Pope John Paul II told New Zealand bishops Monday that efforts to equate marriage between a man and a woman to other forms of cohabitation violates "God's plan for humanity." New Zealand's parliament has been debating proposed legislation that would grant "civil union" status to couples--both same-sex and heterosexual--who live together, giving them many of the same rights as married couples.
Conservative critics have labeled it the "Gay Marriage Bill," although it doesn't formally recognize gay marriages and differentiates between civil unions and marriage.
"Spouses rightly deserve specific and categorical legal recognition by the state," the pope said, "while any attempt to equate marriage with other forms of cohabitation violates its unique role in God's plan for humanity." The pope spoke of the "challenges currently confronting" the bishops and urged them to "defend the sanctity and uniqueness of marriage"--though he did not directly mention the civil union legislation.
Bishop Denis George Browne, president of the New Zealand bishops' conference, requested the pope's support in a battle against the bill, according to remarks released by the Vatican. Browne said the bill was part of an effort in a "program of social engineering" that will diminish Christian values. The bishops' delegation, making a periodic visit to the Vatican, was led by Cardinal Thomas Williams, who several months ago denounced those politicians behind the bill as "modern barbarians."
In his speech John Paul also lamented secular trends in New Zealand--in particular, the weakening of Sunday Mass attendance. The pope said Sundays must not be "unduly dominated by entertainment and