Pope: gay marriage is threat to society
Pope Benedict XVI has condemned gay marriage as an "insidious" threat to society, implicitly encouraging the Portuguese to work against a proposed law to legalise it.
The Pope, wrapping up his trip to Portugal where more than 90pc of the population is Catholic, made his appeal yesterday in the shrine city of Fatima.
In his afternoon address to Catholic charity and social workers, the 83-year-old German Pope said he "deeply appreciated" initiatives aimed at defending what he said were "essential and primary values of life".
Among these values, he said, was "the family, founded on indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman", which is Vatican-speak for its opposition to gay marriage.
The audience applauded when the Pope said abortion -- which has been legal in Portugal since 2007 -- and threats to heterosexual marriage were "among some of the most insidious and dangerous challenges facing the common good today".
Portugal's parliament last January passed a bill by the minority Socialist government of Prime Minister Jose Socrates that would legalise same-sex marriages. The government rejected alternative proposals by the centre-right opposition for civil partnerships and a referendum on gay marriage.
President Anibal Cavaco Silva is under great pressure from the church and conservative groups not to ratify the bill. If he vetoes it, parliament can override the veto with another vote.
Yesterday morning, a crowd of up to half a million people turned out to greet the Pope at one of holiest shrines for the 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church.
Pilgrims carrying banners and national flags braved a dawn drizzle in the town where the church believes the Madonna appeared to three poor shepherd children in 1917 and gave them three messages in the form of visions; the prediction of World War Two, a warning that Russia would "spread her errors" in the world, and the need for general conversion to God and the need for prayer.
The "third secret", untold for half a century, was revealed in 2000 by the Vatican to be a prediction of the 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II on May 13, the same day of the first reported apparition in 1917.
Fatima gets some five million visitors a year and the pilgrim trade is the engine of the area's economy.
Pope Benedict is to make a morning visit to Portugal's second city, Porto, today before returning to Rome.