The Vatican has praised the work of bisexual playwright Oscar Wilde, despite previously regarding him as an immoral degenerate.

The newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, which is seen as the official mouthpiece of Pope Benedict XVI, described him as “always looking for the beautiful and the good, but also for a God”.

Wilde, who served two years’ hard labour for “gross indecency”, converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.

He was married with two children but was arrested in 1895 for his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas and subsequently jailed in Reading, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The review added: “Wilde was a fortunate man, as more than 100 years after his death his works had not been forgotten and continue to fly off the shelves.”

The turn-around has been met with surprise from Italian newspapers and commentators.

In December last year, Pope Benedict XVI said 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.

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,” he said.