Rome - Public officials who are Catholic should not be obliged to celebrate gay marriages or civil unions, Pope Francis said Tuesday, his first public remarks on the issue since same-sex partnerships were legalised in Italy last week.
"Once a law is approved, the state should be respectful of consciences. Conscientious objection must be possible on all legal jurisdictions, because it is a human right," Francis said in an interview with French Catholic newspaper La Croix.
The comments adds to the history of mixed signals the pope has sent on the issue of homosexuality.
Visiting the United States last year, he met Kim Davis, a Kentucky state clerk who was jailed for refusing to register gay marriages because it ran against her Christian beliefs.
But, during the same trip, he also gave an audience to a gay man and his partner.
In 2013, Francis famously said "who am I to judge" gay people, and, this year, he refused to publicly endorse a campaign against Italy's gay unions legislation.
But he also reiterated that, for the Catholic Church, the only real families are formed by heterosexuals.
Italian bishops were more outspoken in their criticism of the Italian gay rights law, passed by parliament on May 11 following almost three years of discussions.
Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI), said in a Tuesday speech that it was "incomprehensible why so much emphasis and energy was dedicated" to such a non-urgent cause.
Bagnasco, who was opening the annual summit of the CEI, urged the Italian parliament to concentrate instead on the lack of jobs, rising poverty, falling birth rates, and the "devastating" effects of addiction to gambling.