The work of gay playwright Oscar Wilde has been lauded by the Catholic Church, which previously regarded him as an immoral degenerate.

The Vatican’s official newspaper recently praised the Irishman for being “an aesthete and a lover of the ephemeral” in a review of a new Italian study by writer Paolo Gulisano on Wilde.

Wilde spent two years in Reading prison in 1895 after a sodomy trial for his well-publicised relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas, despite having a wife and two children. The playwright is usually depicted as a flamboyant and robust homosexual who delighted in outrage and scandalising Victorian society.

The review however focuses on his “lucid analysis of the modern world” and his eventual conversion to Catholicism as he lay on his death bed.

The newspaper said: “[He was] not just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England, [he was also] a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false.”

This comes after openly anti-gay Pope Benedict XVI said last year that the existence of gay people threatens humanity as much as the destruction of the rainforests does, and that “blurring” genders through acceptance of transgender people would kill off the human race.

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