Pope Francis offered his sharpest critique against so-called nontraditional families on Friday morning, suggesting that the church must advocate for the rights of children to be raised "in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother."
The pope condemned child labor and child soldiers, and then said that "it is necessary to emphasize the right of children to grow up within a family, with a father and a mother able to create a suitable environment for their development and emotional maturity. Continuing to mature in the relationship, in the complementarity of the masculinity and femininity of a father and a mother, and thus preparing the way for emotional maturity," according to the Vatican Information Service.
Speaking to a delegation from the International Catholic Child Bureau, Pope Francis continued, "Working for human rights presupposes keeping anthropological formation alive, being well-prepared regarding the reality of the human person, and knowing how to respond to the problems and challenges posed by contemporary cultures and mentalities that are spread by the mass media."
Recalling his time as archbishop of Buenos Aires, the pope said, "At times it is necessary to flee; at times it is necessary to stop to protect oneself; and at times one must fight. But always with tenderness."
Back in December, Bishop Charles Scicluna of Malta said he discussed adoption of children by same-sex couples with Pope Francis. The bishop said the pope was "shocked" by the idea, and that he was encouraged to preach against the idea during Christmas services.
As archbishop of Buenos Aires in 2010, before he was elected pope, then-Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio said children raised by same-sex parents were suffering a form of discrimination.
Speaking out against a proposed law to legalize same-sex marriage in Argentina, Bergoglio said, "At stake is the identity and survival of the family: father, mother and children. At stake are the lives of many children who will be discriminated against in advance, and deprived of their human development given by a father and a mother and willed by God. At stake is the total rejection of God’s law engraved in our hearts.”
Argentina enacted marriage equality in 2010.
Even then, some say the future pope showed his willingness to compromise on LGBT issues. It has been widely reported that as an alternative to marriage equality, Bergoglio behind the scenes led an unsuccessful effort to have the church support legislation that would have created civil unions for same-sex couples in Argentina.
Many progressive Catholics believe that Pope Francis has thawed relations between the Catholic Church and LGBT people. He famously replied "Who am I to judge?" when asked about gay priests. During an interview last year, the pope said, "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person."
In Friday's talk at the Vatican, the pope also apologized for clergy sex abuse.
"I feel that I must take responsibility for all the harm that some priests, quite a number, but not in proportion to the total, I must take responsibility and ask forgiveness for the damage they have caused through sexual abuse of children. The Church is aware of this damage. It is their own personal and moral damage, but they are men of the Church. And we will not take one step backwards in dealing with this problem and the sanctions that must be imposed. On the contrary, I believe that we must be even stronger. You do not interfere with children," he said.
Pope Francis recently appointed a high-profile group of Catholics to issue recommendations on how to deal with the ongoing revelations of abuse. One member of the commission is a survivor of sex abuse at the hands of a priest.
Follow Michael O'Loughlin on Twitter at @mikeoloughlin.