Secularist campaigners will be marching to the Italian Embassy in London today, in a demonstration coinciding with one in Rome against the Vatican's interventions in Italian, European and global politics.
The protesters are gathering outside the capital's Natural History Museum in Cromwell Road at 2pm.
"Our aim is a Europe where people are free to practice their faith but where no religion has privileged legal status and unique access to political power and influence", says human rights and Green campaigner Peter Tatchell.
"We are appalled by the Pope's repeated attacks on the rights of women and gay people and by his wilful opposition to life-saving condom provision. The Italian government too often allows itself to be bullied by the Vatican, on issues such as same-sex civil marriage and sex education in schools," he added.
"If Catholics suffer discrimination I will be the first to defend them," Tatchell declared. "Equally, when the Pope supports discrimination against women and gay people I will be the first to oppose him. That is the difference between me and the Pope. I oppose all discrimination, including against Catholics. He supports sexist and homophobic discrimination whenever it suits his intolerant interpretation of the Christian faith."
The Vatican has diplomatic relationships with almost all countries throughout the world (174 when Pope John Paul II died), the organisers point out, and in many European Union countries they benefit from the support of Catholic politicians or in many cases of Christian political parties.
Of the 27 countries of the European Union, 14 are bound to the Vatican by at least one treaty. No other religion has such a power in Europe and in the world they say, thus prompting the Economist magazine to publish an investigation about the diplomatic service of the Vatican, questioning whether it deserves its special status at the United Nations (21/07/2007).
The British Humanist Association is another group supporting the march in London.
Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, explained: "At a time when we see the increasing influence of religious institutions in the UK and across Europe, despite our increasingly diverse and secular societies, it is becoming evermore important to make the case for equality, rights, democracy and secular states. Tragic events of the last week in Italy highlight the Vatican’s true power and influence over the rule of law when it colluded with the Prime Minister to push through an ‘emergency’ law to prevent the withdrawal of feeding tubes for a patient who was catastrophically brain damaged in 1992 – against the wishes of the family, doctors and courts – and which was only narrowly prevented."
She added: "This situation has brought Vatican bullying and influence into sharp focus. In recent months we've also seen the Vatican refusing to endorse a UN resolution calling for decriminalisation of homosexuality, a move widely condemned as lending credence to states which execute people for the 'crime' of being gay."
"The Vatican's observer status at the UN and concordats with EU member states are not just an abstract, symbolic state of affairs, or a remnant of tradition. This failure to truly break the bind of church on state is having real, measurable, shocking impact across Europe and across the world," claimed Ms Stinson.