PARIS The French Catholic Church will revive a centuries-old custom next week with an updated national "prayer for France" opposing the same-sex marriage and euthanasia reforms planned by the new Socialist government.
The prayer, to be read in all churches on Aug 15, echoes the defence of traditional marriage by Pope Benedict and Catholic leaders around the world as gay nuptials gain acceptance, especially in Europe and North America.
King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.
In the text, Catholics will pray for newly elected officials "so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands." This would include support for traditional families "throughout their lives, especially in painful moments."
Opposing gay adoption, it says children should "cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother."
The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to "raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices."
Pope Benedict said in January that same-sex marriage threatened "the future of humanity itself." In March, he denounced moves to legalise it in the United States, where President Barack Obama has since come out in its support.
Catholic Church leaders in England and Scotland have spoken out against gay marriage this year after Prime Minister David Cameron and the Scottish regional government both announced plans to legalise it.
FIRST PAGE OF THE BIBLE
Socialist President Francois Hollande pledged during the election campaign last spring to reform marriage laws and his government has said it would do so early next year. Opinion polls say about two-thirds of the French support gay marriage.
Defending the Church's opposition, Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said marriage was defined at the very start of the Bible as created by God to join man and woman.
"Nobody should be surprised that we Catholics think the first page of the Bible is right, even more so than a parliament," he told Europe 1 radio.
The Roman Catholic Church, which has 1.3 billion members worldwide, teaches respect for individual gays and lesbians but condemns homosexual acts as sinful.
Hollande has also expressed sympathy for euthanasia, which is not allowed in France, and named a commission to review whether the current law stressing palliative care for the dying needed to be expanded.
Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois discussed the issue with Hollande during their first official meeting in July. He did not oppose the review but said: "Just because one asks a question doesn't mean one answers it positively."
Same-sex marriage is legal in several European countries, including traditionally Catholic Spain and Portugal. It is also allowed in Canada as well as in six U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Switzerland and the U.S. state of Oregon allow assisted suicide.
(Reporting By Tom Heneghan; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)