Malta’s Catholic bishops have expressed concern over the country’s proposed civil partnership bill, stating “Children should preferably be brought up by their parents, a man and a woman.”

A bill to introduce civil unions for gay couples in Malta is being debated in the country’s Parliament this week.

Malta’s Equality Minister Helena Dalli told a press conference on Monday that the Civil Unions Bill will recognise same-sex partnerships and give them the same rights and duties as married heterosexual couples – including the right to adopt children.

But on Thursday the Catholic Church in Malta expressed concern over the adoption provision. A statement by Maltese Bishops read: “According to the bill, the ‘partners in a civil union’ will be given the right for child adoption. We consider such an issue of a very delicate nature similar to every issue that involves children and the child’s best interest.

“Since there are contrasting views on the issue, it seems to us that it will be wise if the legislator takes the necessary time to make the right decisions on this matter. Children should preferably be brought up by their parents, a man and a woman.

“Moreover, we ask the Members of Parliament to continue taking measures that strengthen the family built upon marriage between a man and a woman. Considering that the family constituted by the unity in the difference between a man and a woman ‘remains the first and principle builder of society’.”

Whilst urging for the parliamentary debate to be respectful and tolerant, the bishops also described the principle behind Malta’s civil partnership bill as a “novelty”.

The statement said: “Although the bill is introducing various new elements in reference to marriage and family, which call for a profound and ponderate reflection, it seems that a particular novelty of this bill is the registration of a partnership as a civil union between two persons of the same sex.

“First of all, we should keep in mind that through this bill we are discussing persons and their lives. Consequently, in order that this may be a mature discussion, it should reflect a profound respect towards those persons. As Pope Francis recently said referring to persons with a homosexual orientation, ‘in life God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation’.”