Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has challenged mourning Catholics - by blaming the Pope for creating a million orphans.

The civil rights activist called on the Catholic church to change its attitude towards gays and women, and to end its "immoral" ban on contraception using condoms.

Mr Tatchell was speaking at the first Campaign for Homosexual Equality conference to be held in Scarborough for nearly 30 years.

He said: "All across the world there are millions of children who have been orphaned because the Pope told their parents it was immoral to use condoms.

"The Pope's opposition to war and poverty is commendable but his views on the rights of women and gay people were shocking.

"In particular his rejection of life saving condoms to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDs has contributed to the deaths of millions and millions of people.

"The real immorality is to not use protection to stop the spread of a deadly virus.

"The Catholic faith is supposed to be following the teachings of Jesus Christ - the message of love and compassion - and I'm sure Jesus would have preferred people to use a condom than to become infected with HIV."

Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday aged 84, will be buried in the St Peter's Square Basilica in Vatican City, Rome, on Friday. Mr Tatchell said: "The Pope was very hostile and aggressive to gay people. He said we were intrinsically disordered and fundamentally immoral.

"The Catholic church needs to make a fundamental change to be more inclusive and to promote equality and dignity for women and gay people.

"The church should help to fight the spread of HIV by introducing the use of condoms as the lesser of two evils.

"The church has a moral responsibility to use its power and influence to stop the spread of a virus which is spreading around the world and is killing more and more people. "We cannot allow church dogma to contribute to the spread of Aids and HIV."

Mr Tatchell said it was the first homosexual conference to be held in Scarborough for 29 years, after the seaside town was blacklisted in 1976 for its council's opposition to a gay rights conference to be held there then.

He said: "It is always good to forgive and forget. I'm delighted to be here."