Gozo Bishop Mario Grech has condemned a book claiming that St Paul and Malta's first saint had gay tendencies, saying the its intention is to discredit priests by propagating a lie.

In a homily last Thursday at the Qala parish to commemorate the feast of St Joseph, Mgr Grech said the allegations were "serious" and based on a "malicious agenda".

The book, Queer Mediterranean Memories by Maltese-Australian lawyer Joseph Carmel Chetcuti, speculates on the sexual orientation of various prominent people including St Ġorġ Preca and Agatha Barbara among others.

Without referring to the book by name, Mgr Grech sarcastically described the reason it gives to justify the drop in the number of seminarians - the author alleges it is because the Church has admitted gay men to the priesthood - as "fantastic".

Mgr Grech also took umbrage at what he described as a "campaign to associate Pope Benedict with incidents of paedophile and gay priests".

"The mud they are throwing at the Pope's white frock is dirt they want to stick to the whole Church," he said, insisting it was intended to "destroy the Church's moral authority and instil serious doubts about the credibility of Christian doctrine".

The bishop's defence of the Pope comes at a time when the Vatican is dealing with allegations of abuse by clergymen in Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.

In a pastoral letter to the Irish diocese yesterday, the Pope apologised to victims of abuse for the "grave errors" committed by Irish church authorities.

During his homily Mgr Grech also referred to sexual abuse committed by priests and said he would not be surprised if parents stopped sending their children to doctrinal lessons or the Museum out of fear their children "would be touched".

Condemning sexual abuse of all sorts, he called for strict measures to curb abuse to be adopted not only by the Church but also by other professional classes and institutions.

"I give my word that if I get to know of any abusive behaviour in the pastoral camp, I will act. However, it is not just to blame everyone for the mistake of an individual," Mgr Grech said.

He also spoke about celibacy and described it as a virtue but insisted he was worried about attempts by some to "discredit" this vow and link it to paedophilia and homosexuality.

A survey carried out in 2004 with the approval of the Gozo Curia showed that nine per cent of Gozitan priests were not observing the Canon law provision on celibacy and 17 per cent said they did not agree with it.


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