Archbishop Paul Cremona commented on Pope Benedict's controversial Christmas message, which was described by news organisations and gay activists as homophobic and insulting.

The Pope's address, part of which can be seen below, was interpreted by big news organisations like BBC and Reuters as meaning that the world needs to protect itself from homosexuality and non-traditional gender roles in the same way it needs to protect the rainforests for man's own survival.

Answering questions by The Times, Mgr Cremona said he was extremely disappointed by the "manipulative" reports of both the local and foreign media. Many things were falsely attributed to the Pope, whose message should be published in full in order to be understood.

Mgr Cremona added that the teachings of the Church on "homosexual acts" are consistent with those of heterosexual acts, in that sexuality must be a donation of two persons to each other: "Reciprocally, totally and forever, in marriage, in mutual love and help, as well as for the procreation and upbringing of offspring.

"When society does not follow this plan, it damages the institution of marriage and the family, which is the primary cell of society."

Reacting to the Curia's comments, Marisa Xuereb, a spokesman for the Malta Gay Rights Movement said the Pope's message was interpreted within the context of all that has been said about homosexuality throughout the years.

"The truth is, people are always wary of what the Church says (and does not say) about homosexuality because the message, whether explicit or implied, is typically negative," she said, pointing out that while the Vatican and the Maltese Curia rebutted these latest comments on its message as manipulative interpretation, they stopped short of coming out with a clear statement about the role of homosexuality in the ecology of man.

The spokesman also criticised the Church's insistence on separating homosexuality from the homosexual person, saying it is widely acknowledged that sexuality is an integral part of the human personality.

The point was echoed by former Alternattiva Demokratika candidate Patrick Attard who on Saturday excommunicated himself from the Church because of the Pope's words: "It is like accepting a left-handed person as long as he writes with his right hand or accepting a bird as long as it does not fly.

"I do not expect them to say they agree with gay marriage. I expect them to be more specific. Should I be able to visit my sick partner in hospital? Do I have the right to organise his funeral if he dies? Do I have the right to bereavement leave or urgent family leave if my partner is sick or dying? What if I have a homophobic boss who does not allow it? Do I have to end up unemployed over and above these problems?"

Columnist Kenneth Zammit Tabona said that because of the Pope's ill-advised utterances, the media and the gay community were trying to force the Catholic Church into a position it could not take.

Instead, he said, those who want a more liberal society in Malta should tackle the government led by Lawrence Gonzi not the Church.

"The Church cannot declare that gay marriage or homosexual acts are correct, especially in an official statement. For the Church, all sex outside the sanctity of marriage is sinful," he said.

"By attacking the Church with regard to divorce, abortion, bioethics, euthanasia, same-sex partnerships etc, we are allowing the government to hide behind ecclesiastical petticoats. The irony is that the Archbishop has several times told the government quite plainly that it should legislate as is necessary for the country."

Moreover, he said that there is a good chance the Pope was misinterpreted because of the convoluted and obscure language in which the message was couched.

Since the Pope's messages are addressed to millions of Catholics around the world, Mr Zammit Tabona strongly feels that simpler and more direct declarations should be made by the Pope in order for this not to happen again.

"It's high time the Vatican threw this high flown theological mumbo-jumbo out of the window and, like Jesus himself, started speaking the everyday language of normal human beings. Why does the Pope have to speak in riddles?"

Fr Joe Borg, an outspoken priest and blogger for, recently wrote about the issue. He said the Church's teachings were not discriminatory towards gay people.

"The Church does not condemn only homosexual acts but it also condemns sexual acts of heterosexuals outside of marriage. There are heterosexuals who disagree with the teaching of the Church on pre-marital and extramarital sex as there are homosexuals who disagree with the teaching of the Church on homosexual acts. Should a heterosexual feel offended when the Church condemns heterosexual acts outside of marriage and says that these undermine marriage and the family and as a consequence undermine society?"

He said the Pope's comparison of the protection of the rainforest and the protection of marriage between man and woman is good and intelligent "but perhaps not very media savvy and friendly".

Mario Gerada, a member of Drachma, the gay Catholics group, said he hopes the incident will be turned into an opportunity for dialogue between the gay community and the Church, which both have a lot to offer each other.

"The Vatican and the LGBT community need to utilise this opportunity to actually realise how important each other's voice is. Both reacted strongly to each other's voice but both have a lot to say and learn!"

The Pope's message can be read in full on the Vatican's website:

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