VATICAN CITY - The Vatican on Sunday denied Italian media reports that recent comments by Pope Francis signaled his openness to the legal recognition of same-sex unions in Italy.

Francis, in a conversation with leaders of religious orders published by a Jesuit journal on Friday, said the Catholic Church had to try not to scare away children who live in complex family situations, such as those whose parents were separated and those living with gay couples.

Francis gave the example of a little girl in Buenos Aires, his former diocese, who confided to her teacher the reason she was always sad was that "my mother's girlfriend doesn't like me".

The pope told the leaders of religious orders that a great challenge for the Church would be to reach out to children living in difficult or unorthodox domestic situations.

"The situation in which we live now provides us with new challenges which sometimes are difficult for us to understand," the pope said, according to the transcript of the conversation.

"How can we proclaim Christ to these boys and girls? How can we proclaim Christ to a generation that is changing? We must be careful not to administer a vaccine against faith to them," he said.

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