VATICAN CITY — Sex and civic education in schools in Europe is an "attack" on religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI said on Monday, following a Vatican row with Spain over a new course promoting liberal values.
"I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education," the pope said.
In his traditional New Year's address to ambassadors to the Vatican, the pope said such courses "convey a neutral concept of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason".
Benedict said this was an example of the "threats" against "the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations".
In a collection of interviews published in November 2010, Benedict said for the first time that he approved of condom use to reduce the risk of disease, leading some to wonder whether his attitude to sex education was changing.
But the Vatican later insisted that the pope's comments referred only to sex workers who were HIV positive and could not be applied more widely.
The pope's comments follow a heated row between the Roman Catholic Church and Spain's socialist government over civic education, after compulsory citizenship education classes were introduced in 2007.
Thousands of parents in Spain have since complained about the course, which openly addresses topics such as homosexuality, divorce and abortion, and has been condemned by critics as being "anti-Christian".
In Monday's address, the pope said Catholic education was being "compromised or hampered by legislative proposals which risk creating a sort of state monopoly" in schools, particularly in Latin America.
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