The Catholic Church on Thursday condemned the French government's decision to introduce a law granting unmarried people living together the same social and tax rights as those enjoyed by married couples.

In a statement, the French Bishops' Council warned that the so-called "civil solidarity pact" could undermine the fabric of society and said homosexuals must not be given the same legal privileges as a man and his wife."It is not necessary to put a new statute on the legislation books that risks further destroying the idea of being a couple and a family," the bishops said.

The Catholic Church is the latest body to raise its voice against the solidarity pact, which is due to go before the lower house of parliament next month.

Justice Minister Elisabeth Guigou has argued that the bill would bring the law into line with modern life in France - a traditionally Roman Catholic country where more than 2 million couples, both gay and heterosexual, live together unmarried.

But the Bishops' Council said the law would demean marriage. "It is not a simple contract or private affair but constitutes one of the fundamental pillars of society. Marriage should be appreciated as a privileged alliance between a man and a woman," the statement said.