In response to Italian headlines which interpreted recent words by the Pope as signalling a support for same-sex civil unions in the country, the Vatican has strongly denied such a meaning.

Speaking in an interview given in November and published in Italian Jesuit magazine, La Civiltà Cattolica, the Pope said some situations arising from the children of gay or divorced couples “provide us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult to understand.”

He went on to question: “How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?

“We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them.”

The Italian headlines took the words to signal an opening for legal provisions for civil unions in Italy – currently an issue being debated.

Federico Lombardi, a spokesman for the Vatican hit out at the headlines on Vatican Radio, saying they were “paradoxical”, and a “manipulation” of his words.

He said the Pope was talking about “Education and the proclamation of the faith naturally can’t ignore that reality and must be attentive to the good of the new generations,” he continued, saying that in proper context the intent of the Pope’s comment was “fairly obvious.”

He said the Pope was “alluding to the suffering of children”, but not “absolutely did not express himself” on the political situation in Italy.

The Pope’s recent comments on homosexuality have caused waves among supporters and critics.

The editor of Telegraph Blogs has written a column questioning the decision by Time Magazine to name Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, noting a recent revelation that he said he was “shocked” by gay adoption in Malta.

Pope Francis was in early December named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and then later received the same honour from US LGBT publication the Advocate 

However, speaking to reporters in July during a plane journey back to the Vatican following his trip to Brazil, Pope Francis said that gay people should not be judged or marginalised and should be integrated into society.