BY STAFF REPORTER
POPE BENEDICT XVI has blamed "lobbies" for undermining the traditional family as the Italian government moved to reform the legal status of non-marital unions.
In a clear attack on impending legislation to grant official recognition to gay and cohabiting couples, the Pontiff said: "The family shows signs of ceding to lobbies capable of negatively eroding the legislative processes.
The draft legislation, approved by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government last week, would entitle unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples to additional rights in areas such as inheritance and healthcare.
Mr Prodi defended the measures on Saturday. "There is not a single comma that puts the family at risk," he said.
But Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, has vowed to issue an "official note" to Catholics asking them to defend marriage and oppose the laws.
The Prodi government faces considerable opposition in passing the Bill, even from within his own party. The Justice Minister Clemente Mastella boycotted the special cabinet meeting that approved it. The CentreRight opposition, meanwhile, has branded the package a "Trojan horse" to eventually allow gay marriage and promised to fight it.
To help Italian Catholics understand Pope Benedict's outlook on the sanctity of marriage and the family, L'Osservatore Romano, the official Vatican newspaper, has published a booklet of the Pontiff's reflections on the subject.
The collection. entitled The Truth About the Family: Marriage and De Facto Unions in the Words of Benedict XVI, was made available this week. The director of the Vatican press office, Fr Federico Lombardi, said the compilation was put together to help Catholics to "understand the Pope's concerns and motivations" on issues regarding the family.
"Presented in abundance, they are in stark juxtaposition to the more superficial and improvised way these considerations are often portrayed," he added.