Pope Benedict XVI spoke out against the legal recognition of unmarried couples during his Christmas address to Rome clergy. He also spoke of Europe and of his visits to Turkey and the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz earlier this year. The pope this week has also been urging to defend the spirit of Christmas against secular trends. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

As is traditional every year in the days before Christmas, Pope Benedict met with Rome clergy. In his speech the pope spoke of the horrors of war in the Holy Land and of the danger of the clash between cultures and religions.

He recalled his visits this year to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, to Valencia and to Turkey. And he turned his thoughts to Europe expressing concern that families in Europe no longer appear to want to have children.

This Europe, he said, seems to be tired and it appears to want to say farewell to its history.

Pope Benedict also spoke out against the legal recognition of unmarried and gay couples. He said unmarried couples have chosen this path because they do not feel capable of accepting the legal tie of marriage. The pope strongly rejected putting gay couples on the same level as husband and wife.

"I cannot hide my concern about legislation on de facto couples," he said.

Benedict said granting legal recognition to unwed couples was a threat to traditional marriage, which required a higher level of commitment.

Two leftist parliamentarians in Italy's ruling coalition caused outrage this week by placing four dolls representing gay couples near the baby Jesus in the official nativity scene in parliament. They said their gesture was aimed at promoting the legalization of gay marriage. But other politicians said it was vulgar and unacceptable.

In the days leading up to Christmas, Pope Benedict has been reminding Christians that it's not just about presents and decorations. The pope has warned against being distracted by the trappings of Christmas and urged the faithful to defend the Christmas spirit against secular trends. He also said nativity scenes are part of Christian culture and must be defended.