Pope Benedict sharpened the tone and tenor of his attacks against gays and lesbians at a pro-family rally in Madrid, Spain on Sunday, the Associated Press reports. This is the third anti-gay attack from the pontiff in weeks.

The pope told hundreds of thousands of people attending a Mass designed to counter the country's three-year-old gay marriage law that Christian families need to remain strong.

“Dear families, do not let love, openness to life and the incomparable links that join your homes weaken,” read a statement from the pope. “The pope is by your side.”

Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, the archbishop of Madrid, added: “the future of humanity depends on the family, the Christian family.”

“It is possible to conceive, organize and live marriage and family in a very different way from what is in fashion in so many areas of our society,” Rouco Varela said in a homily.

The pope, who has strongly condemned gay unions in the past, appears to be increasing the severity and frequency of his attacks. His support for the anti-gay marriage rally comes on the heels of being criticized for saying that mankind needed to be saved from gender confusion. Many gay leaders believed his words justified “gay bashing.”

Last Monday, speaking to the Vatican's central administration, the pope attacked what he described as “gender” theories which “lead towards the self emancipation of man from creation and the creator,” and said there were important distinctions between men and women that need to be “respected.”

“The tropical forests do deserve our protection; but man, as a creature, does not deserve any less,” he said.

Gay rights activists interpreted the remarks as anti-gay and anti-transgender.

“What keeps the pope awake at night is the idea that human beings might be able to seek out their own sexual identity to have a happy life,” Franco Grillini, of the Italian association Gaynet, told UK-based daily the Guardian.

A Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the pope was not attacking gays and lesbians at all, and pointed out that the text never made references to homosexuality.

And earlier this month, the Vatican said it opposed a United Nations resolution calling for the universal decriminalization of being gay. They said they feared it would lead to gay marriage and also objected to the inclusion of gender identity in the text which would “create serious uncertainty in the law.” Sixty-six nations have signed on to the non-binding statement; not among them is the U.S.

The pope has often spoken out against gays and lesbians – especially in Spain, a predominantly Roman Catholic country that has legalized gay marriage and has made divorcing easier – but rarely has he been this vocal in such a short period of time.

In 1986, before he became pope, Joseph Ratzinger said that being gay “is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.”