"A state should never punish a person or deprive a person of the enjoyment of any human right based just on the person's feelings and thoughts, including sexual thoughts and feelings. But states can and must regulate behaviours, including various sexual behaviours," Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.
Archbishop Tomasi said there was a consensus among societies that "certain kinds of sexual behaviours must be forbidden by law. Paedophilia and incest are two examples."
He said the Vatican affirms "the inherent dignity and worth of all human beings" and condemns "all violence that is targeted against people because of their sexual feelings and thoughts or sexual behaviors." However, he added, there is "some unnecessary confusion" as to what is protected when talking about sexual orientation.
"Sexual orientation, refers to feelings and thoughts, not behavior," he said.
A proposed declaration presented to the UN General Assembly in December 2008 sought to condemn violence, harassment, discrimination and exclusion based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to endorse the universal decriminalization of homosexuality.
Sixty-eight member countries sponsored the proposed Declaration on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, and 57 UN member nations, including the Vatican, co-sponsored an opposing statement.
The UN office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has been advocating that nations combat discrimination based on sexual orientation; it said that in more than 70 countries, homosexuality activity is a crime which in some cases is punishable with imprisonment, torture or the death penalty.
The Vatican is against considering homosexuality a crime and supports ending violence against homosexuals, but does not support granting new rights, said a leading Vatican diplomat when the UN proposal was presented in 2008.
At that time Archbishop Celestino Migliore, the Vatican's apostolic nuncio to the United Nations, said the Vatican was concerned that such a declaration might be used to put pressure on countries that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
He said the Vatican supported the declaration's aimed of condemning all forms of violence against homosexuals and urging nations to put an end to all criminal penalties against them. But, he said, the declaration's wording, describing new categories such as "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" for human rights' protections go "well beyond the above-mentioned and shared intent" and "find no recognition or clear and agreed definition in international law."