(CNSNews.com) - Vice President Al Gore has endorsed the world's first international homosexual celebration according to the organizers of the event in Rome this summer despite unease over the matter by the Roman Catholic Church.
The Democratic Party's presidential hopeful sent a letter to the organizers of World Pride 2000 on March 23rd after the Vatican had expressed its displeasure about the week-long event that will culminate in a massive street demonstration.
"As you renew your commitment to promoting equal protection under the law for every citizen and opposing all forms of discrimination, I stand ready to ensure gay and lesbian Americans have the opportunity to participate fully in a nation and a world that is united in those goals of importance to us all," Gore wrote.
"I look forward to strengthening our working relationship throughout the 21st Century," Gore added, and sent his "warmest regards."
Along with First Lady Hillary Clinton, Gore was criticized by the Republican Party last month for not distancing himself from supporters engaged in a campaign to have the Vatican lose its permanent representative status in the United Nations.
The Vatican has asked Italian authorities to ensure World Pride 2000 - which it would rather see scrapped -does not conflict with church events linked to the Jubilee year.
Millions of pilgrims this year are visiting the Vatican, a sovereign enclave located within the city of Rome.
Roman Catholic commentators and media in Italy have called the celebration an attack on the church, some labeling it "anti-Jubilee," although the organizers deny this is the case.
"It's not an event against the Jubilee," Andrea Guiliani, spokesman for the World Pride 2000 convening committee, told CNSNews.com on Wednesday.
He said the event had been announced at a press conference in 1998, and the Vatican had only come out against the celebration two months ago.
"We think that this year, 2000, we're going to start the new millennium with a message for the world ... it's not really a protest against [the Vatican.]
"Of course, we're asking for an end to cultural oppression because the church in Italy ... always did [practice] cultural oppression against gay people. This is what we need to stop."
Guiliani confirmed that "religious gay groups," Roman Catholic and otherwise, would participate in the July 1-9 event and that the program includes "a conference on homosexuality and religion - not with the intention of knocking the church - but with the intention to discuss and see the different positions."
Gore's support came after Vatican complaints
Guiliani said the organizers regarded Gore's message of support as a significant victory.
"This is an important message to our governments. The USA, the most important in the world, and the vice president and candidate for the next election, is supporting World Pride 2000 despite all the things said and written against it," Guiliani said.
'The letter arrived on March 23rd after all the negative things said by the Vatican," Guiliani added.
In February, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano was quoted as telling reporters the Holy See believed the homosexual rights event "would not do honor to Italy."
Speaking after a meeting with Italy's ambassador to the Vatican, Sodano said the event could be a breach of the Lateran agreement that governs relations between the church and state.
While the Vatican was not asking the Italian authorities to ban the event, it wanted them to insure there would be no conflict with church events, Sodano added.
The relationship between the Vatican and homosexual advocates has long been tense. Recently, activists complained that Pope John Paul II had not cited the church's attitude towards homosexuals when he asked for pardon for past errors.
Two years ago, a homosexual immolated himself in St. Peter's Square, leaving a suicide note saying he could not cope with the rejection he felt from the Roman Catholic Church. Alfredo Ormando became a symbol for the campaign by homosexuals to have their lifestyles recognized by the church.
The head of the center organizing the World Pride 2000 program, Imma Battaglia, is quoted in the current edition of a Toronto homosexual publication, Now, as saying of her response to Ormando's suicide: "I said 'This is really enough. F*** you, the Pope and all the rest ... You cannot impose on our life.' "
"World Pride must be 2000," Battaglia told the magazine, "because of the Jubilee."
The Now article focuses on the in-your-face nature of the planned event, which it says is "scheduled for smack in the middle of this special Roman Catholic Jubilee year when believers are summoned to Rome."
"Christian pilgrims will have to share the city with gays and lesbians from Greenland to Afghanistan who are to converge on Rome to party, parade and polemicize ... no wonder the Vatican is scared," the Now article said.
Among other high-profile figures who have endorsed the event, according to the conveners, are several members of the US Congress.
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) wrote: "I applaud this creative effort to celebrate diversity while reinforcing all the qualities that unite the human race."
Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she was "delighted" to hear about World Pride 2000, which she called "a historic international event" and a "truly momentous occasion."
"Allow me to take this opportunity to extend congratulations to you and the people of Rome for hosting this historic event," said Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
The organizers are ambitious in their goals. According to their Internet website, organizers hope to "start a gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and straight people's movement.
"Our alliances give us the power to change the world, and we must be coordinated in our struggle to achieve universal civil rights.
"We will take back the meaning of the rainbow flag that represents all of us and march in the streets of Rome declaring peace," the World Pride 2000 organizers stated.
Apart from the mass march and conference on religion and homosexuality, the program includes seminars, fashion and music shows, and a host of parties, including a "leather party" and one marking Independence Day on July 4th.
The city of Rome contributed the equivalent of $136,000 for cultural events in the program.