VATICAN CITY, MAY 31, 2001 ( No one can rightly claim the power to genetically manipulate a human being, John Paul II said today. Nor can de facto unions be equated with the family, he added.

His comments came during a meeting with professors and students marking the 20th anniversary of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, at the Pontifical Lateran University.

"With ever greater insistence, projects are presented that place the beginnings of human life in contexts that are different from the matrimonial union between a man and woman," the Pontiff said. "These are projects that are often supported by alleged medical and scientific justification."

"In fact," the Holy Father added, "with the pretext of ensuring a better quality of life through genetic control, or of progress in medical and scientific research, experiments with human embryos and methods for their production are proposed which open the door to instrumentalization and abuse by those who arrogate to themselves an arbitrary and limitless power over the human being."

"The context of matrimonial love and the corporal mediation of the conjugal act" are, for the Pope, "the only place in which the singular value of the new human being called to life is fully recognized and respected."

John Paul II continued: "Man cannot be reduced to his genetic and biological components, which certainly also form a part of his personal dignity. Every man who comes into the world is called from eternity by the Father to participate in Christ, through the Spirit, in the fullness of life in God."

That is why, the Pontiff added, "from the mysterious instant of his conception, he must be accepted and treated as a person, created in the image and likeness of God himself."

During his address, the Pontiff lamented that "in some countries, permissive legislation, founded on partial or erroneous concepts of freedom have favored in recent years presumed alternative models of family, which are not founded on the irrevocable commitment of one man and one woman to form a ´lifetime community.´"

As a result, he said, "the specific rights recognized up until now for the family, primary cell of society, have been extended to forms of association, de facto unions, civil pacts of solidarity, planned according to individual needs and interests, to claims oriented to sanction juridically options presented inappropriately as conquests of freedom."

Thus, the Holy Father added, there is "an increasing tendency to dissolve the original right of the family to be recognized as a social subject with full title."

Genetic manipulation and recognition of de facto unions in detriment to families have a common origin, he stressed: "forgetfulness of the principle of man´s creation, as man and woman ... one of the factors of greatest crisis and weakness of contemporary society."

"When this principle is lost," the Pope warned, "the perception of the singular dignity of the human person is darkened and the way is opened to a threatening culture of death."