Roman Catholic congregations in churches across France prayed for traditional marriage on Wednesday, provoking accusations of homophobia from gay rights groups as Paris prepares to legalize same-sex matrimony.
The rare clerical foray into political debate, on the Assumption Day holiday observed in traditionally Catholic countries in Europe, referred only indirectly to the new marriage law the government plans to pass next year.
But the carefully worded text, first published earlier this month, dominated the news headlines in France, where the media have presented it as a strong attack on the reform.
Church leaders insisted their aim was to launch an open debate about plans to legalize same-sex marriage and euthanasia, two in a list of 60 pledges made by Francois Hollande in his successful election campaign for the presidency last spring.
"The Church wants a debate about social reforms that are coming soon and that really worry us," Monsignor Bernard Podvin, spokesman for the bishops' conference, told LCI television.
"This prayer does not exclude anyone," he said.
Gay rights groups disagreed. "This message is fertile ground for discrimination and homophobia," Michael Bouvard of the SOS Homophobie group told LCI. Secularists have also asked if the Church should publicly take sides in a political debate.
Here is a Google translation of the part of the prayer which the gay rights groups are saying represents "discrimination and homophobia":
"4. For children and youth that all we help everyone to discover their own path to progress towards happiness they cease to be the objects of desires and conflicts of adults to fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother."