The recent Irish vote to allow same-sex marriage constituted a "defeat for humanity", Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin has said in the first high-level reaction from the Holy See to last week's landmark referendum.
Parolin, Pope Francis' most senior offical, made the comments on the Vatican Radio late on Tuesday. The Cardinal described himself as being "saddened" by the result, which highlighted that the Church needed to improve the way it preached the Christian message across the world.
The veteran Vatican diplomat's comment underlined the shock created by the landslide vote in Ireland, a traditionally Catholic country, which legalised homosexual marriage. Dublin's Archbishop, Diarmuid Martin, told Ireland's RTE radio that "the Church needs to do a reality check," post-vote.
Pope Francis has been articulating a more sympathetic tone towards homosexuals than that of his predecessors since his ascension to the Holy See, famously commenting that "if a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, then who am I to judge him?"
The Argentine-born Pontiff, however, has shown no sign of easing the stringent Church doctrine that firmly frowns upon gay marriage, and which considers homosexual acts as being intrinsically sinful, even if homosexuality itself is not.
In Italy, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's administration is preparing legislation that will allow civil unions between homosexual couples, although there are no plans to allow full marriage.
The Irish referendum has boosted calls in Germany, where same-sex civil unions are legal, to go further and legalise gay marriage, with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) seeing growing internal pressure over their traditional opposition to changing the existing legislation.
"One would think we can also do what the Catholic Irish have done," CDU parliamentatiran Jens Spahm, a member of the party's ruling presidium, told German daily Die Welt.