Against a background of continuing Roman Catholic opposition to a new law to recognise unmarried couples, three Catholic priests in Italy have spoken out in defence of civil partnerships.

Fathers Vittorio Cristelli, Aldo Antonelli of Aquila and Beppe Scapino of Ivrea showed their support in an article entitled “We are Catholics in favour of homosexual civil unions” in the Turin newspaper La Stampa .

The three priests have been met with adversity since their statements.

Catholics around the world have already published comments on Catholic message boards claiming that the priests are themselves homosexual and are “Trojan horses in the body ecclesiastic.”

Father Antonelli was particularly outspoken, and stated that the hostility of the Vatican to gay rights is a demonstration of what he calls “the Talibanisation of the Church,” according to Catholic Word News.

The argument in Italy over the new law proposed by the government of Romano Prodi has recently seen vandalism of church property and demonstrations and counter-demonstrations in Rome.

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.

Earlier this week the head of the Italian Bishops Conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, was heavily criticised by politicians for comparing moves to give gay couples some rights to incest and child abuse.

The Archbishop’s comments have resulted in some of the heaviest criticism of the church in an ongoing row over the place of religion in the Italian state.