The Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has promised to repair the relationship between his government and the Vatican after a fall-out over proposals to afford legal rights to same-sex partners.

Prodi will meet today with Cardinal Tarcisio, Pope Benedict XVI’s chief aide, and Cardinal Camillio Ruini, head of the Italian Bishops conference, to discuss church-state relations, the International Herald Tribune has reported.

“We will reaffirm the seriousness, the dialogue and the collaboration between the Holy See and the Italian state,” Prodi said on state television.

“And we’ll reaffirm it, having a dialogue on the most important problems that we face,” the premier added.

Church-state relations remain frosty following Pope Benedict XVI’s latest attack on the proposed legislation to recognise gay couples.

On Saturday he accused lobby groups of devaluing the family institution.

The family “shows signs of ceding to lobbies capable of negatively eroding the legislative process,” he said in a Vatican speech, according to Reuters.

“Divorce and free unions are on the rise, meanwhile adultery is viewed with an unjustifiable tolerance,” he added.

Under the proposed Bill, which is about to be debated in parliament, unmarried couples of any sexual orientation will be able to formally register with their local authority and receive legal rights in areas such as property, inheritance and employment.

According to a recent poll carried out by the ISPO institute, Italy is split over the issue with 47 per cent of Italians opposing the proposed law and 45 per cent supporting it.

However, last week a survey for newspaper La Repubblica found strong support for the measures.

67% of practising Catholics supported protections for heterosexual co-habitees, a number which falls to 35% who think gay and lesbians should get legal protection.

Overall, 80% of Italians were in favour.

Romano Prodi has said that he will discuss the issue further in his meeting with Vatican officials.

“We’ll have a dialogue on the subject of the family and also on the proposed law,” he said.

The meeting between Prodi and the Cardinals marks the anniversary of the Lateran treaties, a 1929 pact governing relations between the Vatican and the Italian state.