(Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 5, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi )

Pope Francis has played down the notion that he is a “superman” who will bring sweeping reforms to the Roman Catholic Church, stressing that its ban on contraception and opposition to gay marriage will remain in place.

The pope, in an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera newspaper published on Wednesday, also said no institution had moved with more “transparency and responsibility” than the Church to protect children in the wake of its sexual abuse scandals.

That prompted a sharp rebuke from victims, with one group calling the assertion “disingenuous”.

Since his election nearly a year ago, Francis has promoted the idea of a more humble Church focused on the needs of the poor, winning huge popularity and raising expectations that it would soften its rules on such issues as contraception, cohabitation, sacraments for the divorced who remarry, and gay relationships.