Pope Calls for Defense of Moral Positions

Pope John Paul II (search) on Monday called for more opposition to laws he sees as threatening families based on traditional marriage, urged a vast mobilization of the public worldwide to combat hunger and restated the Catholic church's ban on embryo stem cell use.

The pontiff set out the Vatican's priorities for 2005 in his traditional New Year's address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and representing 174 countries. Speaking in French, John Paul delivered opening and closing remarks. He let an aide read the central portion of the speech.

To conserve strength, the pontiff frequently allows others to read his remarks.

Seated in a frescoed hall of the Apostolic Palace, John Paul, 84, who suffers from Parkinson's disease (search), looked alert and held up well as the ambassadors and their spouses, rigorously dressed in black, came up in turn to shake or kiss his hand for more than 30 minutes. He exchanged a few words with many of them, smiling graciously and offering his blessing.

He said his feeling of joy in offering New Year's wishes to the ambassadors was tempered by the bad news from 2004, including the devastation of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami (search), the locusts plaguing northwest Africa, the train bombings in March in Madrid, Spain, the terrorist massacre at a school in Beslan, Russia, the "barbarous terrorism" in Iraq and the "inhuman violence" in Darfur, Sudan.

John Paul asserted that the Church's opposition, "supported by reason and science," to abortion, assisted procreation and scientific research on human embryonic stem cells was clear.

In an obvious reference to laws in several countries or localities permitting marriage between homosexuals or equating the social rights of unwed couples to married ones, John Paul said that in some countries, the family's "natural structure" is challenged.

Families, he said, "must necessarily be that of a union between a man and a woman founded on marriage."

The world also needs to do something about malnutrition and hunger suffered by millions of people, the pontiff told the diplomats.

"An adequate response to this need, which is growing in scale and urgency, calls for a vast moral mobilization of public opinion; the same applies all the more to political leaders, especially in those countries enjoying a sufficient or even prosperous standard of living," the pontiff said.

Another concern was lack of religious liberty in many countries, although John Paul didn't name any. "There need be no fear that legitimate religious freedom would limit other freedoms or be injurious to the life of civil society," he said.

In addition to the 174 nations with full diplomatic ties with the Holy See, the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Russian Federation maintain special missions to the Vatican.