A close aide to
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican's secretary of state, told reporters he was "deeply saddened" by the outcome of the Friday referendum in Ireland, in which many voters defied the Roman Catholic Church by favoring marriage for same-sex couples.
"The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization," Parolin was quoted as saying by Italian wire agency Ansa. "I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity."
Parolin appeared to be responding to the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who told Irish broadcaster RTE after the vote, "We have to stop and have a reality check, not move into denial of the realities."
Although Francis made headlines in 2013 by saying "Who am I to judge," when asked for his views on homosexuality, he has fiercely defended heterosexual marriage and traditional family values.
During his trip to the Philippines in January, Francis said the family was "threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage."
Church officials often see any moves to legitimize gay unions as automatically weakening of the status of the traditional family. The Vatican views homosexual acts as unnatural.
In November, Francis said at an inter-religious conference that "children have the right to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child's development and emotional maturity."
On Monday, the Vatican's daily newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, called the Irish vote "a defeat" and a "a challenge for the whole church."
The newspaper quoted Swiss Cardinal Georges Cottier as saying the result of the referendum was linked to "the pedophilia scandal that has rocked the Irish Church."
Thanks in part to the Vatican's influence on Italian politics, Italy has long resisted rulings on gay unions.
But the Irish vote has galvanized the Italian government, led by prime minister Matteo Renzi, to push ahead with its own planned legislation on civil unions, which would allow couples of the same sex to be recognized by law.