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The Pope has used his Christmas message to say that “saving” humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is as important as protecting the rainforests.

Benedict XVI said: “It [the Church] must defend not only the earth, the water and the air as gifts of creation belonging to everyone, but it must also protect mankind against the destruction of itself. The tropical forests deserve our protection, but man as a creature deserves it no less.”

In comments which provoked outrage among human rights groups, he went on to say that the failure to respect the “order of creation” as a union between a man and a woman was a form of “auto-destruction of mankind”.

Anything that deviated from this was a “destruction of God’s works,” the Pope told the Curia, the Vatican’s ruling body.

Under the teachings of the Catholic Church, homosexual acts are a sin and it also strongly condemns same sex marriages. Two months ago the Vatican said that homosexuality was “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”.

The 81-year-old Pope also attacked those who underwent sex changes, saying: “It is not man who decides who is a man or woman but God.”

The Vatican expressed concerns this month at a UN attempt to decriminalise homosexuality because they feared it would encourage same sex unions.

Aurelio Mancuso, president of Italian gay rights group Arcigay, said: “While Italian citizens are tackling one of the worst economic crisis in the history of the country, the Catholic Church has for weeks talked only of the gay threat the world faces.” Mr Mancuso said that “gays have become an obsession” with the Pope, adding: “He spends his whole time talking about gender, an argument that geriatrics are passionately obsessed about.”

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