Bishop Charles Scicluna has defended criticizing legislation which would legalize civil unions for gay and lesbian couples in the southern European nation of Malta, saying Pope Francis encouraged him to speak out.

Scicluna told the Sunday Times of Malta that the Holy Father “encouraged me to speak out” against the proposed legislation during a December 12 meeting. The pope, Scicluna said, was “quite shocked by the issue of civil unions and gay adoptions.”

Scicluna has been an outspoken opponent of the measure, saying in November that “marriage is not only about friendship and love. It is about love that expresses itself in the oneness of flesh, as scripture expresses it, 'They will become one flesh.' … One understands that when we talk about consummation of a same-sex marriage, the idea does not make sense because two people of the same sex cannot become one flesh in a union that is not open to parenthood.”

In a Christmas sermon to parishioners, Scicluna claimed the manger scene as evidence that God does not want children raised by gay couples.

He also told The Times that Pope Francis “reiterated that gay adoptions are 'un rigresso antropoligico' [an anthropological regression].”