The leader of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales has linked gay people to drug and alcohol abuse and claimed that parents want their children to be taught that marriage is superior to all other “lifestyles.”

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s message, which was read out at church services across the Diocese of Westminster, marks the Feast of the Holy Family.

It has been interpreted as an attack on the government’s stance on equality for gay people.

Meanwhile in Rome the Pope used the feast day to attack same-sex marriage.

“As Catholics we believe in the partnership between family, school and the parish community,” Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor wrote.

“The roots of success in our schools lie in their commitment to the support of family life and most particularly our teaching about the centrality of Christian married life.

“Most parents do not want their children to be taught that marriage is no more than one life-style choice among many.

“They do not want to expose their children to the risk of becoming promiscuous or indulging in drug and alcohol abuse.

“Many, many young people, when expressing their dreams and hopes express the desire to one day be happily married and to have a family.”

Pope Benedict XVI was more direct in his comments, alluding to gay and lesbian marriages and unions as a threat to peace.

“The family is the primary agent of peace and the negation or even the restriction of rights of the family threatens the very foundations of peace,” he said.

2008 will see renewed efforts in Italy to create a form of legal recognition for gay and lesbian couples.