The French Catholic Church is right to defend traditional family values, a top bishop told Vatican Radio yesterday, a day after rights groups criticised a prayer focused on families and children as homophobic.

The prayer, read out in French churches to mark the Assumption holiday, said children should “fully benefit from the love of a father and mother”, underscoring the Church’s opposition to a commitment by French President Francois Hollande to allow gay couples to marry and adopt children.

“French bishops are right to insist that children ‘grow up with a father and a mother’,” Bishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s families committee, told Vatican Radio.

“No one wants to deny people their individual rights, absolutely not.

“But marriage is something else, and family is born of marriage.

“I believe that preserving this network which is cultural – and for us also religious – is a real challenge that we have to take up in every corner of our planet.”

Bishop Paglia blamed the pursuit of individual rights on a “cultural trend that idolises the rights of the individual”.

“When you start destroying the ‘we’ that is found in the family, you question the structure of society as a whole,” he said.

In Italy, Bishop Paglia said strong family links and financial support from parents had saved young people affected by the economic crisis.

The prayer, which was first read at Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral and later to pilgrims in Lourdes, angered several gay rights groups.

Michael Bouvar, one of the leaders of the group SOS Homophobie, told AFPTV: “The message sent out by the church is a mask for discrimination and homophobia.”

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