The National Secular Society has announced a ” large-scale campaign” to protest against Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain in September.

NSS president Terry Sanderson said he was seeking to bring together gay groups, feminist groups, family planning organisations, pro-choice groups and victim support groups to join the campaign.

Similar demonstrations were held when Pope John Paul II visited Britain in 1982.

Sanderson said: “The taxpayer in this country is going to be faced with a bill of some £20 million for the visit of the Pope. A visit in which he has already indicated, he will attack equal rights and promote discrimination.”

“We hope that the many people who are outraged at the Vatican’s apparent indifference to the abuse of children by its priests will turn out to make their feelings clear.”

“If the Catholic Church wishes its leader to come here, it should pay for the visit itself. I am sure many others feel the same resentment as we do at the NSS at funding the presence of someone who wishes to impose a reactionary agenda of social change on us.”

Sanderson added: “We hope that the many people who are outraged at the Vatican’s apparent indifference to the abuse of children by its priests will turn out to make their feelings clear.”

The Protest the Pope Coalition will officially launch later this week and the NSS is planning a festival of films which criticise Catholicism, including the Magdalene Sisters and The Boys of St Vincent’s.

Pope Benedict XVI is due to visit Portugal in April, a month after the country’s new gay marriage law is expected to come into force. He has already criticised the change, calling gay marriage an “attack” on the natural differences between men and women.

In an end-of year address in 2008, he said 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. He has also attacked the use of condoms to tackle HIV, saying they may make the problem worse.

The National Secular Society has set up a petition against the state-funded visit, which can be found here: http://www.secularism.org.uk/petition-the-pm.html