di Davide Marchetta
Sanremo, February 18 - Singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright on Tuesday defended his song 'Gay Messiah' against accusations of blasphemy and said controversy surrounding his scheduled appearance at the Sanremo song contest had come as a "huge surprise". The openly gay American-Canadian artist was set to perform John Lenon's 'Across the Universe' and his own 'Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk' - but not the controversial 'Gay Messiah' - at the annual national song festival due to get underway later in the day. "His song Gay Messiah ... is not meant to be 'blasphemous' as it is not a portrayal of Jesus or any religious figure in the canon of the Catholic Church but a metaphor for a world where gay people enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people, which judging by the reactions in Italy is still very far away," said a spokesperson in response to criticism from the Catholic youth organisation Papaboys of his scheduled performance amid calls for the management of state broadcaster RAI to 'intervene or resign'. "It is sad that a lot of the members of the Catholic Church seem to trail far behind their leader Pope Francis in his respect and acceptance for women, gay people and other minorities," continued the statement. On Monday RAI 1 Director Giancarlo Leone said Wainwright's appearance was not intended to cause a scandal. "The difference between commercial television and RAI is exactly in the fact that we have Rufus Wainwright and the others do not," said the head of the channel that is to broadcast the festival. "We have no intention of creating controversy using this singer, who was, among other things, defined by Elton John as the greatest songwriter in the world".