VATICAN CITY Pope Benedict on Saturday attacked "lobbies" he blamed for unravelling the traditional family, as he escalated a war of words against Italian draft legislation that would recognise unwed and gay couples.
The Pontiff said in a Vatican speech the family "shows signs of ceding to lobbies capable of negatively eroding the legislative processes".
"Divorce and free unions are on the rise, meanwhile adultery is viewed with an unjustifiable tolerance," he said.
The draft legislation approved by Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government last week would recognise relations between unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples, granting rights in areas like inheritance and health care.
Prodi defended his measure earlier on Saturday, saying "there is not a single comma that puts the family at risk".
But Italy's most senior cardinal, Camillo Ruini, has said he would issue an "official note" to Catholics, asking them to make a personal commitment to defend marriage and oppose de facto couples.
The bill now faces a tortuous path in parliament of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Justice Minister Clemente Mastella boycotted the special cabinet meeting that approved it. He and Catholics in Prodi's coalition control some seven seats in the Senate, where the government clings to power with a majority of just one seat.
The centre-right opposition, which has branded the package a "Trojan horse" to eventually allow gay marriage, has promised to fight it.
Our top photos from the past week.