Homophobia within the Catholic Church stems from the significant numbers of closeted gay priests according to a German theologian.

David Berger, a former publisher of a Catholic magazine, has called for Rome to own up to it’s homosexual priests and reform its attitudes and teaching practices on the subject.

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

“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.”

Berger admits he spent his life attempting to reconcile his homosexuality with his religious beliefs. During his teenage years, he became associated with conservative Catholics and German aristocrats and industrialists.

“I had to listen to despicable remarks, praising Hitler for having homosexuals imprisoned and murdered in concentration camps,” he said.

He claims that while he worked as a correspondent for the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas in the Vatican, his writings on homosexual themes were censored.

Mr Berger announced that he was gay in April after the Bishop of Essen, Franz-Josef Overbeck, described homosexuality as perverse when he appeared on a television chat show.

According to the theologian, as a gay man in a long term relationship, he has been a victim of the homophobic atmosphere maintained by the church for years.

He now works as a secondary school teacher near Cologne.

Mr Berger has written a book entitled Der heilig Schein (The Holy Illusion), about his time in the church, which is being published this week.