Pope Holds New Year's Eve Service

Pope Benedict XVI remembered his predecessor Saturday and again stressed the importance of a family based on marriage "in the life of the church and of society."

Benedict's remarks as he presided over an evening Vespers service on New Year's Eve came as the Roman Catholic Church opposed proposals to give legal recognition to unmarried couples in Italy.

"The family has always been at the center of attention of my venerable predecessors, especially John Paul II," Benedict said before a packed congregation in St. Peter's Basilica. "He was convinced, and reiterated it many times, that a crisis within the family comes at the grave detriment of our civilization."

In his homily, the pontiff referred to an address he gave in June on the role of the family, when he referred to marriage as a union between man and woman and condemned same-sex unions as anarchic "pseudo-matrimony."

Benedict said Saturday he spoke that day "to underline the importance of the family founded on a marriage in the life of the church and of society."

The Vatican holds that families are born of unions between man and woman founded on matrimony.

Benedict, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, spearheaded a Vatican campaign against same-sex unions in 2003, issuing guidelines for Catholic politicians to oppose laws granting legal rights to gay couples when he was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

On Saturday, he praised the Diocese of Rome for focusing its pastoral programs on the importance of the family.

"May the Lord grant that the common effort should lead to an authentic renewal of Christian families," Benedict said.

The Vatican and the Italian Catholic Church have opposed efforts by opposition politicians in Italy to give legal recognition to unmarried couples.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Italian Bishops' Conference and the pope's vicar for Rome, has said such recognition goes beyond the definition of a family and causes "very grave harm" to Italians.

Italy, where Vatican influence is strong, does not recognize unions of unmarried couples. Gay and lesbian associations have been pushing for common law couples to have legal recognition.