IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Pope Francis suggests gay marriage threatens traditional families

The pope's most recent remarks seemed to walk back his earlier, more inclusive comments about the gay community.

In a reference critical to gay marriage, Pope Francis on Friday warned against an ideological colonization of the family, during his five-day visit to the Philippines, Asia's most Catholic country.

At a rally for families in the country's capital of Manila, the popular pontiff spoke of an “ideological colonization that we have to be careful about that is trying to destroy the family," the pope said through a translator. Many people understood his remarks as a reference to same-sex marriage.

“The family is threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life,” Francis said at a Mass in Manila. "These realities are increasingly under attack from powerful forces, which threaten to disfigure God's plan for creation."

He also praised strongly Pope Paul VI's controversial 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, or On Human Life. “He had the strength to defend openness to life at a time when many people were worried about population growth,” Francis said of the former pope.

Earlier in the day, Francis made an appeal to the government to tackle corruption and to help people suffering from social inequalities. He gathered around more than 1,000 families in downtown Manila.

RELATED: Progressive Catholics hail Pope Francis' position on social issues

In the past, Francis said marriage must be between a man and a woman. But progressive Catholics have applauded his prior remarks on homosexuality, reproductive rights, and the role of women, viewing him as perhaps the leader of a new era at the Vatican. In September 2013, for example, he broke with his predecessors and a number of bishops when he said that the church “cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptives.” Those comments followed another bold move two months before, when the pope declared, “Who am I to judge?” in response to reports of gay clergy members.

The pope made headlines earlier this week for suggesting to reporters there are limits to freedom of expression, in the wake of multiple terror attacks in Paris. In response to the shooting last Wednesday at the offices of French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, where 12 people were killed, Francis said that “one cannot make fun of faith.” Anyone who throws insults, he added, can expect a “punch.”

Francis, who turned 78 last month, is the first Jesuit to assume the role of pontiff. When he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI in March 2013, he promised to change the ways the Vatican conducts business. Days before Christmas, the pope criticized the cardinals, bishops, and priests who comprise the bureaucracy that serves him by accusing them of lusting for power, living hypocritical double lives, and suffering from “spiritual Alzheimer’s.”