Conservative Party leader David Cameron told the audience at the Sky News Leaders’ Debate that he doesn’t agree with Pope Benedict XVI’s stance on homosexuality, condoms and stem cell research. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg indicated he agreed with Mr Cameron.

Together with Gordon Brown, all three leaders also said that the Catholic Church has much to answer for in relation to abuse by priests. None however said that the Pope should not be welcomed by the next prime minister on the Pontiff’s trip to Britain in September.

David Cameron told host Adam Bolton: “I do think it is welcome that the Pope is coming to Britain.”

“Do I agree with everything the Pope says? No.

“I don’t agree with him about contraception, I don’t agree with him about homosexuality. I think the Catholic Church has got some very, very serious work to do to unearth and come to terms with some of the appalling things that have happened.”

Mr Clegg said although he was not a “man of faith”, his wife is a Catholic and that his children had been brought up in the faith: “You can’t keep a lid on sin and of course you need to move with the times. I do welcome the Pope’s visit but I hope by the time he does visit there is a greater recognition that there has been terrible, terrible suffering… and we need a process of openness and healing.”

Mr Brown said: “I have met some of the people who have rightly complained about some of the abuse they were subject to when young and it never leaves them, it is something that is with them always.”

He added: “The Church has got to deal with these problems and it has got to make sure there is an open and clean confession about what has happened.”

Earlier in the debate Gordon Brown said that David Cameron had aligned himself to “right-wing extremists” in the European Parliament, referring to the link with the homophobic Polish Law and Justice party.

Mr Clegg said Mr Cameron had weighed in by accusing Mr Cameron of working with “nutters, anti-Semites, people who deny climate change exists, homophobes”.

David Cameron said that both leaders had praised the party’s founder, Polish president Lech Kaczynski, when he died in a plane crash. He added: “I want to make sure that we say the same thing in Bristol about wanting to be in Europe, but not run by Europe… but not go over to Brussels and say something different.”

Mr Brown said: “These two guys remind me of my two boys at bath time – they are squabbling.”

He went on: “I am afraid David is anti-European, Nick is anti-American. Both of them are out of touch with reality.”