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Pope praises
traditional family

Pope praises
traditional family

Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday praised a recent demonstration in Rome against proposed legislation granting legal rights to unmarried couples, including gay ones, saying it showed that traditional family was at the core of Italian society.

Speaking in Vatican City, Benedict called the May 12 Family Day rally, organized by Catholic groups and family associations, a ''great and extraordinary popular festival.''

Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the demonstration to protest a bill that would grant legal rights to unmarried couples, including hospital visits and inheritance rights. The bill does not legalize same-sex marriage, as was done in other European countries, such as Spain.

The bill has angered the Vatican, which under Benedict has been conducting a fierce campaign to protect traditional family based on marriage between a man and a woman.

In a speech to Italian bishops, Benedict said he respected the distinction between the church and politics. But he added that the church cannot ignore ''what is good for man...what is good for the common good of Italy.''

He said the Family Day rally ''confirmed that the family itself is profoundly rooted in the heart and life of Italians.''

Benedict's speech came as the government opened a conference on the family in Florence to help it create family policies that are, according to organizers, ''more European and more modern.'' The conference was organized by the two cabinet ministers spearheading the legislation on legal recognition for unmarried couples.

In a keynote speech, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano urged lawmakers to listen to the church and not create an artificial confrontation between Catholics and laity. But he said that de facto unions were ''a reality'' that had to be taken into account.

The number of official marriages celebrated in Italy has declined steadily since the early 1970s with an ever-increasing number of de facto unions taking their place. The national statistics bureau, Istat, estimates there were about 592,000 such unions in Italy in 2005, or about 4.1% of all heterosexual couples. (Nicole Winfield, AP)

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