Pope Benedict XVI has been branded ‘anti-condom’ ahead of his visit to Sydney for World Youth Day next month.
The pontiff’s first Australian visit comes amid mounting protests over his controversial views on homosexuality, contraception and abortion.
NoToPope, a coalition of religious, atheist, gay and lesbian groups, will hold a rally in the city’s Taylor Square on Saturday, 19 July where condoms will be handed out before an overnight vigil and papal Mass at Randwick racecourse.
The demonstrators will tell up to half a million expected pilgrims that “the Pope is wrong, gays are great and condoms save lives,” the coalition said in a statement.
The spokesperson for participating activist group Community Action Against Homophobia, Rachel Evans, told the Sydney Morning Herald:
“This Pope is homophobic and condemns same-sex marriage.
“Pope Benedict also condemns millions of people to AIDS via his world-wide anti-condom policy.”
While the groups want the protest to be peaceful, they say they cannot guarantee that the event will be confrontation-free with police or pilgrims.
“We’re not planning to get into any trouble, we don’t want to condemn Catholic youth for being Catholics.
“We want to condemn the Pope for being homophobic,” said Evans.
“We think Catholic youth are social justice-minded, we think they are taking up issues against poverty and world debt and we want to engage with them on the key question for the day, the health issue, which is HIV/AIDS.”
Karl Hand, pastor of the 200-strong Metropolitan Community Church, which is also taking part in the protest, said he hoped Sydney’s gay and lesbian community would show only love to pilgrims and police but he would not be surprised if confrontations occurred.
He said the Catholic Church misrepresented Christianity and was “uncompassionate towards people who need condoms, abortions or recognition of their relationship.”
Other groups in the NoToPope coalition include the Socialist Alliance, Resistance and Atheists Sydney.
The World Youth event, the largest in the world, will run from 15 to 20 July.
“WYD08 will be the largest event Australia has ever hosted,” organisers said.
“It will attract over 125,000 international visitors – more than the 2000 Olympics.
“Through the WYD08 experience, young people from throughout the world will make a pilgrimage in faith, meet, and experience the love of God.
“World Youth Day is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith around a particular theme. Everyone is welcome to attend.”