The Cutting Edge Consortium, which brings together people of all faiths and none to support the Equality Bill currently going through the British Parliament, has criticised the Pope's recent comments on the issue of discrimination.
Equalities campaigners have dubbed the Pontiff's attack on the Bill "inept".
The coalition, whose members include Christians, Jews and Humanists, says Pope Benedict XVI’s criticism of the UK’s Equality Bill in an address to the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales on 1 February 2010, amounts to an amounts to an "unwarranted and unhelpful intrusion" into the debate.
The Vatican, which has the status of a city state, has sought to undermine European and United Nations measures which promote equality and diversity through anti-discriminatory policies and legislation. It has long opposed such developments as equalities policies sweep across Europe and onto its own Italian doorstep.
Critics say that rather than promoting healthy and reasoned debate it has, through its Secretariat of State and network of Papal Nuncios, pressured local Catholic Bishops’ Conferences "to all sing from the same hymn-sheet."
Cutting Edge says that Catholic leaders have "avoided any discussion with those who experience the inequalities which the Equality Bill, previous Adoption Act amendments, and anti-discriminatory Employment Regulations have sought to redress" - including gay Catholics.
Martin Pendergast, a CEC founder-member, who is himself Catholic, said: "Religious liberty and freedom from prejudice and discrimination are rights for all, not just for some. The Pope argues from an outmoded version of ‘natural law’ that equality and diversity for LGBT people cannot be supported. These are inherent in that natural law which enables human beings to make sense of their life through reason and conscience, ‘to have life, and life in all its fullness’ (in the words of Jesus)."
Mr Pendergast added: "Human rights are free gift, not rewards for those considered worthy to receive them, or who struggle to earn them. Benedict XVI is ignoring the demands of social justice for LGBT people and viewing the right to equality solely through the prism of a discredited sexual ethic. A framework of personal sexual ethics lacks a constitutive element if it does not include the principle of justice, not just in the playing out of interpersional relationships, but in the way in which the faith community relates to, and upholds respect for its LGBT members."
Naomi Phillips, head of public affairs for the British Humanist Association, commented: "What the Pope, together with other religious leaders such as the Bishops sitting in our own Parliament are actually seeking, is for religious people to be allowed to discriminate against others in employment, services, education and many other areas, unfettered by the laws that everyone else in society must abide by and respect."
Ekklesia is a member of the Cutting Edge Consortium, PO Box 24632, London, E9 6XF.