Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday called on the French Roman Catholic Church to make its opposition to gay marriage heard.

The Socialist government of Francois Hollande earlier this month sent a proposed plan to legalize marriage and adoption for gay couples to lawmakers for debate. The National Assembly is expected to start examining the legislation in January, and a vote could come by mid-2013.

Benedict urged French bishops visiting the Vatican on Saturday to speak out on social issues.

“Your nation has a long and rich Christian history that cannot be ignored or diminished,” the pope said.

“In the important debates in society the voice of the Church must make itself heard tirelessly and with determination.”

Benedict told the bishops to not be “afraid” of spreading Christian teachings.

Earlier this month, the Vatican defended limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, calling the union “an achievement of civilization.”

A Vatican spokesman went further in a Vatican Radio editorial, taunting marriage equality proponents to push for the legal recognition of plural relationships.

(Related: Thousands march against gay marriage in France.)