The Vatican’s second most senior cleric has said that the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church are linked to homosexuality rather than celibacy among priests. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone is the Vatican’s secretary of state, effectively the deputy to Pope Benedict XVI made the controversial statement during a press conference in Chile.

“Many psychologists and psychiatrists have shown that there is no link between celibacy and paedophilia but many others have shown, I have recently been told, that there is a relationship between homosexuality and paedophilia,” he told journalists.

“This pathology is one that touches all categories of people, and priests to a lesser degree in percentage terms,” he added.

“The behaviour of the priests in this case, the negative behaviour, is very serious, is scandalous.”

Last week, Vatican officials have refuted claims that the Pope was involved in a cover-up of the child abuse scandal, saying that the allegations are part of a “hate campaign” against him.

Two senior cardinals suggested on last Tuesday that the claims were revenge for Pope Benedict’s opposition to gay marriage and abortion.

Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on Vatican Radio: “The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different [agenda].”

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of allegations that Pope Benedict was aware of paedophiles continuing to work as priests and allowed them to do so.

He was Archbishop of Munich and Freising from 1977 to 1982 and it was alleged earlier this month that he sent one paedophile priest to therapy in 1980. The priest re offended and was convicted, although he continues to work as a priest to this day.

Abuse victims have said that they were forced to sign confidentially agreements about their experiences under the threat of excommunication. Campaigners have called for an apology from the Pope and compensation.

Pope Benedict XVI has confirmed the details of his UK visit this September, which will include beatifying a man who was rumoured to be gay.

Last month, Peter Tatchell held a protest against the Pope’s trip and said he was “personally responsible for the cover-up” of sexual abuse.

Mr Tatchell said: “The Pope knew about child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. He failed to stop it and he failed to report the abusers to the police. His moral authority is irreversibly tarnished. He should resign.

“There is strong evidence of his collusion with sex abusing clergy. We believe the Pope should face a criminal investigation on charges of complicity.”