
"The way Cardinal Bertone spoke was inappropriate and the result was explosive, because he opened a new controversy on the heels of the Good Friday one," he said.
Writing in the leading daily Corriere della Sera, Piero Ostellino said the pope should be "protected" from "imprudent remarks of some high prelates."
"The Church is hurting itself, not homosexuals," wrote Francesco Merlo in the daily La Repubblica.
Bertone’s remarks were a "dramatic confession of weakness (betraying) the confused state in which the Catholic Church now finds itself."
AFP / Expatica