The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) has added its voice of protest to the comments made by a Russian religious leader at last week’s meeting of the Council of Europe.

Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II had called homosexuality an “illness” and attacked what he called “homosexual propaganda” influencing young people during an address to the council’s parliamentary assembly.

The patriarch was there as part of council’s regular debates with political and religious leaders.

He said homosexuality was “an illness and a distortion of the human personality” comparable to kleptomania.

His comments were met with applause by many of the Assembly members present, although some walked out in protest.

ILGA-Europe’s executive director, Patricia Prendiville commented:

“It is highly regrettable that the Council of Europe has allowed itself to be associated with such a serious attack on the rights of a minority.”

The UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was led by former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

He joined parliamentarians from all the assembly’s major political groups saying that any dialogue between cultures and religions must be based on mutual respect and tolerance.

The 47-member Council of Europe predates the EU.

It promotes and protects democracy, educational and sporting co-operation and created the European Court of Human Rights.

The council also produces agreements on legal co-operation through conventions and other treaties, including conventions on terrorism, corruption, organised crime and bioethics.

In his main speech to the Assembly last week, the Patriarch implicitly attacked the Council of Europe’s support for LGBT rights:

“Today, there occurs a break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens European civilisation,” he said.

“We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behaviour”.

The Patriarch had been invited to the Assembly by its President, Mr Rene van der Linden, as part of a policy promoting tolerance and understanding through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

He appeared unconcerned by the Patriarch’s comments, thanking him “most warmly” for “contributing to dialogue, understanding and tolerance”.

ILGA-Europe’s adviser on Council of Europe Nigel Warner said:

“These events are a serious blow for the Council’s credibility.

“It will be important to ensure that the programmes of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue are not again used to undermine human rights, and that they work to resolve cultural differences over the rights of women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.”