A Roman Catholic leader in Malta has said that church members who do not accept “Christ’s teachings” should leave altogether.

Mario Grech, the Bishop of Gozo, commented after the first openly gay candidate for parliament in Malta protested against the Pope’s hostility to homosexuality by leaving the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr Ing Patrick Attard contested last year’s general election for the Green Party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika.

He excommunicated himself from the Catholic Church at the Chancellor’s office in the Curia earlier this month.

The Pope was widely condemned after he said in an end of year sermon to senior Church leaders just before Christmas that homosexuality is a destruction of God’s work.

Last month the Vatican objected to a statement at the UN which restated that universal human rights apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.

Bishop Grech said:

“Whoever does not accept Christ’s teachings should be honest with themselves and excommunicate themselves from the Church.”

In an article for the Malta Independent a gay man accused the church of  “abusive practice” because it baptises babies.

“It is high time, I respectfully submit, for gay men and lesbians to confront head on the “encouragement” for gay men and lesbians to excommunicate themselves,” said Joseph Carmel Chetcuti.

“For far too long, gay men and lesbians have been treated like mushrooms.

“In the context of Christian theology, baptism is a device by which a person becomes a Christian.

“No passage in Scripture suggests that baptism is a device by which a person becomes a member of that Church that calls itself one, holy, catholic and apostolic: see, for example, Acts 2:38 and 22:16 and 1 Corinthians 12:13.

“Significantly, St John the Baptist who baptised Christ was, as far as I know, not a Roman Catholic.

“Given Pope Benedict’s decision to put an end to limbo, infant baptism is an abusive practice and one that disregards the rights of children.

“As yet again demonstrated, the Roman Catholic hierarchy is all about structure and doctrine. It stubbornly refuses to accept its children in all of their diversity.

“I now wonder whether heterosexuals who do not accept the Church’s teachings on the pill should also excommunicate themselves.

“And what about those abusive priests and nuns? Will the Church continue to protect them as it has done in the past?”

After he excommunicated himself Dr Attard said gay priests should follow his lead and abandon the Church.

“I do not want the government to assume I am part of this hate-preaching organisation just because I was baptised,” he said.

“Since the Curia does not want to disassociate itself from the Pope’s hateful remarks he preached on the 22nd December 2008, where he called homosexuality a destruction of God’s work, then there is no choice but to excommunicate myself publicly from this power and money-hungry institution.

“I would like to thank my parents for baptising me. I am certain they did this with the best intentions.

“However when one reads the documents written by the Vatican there is a lot of paranoia and even hatred towards gays.

“This is ongoing till today and can be viewed in Joseph’s Ratzinger’s writings (among others) and it is important to stand up and say: enough is enough.”

Dr Attard claimed that all political parties in Malta, the smallest nation in the EU, are afraid to criticise the Church “due to the potential loss of votes and Malta is considered to have more than 96% Catholics.

“Just because of the number of people baptised, it is important to close this chapter by excommunication so as we are not erroneously considered as Catholics.”