A group of around 150 protesters attended a rally in St Peters Square on Saturday to protest against the anti-gay stance of Pope Benedict XVI.

The protest, organised by gay rights group Arcigay, was held on the ninth anniversary of the suicide of writer Alfredo Ormando.

He doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in St Peters Square in 1998 in protest at the Roman Catholic Church’s attitude towards gay people.

Some of the gay activists laid floral tributes to Ormando.

The protesters carried banners calling on the Italian government to legalise gay unions.

The centre-left coalition of prime minister Romano Prodi is considering bringing forward a bill to grant some partnership rights to Italian gay and lesbian couples.

Prodi has said, however, that he opposes gay marriage. In December 2006 the country’s Senate called on the government to bring forward legislation.

There has been a hardening of the Church’s attitude towards LGB people since Benedict became Pope in April 2005.

Last week he lectured a gathering of Italian local government officials about the “threat” from granting gay or lesbian couples some form of legal recognition.

“Projects aimed at granting improper legal recognition to forms of unions [other than marriage] appear dangerous and counterproductive as they inevitably weaken and destabilise the legitimate family based on matrimony,” the Pontiff said.