VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In recognizing civil unions of heterosexual and homosexual couples, the Italian government has equated those unions to marriage, said the head of the Italian bishops’ conference.

While some supporters of the new law, which passed the legislature May 11, insisted the law did not recognize gay marriage, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco of Genoa, president of the bishops’ conference, said the differences are only in the vocabulary used and in “easily circumvented legal devices.”

The bill passed after its sponsors removed language explicitly allowing one partner in a gay union to adopt the biological child of the other partner. Supporters of the bill said it now would be up to individual judges in adoption cases to decide.

“The final blow — which is already being spoken of publicly” — Cardinal Bagnasco said, would be the legalization of surrogate motherhood. Surrogacy, he said, “exploits the female body” and profits from the poverty of women willing to carry a child for others.

Cardinal Bagnasco made his remarks May 17 to members of the bishops’ conference. Pope Francis had opened the bishops’ general meeting the evening before with a speech about the lives and witness of priests, which is a topic on the bishops’ agenda.

Unlike the pope, the cardinal spoke about a wide range of social and political issues facing Italy and the rest of Europe. In addition to the civil-unions law, the cardinal decried the apparent inability of Europe’s governments to find a fair and coordinated response to the refugee crisis.

“May Europe find its soul again and, therefore, its love for peoples and nations,” the cardinal said. He echoed Pope Francis’ words to European leaders earlier in May, “I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter. … I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.”

Currently, the cardinal said, Italian parishes, religious communities and other church institutions are providing a home and assistance to about 23,000 migrants and refugees; the number, he said, has increased by 4,500 since the beginning of the year.

Anti-Christian violence is another serious problem, which Cardinal Bagnasco said the international community is not doing enough to resolve. “In the world there seems to be a growing indifference to such violence as if the real problem was something other than the right to profess one’s faith without undergoing persecution and death.”

And, he said, while the Italian government and politicians spent months working on and debating the law on civil unions — an issue he said impacts only a tiny percentage of the population — unemployment is growing and so is poverty.

The percentage of Italians working has fallen 4.8 percent, he said. “And current data tells us that close to 40 percent of people between 15 and 24 are looking for work, compared to the European average of 22 percent” youth unemployment.

The country’s continually falling birthrate is another indication of how bad things are, he said. “The data of 2015 are the worst since the unity of Italy” in 1871.

“Last year, against 653,000 deaths, there were 488,000 births while 100,000 Italians left the country. Demographics are a crucial indicator of a country’s state of health,” he said. Falling birthrates show a lack of “hope in tomorrow and courage in generating new life.”