A cardinal's attack on gay and lesbian people appears to have caused friction at the top of the Roman Catholic Church, with the Vatican taking the unusual step of formally distancing itself from his more extreme comments.
Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, who recently retired as head of the Council for Pastoral Assistance to Healthcare Workers, said that “Transsexuals and homosexuals will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven”.
"People are not born homosexual,” he added, “They become homosexual, for different reasons: education issues or because they did not develop their own identity during adolescence”.
However, he emphasised that, “This does not justify any form of discrimination” and said that, “As human beings we all have the same rights."
Nonetheless, a Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi, was quick to react, saying that the Cardinal should not be considered an authority on “complex and delicate issues such as homosexuality”.
Lombardi quoted the Roman Catholic Church's official position, which regards homosexual acts as sinful but recognises that there are people who feel homosexual inclination. In other words, homosexuality in itself should not bar people from Heaven.
The Cardinal is also likely to face criticism for his apparently simplistic use of a passage from Paul's letter to the Romans - which appears to refer to homosexual activity between men – as a straightforward justification for his attitude. After expressing his views, Barragan insisted that "It is not me who says this, but St Paul".
However, the passage has been the subject of extensive academic research for decades and has led to a wide diversity of interpretations.
The Italian group Arcigay, which campaigns for gay people's rights, expressed outrage at Barragan's remarks, insisting that they could fuel homophobic physical assaults, which have been increasing in Italy in recent months.
They told Barragan that they did not want to “get into your Heaven, which is a murky and unjust place”.