Extracts of a Pope Francis speech have recently been published in Italian websites, where the Vatican leader warns educators that they need to be careful when engaging with children of gay couples and those living in complex family situations, and make sure they are not administering "a vaccine against faith to them."
A Vatican spokesman has moved to clarify, however, that the pope's remarks are not political and do not serve as a recognition of gay civil unions.
"On an educational level, gay unions raise challenges for us today which for us are sometimes difficult to understand," Francis said in a speech to the Catholic Union of Superiors General in November, according to reports in Italian media websites on Saturday.
"The number of children in schools whose parents have separated is very high," he said of the different family situations that are emerging. "I remember a case in which a sad little girl confessed to her teacher: 'my mother's girlfriend doesn't love me.'"
He noted that education leaders should ask themselves "how can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing?"
"We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them," he added.
While some speculated the pope was being more open to homosexuals, the Vatican warned on Sunday that the media should not manipulate the pope's words. Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi stressed that Francis was not speaking only about children with parents in homosexual unions.
"Speaking of an 'opening to gay couples' is paradoxical because the pope's speech was totally general and because even the small concrete example given by the Pope (a girl who is sad because her mother's girlfriend doesn't love her) alludes directly to the suffering of the children," Lombardi said on Sunday.
Pope Francis has made a few comments regarding gay people during his leadership of the Roman Catholic Church this past year, including his now famous quote: "If someone is gay and seeks the Lord with good will, who am I to judge?"
For those remarks Francis was even selected as person of the year by America's oldest LGBT magazine.
"The pope's impact isn't on whether we're deciding to sit in the pews, it's on the people who are already in the pews," Lucas Grindley of The Advocate wrote. "More so, it's on the devoted who are there every Sunday plus the middle of the week and who volunteer for charity work and who are sometimes our most ardent opposition."
The Vatican has always stressed, however, that Francis has not suggested a change in official Roman Catholic Church doctrine which is in support of traditional marriage unions.