VATICAN CITY -- The Pope pressed his opposition to gay marriage Friday, denouncing what he described as people eschewing their God-given gender identities to suit their sexual choices and destroying the very "essence of the human creature" in the process.
Benedict XVI made the comments in his annual Christmas address to the Vatican bureaucracy, one of his most important speeches of the year. He dedicated it this year to promoting traditional family values in the face of gains by same-sex marriage proponents in the United States and Europe and efforts to legalize gay marriage in countries such as France and Britain.
In his remarks, Benedict quoted the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, in saying the campaign for granting gays the right to marry and adopt children was an "attack" on the traditional family of a father, mother and children.
"People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being," he said.
"They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.
"The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned," he said.
It was the second time in a week that Benedict has taken on the question of gay marriage, which is currently dividing France and scored big electoral wins in the U.S. last month.
In his recently released annual peace message, Benedict said gay marriage, like abortion and euthanasia, was a threat to world peace. The Vatican went on a similar anti-gay marriage media blitz last month after three U.S. states approved gay marriage by popular vote.
After the peace message was released last week, gay activists staged a small protest in St. Peter's Square. On Friday, gay activists sharply criticized the Pope's take on gender theory and insisted where gay marriage has been legalized, families are no worse off.
Italy's main gay rights group, Arcigay, called the Pope's comments "absurd, dangerous and totally out of sync with reality." And a coalition of four U.S. Catholic organizations representing gay, lesbian and transgender people said the Pope had an "outmoded" view of what it means to be man and woman.
"Increasingly, Catholics in the United States and around the world see what we see. Catholics, following their own well-formed consciences, are voting to support equal rights for LGBT people because in their churches and communities they see a far healthier, godly and realistic vision of the human family than the one offered by the Pope," read a statement from the groups Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry.
Church teaching holds homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," though it stresses that gays should be treated with compassion and dignity. As Pope and as head of the Vatican's orthodoxy watchdog before that, Benedict has been a strong enforcer of that teaching.
One of the first major documents released during his pontificate said men with "deep-seated" homosexual tendencies shouldn't be ordained priests.
-- The Associated Press