Pope Benedict XVI has told an audience of bishops in the US marriage between men and women must be ‘promoted and defended’.

In the address, he claimed: “Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage.”

AFP reports he spoke of “powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage” and said marriage and family must be defended “from every possible misrepresentation of their true nature”.

He added: “The contemporary crisis of marriage and the family… has led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”

In January, Pope Benedict XVI reportedly said allowing gay couples equal marriage rights could threaten the future of humanity.

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.”

In this week’s address to US bishops, he said: “I appreciate all that your parishes, schools and charitable agencies do daily to support families and to reach out to those in difficult marital situations, especially the divorced, single parents, teenage mothers and women considering abortion.”

It was reported today that a Catholic Diocese in California would be dropping the funding it has given a homelessness charity for the last twenty years over its new director’s private views on abortion and equal marriage rights for gays.

It told the homelessness charity it did not expect directors to promote Catholic views but did expect them not to “publicly oppose” the Church’s teaching if it were to continue receiving funding.