The Church’s position on gay marriage is “non negotiable,” according to the Pope.

Pope Benedict XVI has launched a fresh attack on gay marriage and abortion just days before national elections in Italy, stating the Vatican’s right to speak out on difficult issues.

He took the opportunity to air his views at a meeting of Christian democratic political parties, where he spoke of the Church’s obligation to recognise and promote the “natural structure of the family as a union between a man and a woman.”

The pontiff called all other views harmful and vowed to oppose them.

His comments were criticised by opposition Italian parties and gay groups as an unnecessary interference in politics. Daniele Capezzone of the leftist Rose In the Fist party, told Reuters, “It is ever more clear the Church hierarchy have decided to jump in to the election campaign.”

A gay member of the Democrats of the Left, Franco Grillini, said: “It is people who decide whether their relationships constitute a family … Not everyone shares the Pope’s point of view.”

The Pope stated the Church was “enlightening consciences”. He said: “Your support for Christian heritage … can contribute significantly to the defeat of a culture that is now fairly widespread in Europe, which relegates (religion) to the private and subjective sphere.”

Deputy Prime Minister Gianfranco Fini defended the remarks, “This controversy is unfounded and out of place.”

“Who can argue with the Holy Father’s moral and religious authority to defend values and concepts that are fundamental to Church doctrine.”