The Catholic Church of the Philippines has defended boxing champ Manny Pacquiao over homophobic comments.

The eight-time world boxing champion Manny Pacquiao has sparked criticism in the Philippines after describing gay couples as “worse than animals”.

He has since apologised for offence caused, then later doubled down, standing by his comments. 

Pacquiao was subsequently was dropped by sponsor Nike, which described the comments as “abhorrent”.

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Despite the controversy, it is expected that voters in the mainly Catholic Philippines, may still elect Pacquiao for one of 12 vacant Senatorial seats there.

But a senior member of the Catholic Church in the Philippines has defended the boxer.

Saying it was “unfair” to condemn the boxer for quoting the bible, Father Jerome Secillano, the executive secretary of the Catholic bishops’ public affairs office, said: “This is really in the Bible. There is this quote he [Pacquiao] uses from the Bible and we cannot change that.”

But the priest did say that Pacquiao should have chosen his words better.

“The church… says that if this is your lifestyle, if this is your orientation, then we respect that, we cannot condemn them,” the priest said.

The 37-year-old boxer actually converted from Catholicism to become an Evangelical Protestant, after he said God spoke to him.

Among the many to condemn Pacquiao for his words was former WWE wrestler-turned-Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista, a fellow Filipino.

He said: “My opinion on that is that he’s a f***ing idiot. My mom happens to be a lesbian, so I don’t f***ing take that s**t. I don’t think it’s funny.

“If anyone called my mother an animal, I’d stick a foot in his ass. That’s his opinion, but I don’t appreciate it.”

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Although same-sex sexual activity is not a crime in the Philippines, same-sex marriage is not recognised, and gay couples are unable to adopt.

Last year, two same-sex couples applied for marriage licenses in the Philippines – only to have them rejected.

Pacquiao’s comments follow those of fellow boxer Tyson Fury, who recently caused controversyafter comparing gay people to paedophiles.

The boxer has simultaneously stood by his comments and denied being homophobic – while also claiming that sex with children was legalised by a fictional ‘Gay Rights Act 1977‘.