In Assumption message, Latvian cardinal slams gay parade

Riga, Latvia - Addressing tens of thousands faithful, as Christians marked the feast of the Assumption, Latvian Cardinal Janis Pujats sharply criticized a gay parade that recently took place in Riga, the capital of the Baltic state.

"Sexual bragging has reached its apogee," Cardinal Pujats said in a homily at mass in Aglona, a small town in eastern Latvia which houses the Baltic state's most popular Catholic basilica, with a shrine to the Virgin.

"In Soviet times we faced atheism, which oppressed religion; now we have an era of sexual atheism," Pujats said in the service, which was broadcast live on state television and radio.

In July, Riga staged its first ever gay parade, Pride 2005, with the march's 50 participants vastly outnumbered by thousands of onlookers and counter-protesters.

The gay marchers attended a religious service in an Anglican church, and took part in other events besides the parade.

"This form of atheism is even more infectious and dangerous -- spiritual values disappear in a swamp of sexual irregularity.

"Just imagine! Homosexuality is viewed as a value, although it is one of the most serious sins! If gays and lesbians had gone to a church to repent their sins, we would have welcomed it. But this parade was intended to show off their sin. Why did they do it in a church? To show how absurd they are?" Pujats said.

The leaders of all the recognised Christian confessions in Latvia -- the Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and Orthodox churches -- have roundly condemned the gay parade.

A leader of a Latvian support group for gays said he did not take the cardinal's condemnation as an insult, and he hoped that Latvia's Christian churches would come round and stop condemning the Baltic state's homosexuals, or risk facing a legal challenge.

"We recently visited our colleagues and supporters in Sweden, where the Lutheran church says that homosexuality is not sin. I hope it is a question of time when churches here, one by one, will also admit that," said Gabriels Andrejs Strautins, representative of Latvian gays' and lesbians' support organization, told AFP.

"I personally don't feel insulted," Strautins laughed.

"But if he (Pujats) continues to come out with similar statements, we would consider turning to the courts," he said.

Since Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, many thousands of pilgrims from different countries have flocked to Aglona on August 15 for the feast of the Assumption, the day when Christians believe the Virgin Mary was raised to heaven.

Tens of thousands attended mass there on Monday.