Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales and Archbishop of Westminster, has defended Pope Benedict XVI’s controversial comments about gay people.

The pope said at his end of year address to the Curia that the existence of gay people threatens humanity as much as the destruction of the rainforests does, and that “blurring” genders through acceptance of transgender people would kill off the human race.

During an interview on this morning on Radio 4′s Today programme, Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said that the pope “wasn’t condeming anyone or any person” with his comments.

The cardinal went on to say that the pope was only trying to emphasise the importance of the family, and the responsibility on humans to procreate.

He also said that Pope Benedict’s comments were “quite difficult to interpret” and as a result of this that he had been “very much” misrepresented in the media.

The Pope said behaviour beyond traditional heterosexual relations is “a destruction of God’s work.”

He also said man must be protected “from the destruction of himself” and urged respect for the “nature of the human being as man and woman.”

“The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

The comments caused outrage within the gay community.

London Gay Christian Movement chief executive Rev Sharon Ferguson said:

“There are still so many instances of people being killed around the world, including in western society, purely and simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.

“When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way because they feel that they are doing God’s work in ridding the world of these people.”

The UK based gay humanist charity the Pink Triangle Trust has described the Pope’s statement as clear evidence of paranoia.

“This must be the most ourtrageous and bizarre claim yet made by the Pope who has already got a well-deserved reputation as one the most viciously homophobic world leaders on a par with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe,” said PTT secretary and trustee George Broadhead.

“The Vatican has already reinforced its anti-gay reputation by strongly opposing a UN declaration calling for an end to discrimination against gays, but this latest Papal outburst is clear evidence of an obsession about homosexuality which is tantamount to paranoia.”

Gay equality activist Peter Tatchell wrote on PinkNews.co.uk:

“The suggestion that gay people are a threat to human survival is absurd and dangerous. It is poisonous propaganda that will give comfort and succour to queer-bashers everywhere.”