The war of words over whether or not the Roman Catholic Church should be allowed to refuse adoption services to gay and lesbian people reached a new fever pitch today.

A LibDem MP has called the leadership of the Church sordid and accused them of blackmail.

On Sunday it was reported that Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly wanted to grant the Church an exemption to the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods and services.

The move by Ms Kelly, said to be backed by the Prime Minister Tony Blair, would allow Catholic adoption agencies to turn away LGB couples.

The proposed opt-out provoked muted reaction from ministers such as Lord Falconer and Ben Bradshaw.

By yesterday, some Labour MPs were more outspoken.

Out gay man Chris Bryant spoke of, “some pathological hatred of gays” while his Labour colleague Angela Eagle accused the Catholic Church of trying to revisit the whole issue of gay adoption.

“It is the people who didn’t win the argument last time who are just trying to win it again,” she said.

Today the Roman Catholics hit back, with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor accusing the government of being guilty of, “unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics.”

Now LibDem MP Evan Harris, President of the Liberal Democrat Campaign for Gay Lesbian Equality (DELGA), has upped the ante, with a statement that reads,

“It is rather sordid that the Catholic leadership should seek to try and blackmail Parliament and Government by threatening to close down its valuable work in adoption and other areas, particularly by using vulnerable groups like children in care to fight its ideological battle.”

Dr Harris is almost topped in the abuse stakes by the gay and lesbian Humanists, who issued a statement accusing the Catholic Church of “despicable blackmail,” and branded their leadership, “morally repellent.”

The only person who seems to be getting even more abuse than the Cardinal is the cabinet minister at the centre of the media storm, Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly.

The Humanists lost no time referring to her membership of devout religious sect Opus Dei.

“We know Ruth Kelly is a member of an extremist Catholic cult, and that the Prime Minister is likely to convert to Catholicism once he leaves office. If the Catholic demands are granted, then the question must arise – who is running this country, the Government or the Vatican.”

Among all the sound and fury, what is certain is that the Regulations will have to be made public in the next three weeks, no matter how intense the name-calling gets.