Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday that allowing gay couples equal marriage rights could threaten the future of humanity, a report of the speech says.

The comment formed part of an address to a meeting of 180 diplomats at the Vatican.

According to Reuters, the pontiff said “pride of place goes to the family, based on the marriage of a man and a woman” when discussing appropriate “settings” for children.

Of straight marriage, he said: “This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society.

“Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”

He continued: “The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and states; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue.

“The family unit is fundamental for the educational process and for the development both of individuals and states; hence there is a need for policies which promote the family and aid social cohesion and dialogue.”

The comments echo claims by the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland ahead of last December’s gay marriage consultation that equal marriage rights were a “direct attack” on society.

Cardinal O’Brien, speaking at an Edinburgh mass for politicians September, had said: “The view of the church is clear, no government can rewrite human nature; the family and marriage existed before the state and are built on the union between a man and woman.

According to the Scotsman, he added: “Any attempt to redefine marriage is a direct attack on a foundational building block of society and will be strenuously opposed.”

The idea of equal marriage rights undermining straight marriages was described as “absurd” by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

Last month, Cardinal O’Brien claimed the “evidence in favour of the stability and well being which [straight marriage] provides [to children] is overwhelming and unequivocal”.

Following an investigation by PinkNews.co.uk, it was revealed that evidence comprised a study by the founder of an anti-gay “hate group” and a study whose own authors disagreed with the Church’s conclusion.

In July last year, Peter Tatchell wrote: “Far from weakening or undermining marriage, as homophobes claim, many same-sex couples seem hell-bent on shoring up an institution that is, for many heterosexuals, failing, discredited and irrelevant.”