A senior Roman Catholic official has criticised the Prime Minister’s decision not to allow church-run adoption agencies to opt-out of gay rights legislation.

The proposed exemption caused a Cabinet row when it was first proposed.

Under pressure from his own MPs, Mr Blair finally conceded that Roman Catholic adoption services would be covered by the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Dr. Juan de Dios Vial Correa, said the government’s decision was an attack on freedom of conscience, reports the Irish Independent.

The academy is an academic honorary society under the direction of the Vatican.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services, were due to come into force in January.

Their introduction was delayed by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, and the government have said they will become law by April.

The Roman Catholic church had argued that their adoption agencies should be exempted from accepting lesbian and gay couples as prospective adoptive parents because they regard gay sex as a perversion.

Despite being sympathetic to their argument, the Prime Minister had to concede that there should be no exemptions to discrimination laws.

The church-run adoption agencies have until the end of 2008 to comply with the regulations.