In the wake of Ireland’s historic public vote to legalize same sex marriage, the Vatican’s second in command described the referendum outcome as “a disaster for humanity.”

“I was deeply saddened by the result,” the Vatican’s Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said at a conference in Rome on Tuesday night.

“The church must take account of this reality, but in the sense that it must strengthen its commitment to evangelization. I think that you cannot just talk of a defeat for Christian principles, but of a defeat for humanity.”

Despite the hope inspired by Pope Francis’ “who am I to judge?” comment in 2013 regarding LGBT members of the church, the Vatican has stood behind Cardinal Parolin’s remarks.

Yesterday, Father Federico Lombardi, a senior Vatican spokesperson, told the Irish Times that Cardinal Parolin had been sharing his immediate reactions to the referendum result, rather than a considered one, but “indicated that the Vatican was sticking by them, word for word.”

The paper also noted that when “asked by The Irish Times if the Secretary of State would like to outline those thoughts in greater detail to the Irish public, Father Lombardi suggested that this would not be opportune just at the moment, in as much as such an explanation might generate further polemics and misunderstanding.”

Parolin is the Vatican’s most senior diplomat, viewed as second in the chain of command to Pope Francis. They are the most severely critical remarks so far by a senior church official.

His comment struck a very different note to the remarks by Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, who stated, “I think really that the church needs to do a reality check, a reality check right across the board, to look at the things it’s doing well, to look at the areas where we really have to start and say, 'Look, have we drifted away completely from young people?'”

Cardinal Parolin has taken a progressive stance on other issues, The Guardian noted, ranging from global warming to diplomatic relations with Cuba.

The Vatican is still in the midst of deciding whether it will accept the appointment of Laurent Stefanini, a French diplomat who is openly gay and a practicing Catholic, as the next ambassador to the Holy See.