A German theologian claims that homophobia in the Catholic Church is caused by gay priests who cannot be open about their sexuality.

David Berger, an expert on St Thomas Aquinas and former publisher of a Catholic magazine, told a German publication that the Vatican needs to admit it has many gay clergy.

He told Der Spiegel magazine:“It must be acknowledged that a large number of Catholic clerics and trainee priests in Europe and the United States are homosexually-inclined.

“The worst homophobia in the Catholic Church comes from homophile priests, who are desperately fighting their own sexuality,” he said.

“Obviously, those who follow their urges are repudiated more fiercely when one is so painfully repressing that disposition oneself.”

Mr Berger, who is gay, grew up in the church but came out last April. He has spoken about suffering for years in the church’s homophobic atmosphere.

Now a secondary school teacher, he is publishing about about his experiences in Catholicism this week, titled Der heilig Schein, or The Holy Illusion.