Pope Francis was "shocked" by a bill in Malta that would allow gay couples to adopt children, said a bishop from the small island nation, adding that the Holy Father had encouraged him to speak up on the issue.

"We discussed many aspects...and when I raised the issue that's worrying me as a bishop [the same-sex adoption bill] he encouraged me to speak out," Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna told The Sunday Times of Malta.

The bishop spoke about the importance of strong families in his Christmas homily. His concerns come after lawmakers in Malta introduced a bill to allow same-sex civil unions and adoption of children.

Reports of the Pope's words to Bishop Scicluna led to surprise and criticism from some media commenters, with Damian Thompson, blog editor of The Telegraph, questioning whether Time Magazine would "take back its Person of the Year award" from the Holy Father.

Some commenters and media outlets have portrayed the Pope as moving towards a change in Church teaching on homosexuality, pointing to his comments in July, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?"

Later, the Pontiff cautioned against an excessive fixation on moral issues such as homosexuality by some in the Church, saying that this view risked reducing the Gospel to a mere moral code.

These comments were cited by American LGBT magazine The Advocate, which named Pope Francis its Person of the Year for 2013.

However, the Pope has also said on several occasions that he is a "son of the Church" who agrees with the moral teachings of the Church.

He opposed legislation to legalize "gay marriage" in Argentina in 2010, saying that it was "a destructive proposal to God's plan."

Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press" on Dec. 1, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York explained that Pope Francis is not – and cannot – change Church doctrine on moral issues.

Rather, he said, the Holy Father is offering a shift in emphasis, calling Catholics to live out Church teaching of loving and respecting all individuals while working to promote the Gospel, including Catholic moral doctrine.