VATICAN CITY, JAN. 12, 2006 ( Benedict XVI says it is a grave error to give legal status to unions other than marriage, because that clouds the functions of the family.

At the same time, the Pope appealed today for concrete assistance to young couples so that they can form families.

The Holy Father delivered his message at his traditional new-year meeting with local civil officials. On hand were Piero Marrazzo, president of the Lazio region; Walter Veltroni, mayor of Rome; and Enrico Gasbarra, president of the Province of Rome.

The papal intervention took place at a time when some political groups have proposed the introduction in Italy of the Civil Pact of Solidarity, or PACs, a type of juridical recognition of de facto couples, including homosexuals.

The Bishop of Rome told the politicians that marriage as an institution "is not an undue interference of society or authority, an imposition from outside; on the contrary, it is an intrinsic exigency of the pact of conjugal love."

"It is not a question of peculiar norms of Catholic morality, but of elementary truths that affect our common humanity," he said. "It is essential to respect them for the good of the individual and of society."

Call for aid

According to Benedict XVI, on one hand, "particularly opportune are all the measures that can serve as support to young couples to form a family and to the family itself in the procreation of children. In this connection, problems come to mind spontaneously such as the cost of homes, kindergartens, and schools for small children."

On the other hand, "it is a grave error to cloud the value and functions of the legitimate family, founded on marriage, attributing to other forms of union improper juridical recognition, of which there does not exist, in reality, any effective social exigency," the Pope added.

The Holy Father also appealed for aid for "pregnant women who are in conditions of difficulty" and the avoidance of "drugs that conceal, in a certain sense, the seriousness of abortion, as an option against life."

On Dec. 9 the Supreme Health Council of Italy gave its approval to the use of the RU-486 abortion pill, imposing, however, a series of cautionary measures because of its risks to women.