Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has been called on to publicly refute claims that homosexuality is to blame for clergy abuse of children in the church.

New Mardi Gras co-chair Steph Sands said the claims, made by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, were a disgrace and Cardinal Pell should rebut them as Catholic leaders in England and Wales had.

“The Pope’s second-in-command’s claim that there was evidence gays were to blame for child abuse is simply untrue, without scientific basis and an outrageous slur aimed to stigmatise gay and lesbian people around the world,” she said.

Calls to the Catholic Communication Office for comment were not returned.

Sands was one of a growing chorus of community members to decry the claims that sent the international media into a frenzy.

Anthony Venn-Brown of Freedom 2 b[e] was appalled by the claim.

“It’s outrageous and has no foundation in up to date scientific research,” Venn-Brown said. “We’ve come to expect ludicrous comments like this from Fred Phelps in Topeka, Kansas, not an educated person.”

Tim from gay Catholic group Acceptance said he was saddened by the Cardinal’s views but stressed they were not mainstream among Australian Catholics.

“Acceptance is very disappointed with the statements by the Cardinal,” Tim said.

“This attitude seems to be specific to particular individuals within the hierarchy in Rome. We’re fortunate that in Australia there are a number of parishes and other groups that respect the dignity of gay and lesbian people who wish to practise their Catholic faith.”

Community Action Against Homophobia co-convenor Ben Cooper told Sydney Star Observer that Bertone’s comments were an insult to victims of sexual abuse.

“The last thing survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church need is priests trying to downplay this very serious problem,” he said.

ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said reputable research showed no more of a connection between pedophilia and homosexuality than it did with heterosexuality.

“To suggest otherwise is a blatant misrepresentation of the truth which has been rightly condemned by leading experts and other reasonable people throughout the world,” Parkhill said.

“The prejudice and discrimination against homosexuals which such fear-mongering engenders results in gay men and lesbians being cut off from their families and friends, denied basic legal and social entitlements, bullied at school or in the workplace, and subjected to abuse and violence.”

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