They said Catholics should reflect on whether denial of the right to civil marriage is an 'unjust discrimination'.

Two elite private Jesuit schools in Australia have cautiously endorsed same-sex marriage, citing the teaching of Pope Francis.

In a message to parents, staff and students, St Ignatius’s College in Sydney and Xavier College in Melbourne, while not explicitly endorsing a “yes” vote, urged parents to reflect on Pope Francis’s teaching on love, mercy and non-judgmentalism.

As Australia prepares for a referendum on the issue, the Sydney Morning Herald reports Fr Chris Middleton, rector of Xavier College, said young people overwhelmingly backed same-sex marriage.

“In my experience, there is almost total unanimity amongst the young in favour of same-sex marriage, and arguments against it have almost no impact on them,” Fr Middleton wrote.

“They are driven by a strong emotional commitment to equality, and this is surely something to respect and admire. They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value.”

Fr Middleton also suggested the church could be accused of hypocrisy following revelations by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, saying: “To be brutally honest, the church speaking out in controversial areas around sexuality risks being mired in vitriolic attacks on its credibility in the aftermath of the royal commission.”

He also hinted that Catholics should reflect on whether “denial of the right to civil marriage is an ‘unjust discrimination’”.

The rector of St Ignatius’s College, Father Ross Jones said same-sex couples already had many rights, claiming many wish to marry “for the same reasons as their opposite-sex counterparts”’.

He also said Catholic couples could “in good conscience” engage in sexual relationships for reasons other than procreation under the “order of reason”.

“Presumably, same sex-couples, who make such a commitment to each other in good conscience, do so by reflecting on experience and on what it is to be human, using their God-given reason,” he wrote.

St Ignatius’s principal, Paul Hine, also rejected suggestions staff in Catholic schools or parishes could be sacked if they enter same-sex marriages.

“I do not know if Riverview has any LBGTQI teachers or parents in the college and if they have intentions of marriage: I won’t be asking with a view to removing them from the school,” he said.

St Ignatius’s College is the alma mater of former prime minister Tony Abbott, a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, while current opposition leader Bill Shorten attended Xavier College.