Interview: Head of Pontifical Council for the Family talks about the importance of the family for society, and more
Apr. 4, 2013
In an interview with John Allen published in the National Catholic Reporter on March 27, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council of the Family, spoke at length about the importance of the family for society. Below are selections with emphasis added; click here to read the entire interview.
Question: You run the Vatican’s Council for the Family. What message regarding the family do you expect from Pope Francis?
Answer: I believe this Pope will propose a comprehensive message about the family. We’ve already heard him talk, when he was Cardinal of Buenos Aires, about the family in his speeches for this dicastery, and he’s touched on all aspects of the subject: from the themes on morality and bioethics, to the matters about education, work, the importance of respect for the elderly, and a spirit of welcome for the newborn. He realizes that the family is the most robust resource for our society. He’ll put it at the center not only of the life of the Church, but also political, economic and cultural life.
Question: People often see the church’s message on the family largely in negative terms – opposition to divorce, artificial reproduction, gay marriage, and so on. Can it be reintroduced in a positive key?
Answer: There’s no doubt that up to now, the church has stayed too much in the sacristy. We have to get out into the squares and into the streets. In those places, you can see that the family – mother, father, and children –is right there, and it’s the most important resource for our society. In this time of financial crisis, if it weren’t for our families we would already have been submersed by a sort of unimaginable tsunami. If the church, which, as Paul VI said, is an expert in humanity, is animated by a compassionate gospel spirit, it will see this reality and be able to talk credibly about it in a positive way. We’ll be able to see that the sick would be abandoned without their families, the elderly would be lost, small children wouldn’t know how to grow up, the young wouldn’t know where to go. In a time when it’s hard to find work, and in which young people often have to stay at home longer, what would happen to them without their families?
I believe that this is one of the first responsibilities I have as president of this pontifical council – to make these realities clearer, and to help us talk about them in a convincing way. The family is the foundation of every human society, whether they’re Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, or whatever. There’s a need for a new start, a new cultural approach. The first point ought to be that the family doesn’t belong to the Catholic Church. This isn’t a confessional subject, but one that’s imminently human and social. If I can put it this way, Jesus, knowing how central the family in human life, elevated matimony to a sacrament in order to introduce the couple in a new dimension of grace.
I’m a Roman, so let me quote Cicero, who wasn’t a Catholic and not even a Christian. He defined the family this way: Familia est principium urbis et quasi seminarium rei publicae, meaning, “The family is the fundament of the city and like a school of citizenship.” Without strong families, we would have disfigured cities and unsustainable societies. Centuries ago, the great jurist Justinian said that marriage is the union between a man and a woman, and he didn’t say it as a believer but as a citizen of the world. We have to rediscover this basic reality and help people see that the importance of the family is not something the church is imposing, but it’s a fact of life.
Recent sociological studies, for example, show that the family composed of a mother, a father, and two or three children, has significant advantages with respect to all the other modes of living together. People in traditional families live longer, they produce more, they have fewer psychological disturbances, and they create a much stronger social fabric. A study in the United States, for instance, recently found that 85 percent of inmates in correctional facilities for youth come from families without a father. Here’s another confirmation. The tendency to limit families to one child, whether it’s imposed by the state or the result of personal choice, leads to the aging of societies. I also find myself asking, after twenty years, what will these millions of one-child citizens understand about the terms ‘brother’ or ‘sister’? Will they be cancelled from our vocabulary? Unfortunately, we’ll probably come to understand the gravity of some of these choices only when it’s too late.
Question: Why is the traditional family a tough sell?
Answer: That’s a good question. We have to ask ourselves why, if the desire for a family is actually written into the human heart, fewer people are getting married and so many are getting separated and divorced. In my view, the problem is that what I would call the ‘culture of the individual’ is ever more prevalent. It’s the exaltation of the ‘I’ as the custodian of every right, holding the right to have all possible rights. By the way, English is the only language in which ‘I’ is capitalized!
This cult of the ‘I’ finds its prime obstacle in the family. Today, the ‘I’ is destroying the ‘we.’
Sociologists talk more and more about the ‘individualization’ of society, and you see its consequences everywhere. For instance, you see it in a political trend of states or regions to close in on themselves. In Italy, someone from North asks, ‘Why should I give money to the South?’ People in Europe ask, ‘Why should I be concerned about Africa?’ In reality, this growing individualization of society, and its corresponding tendencies toward withdrawal and isolation signifies an epochal confrontation against the very nature of the person, who is essential relational. We have to return to the first book of Genesis, and on this point Pope Benedict has been prophetically forward-looking. The first chapter of Genesis says, ‘It’s not good for man to be alone.’ Today’s culture says, ‘It is good to be alone,’ but that’s not true.
Question: You’re saying that in this epochal confrontation, the family is the most important ‘weapon’ to combat hyper-individualism?
Answer: Exactly. It’s the role of this dicastery to promote an evangelical alternative, so to speak, within the ecclesial family, though doing so in positive terms – to help the Church make a positive proposal about the family. For example, we have to help engaged couples to understand what marriage is all about. We have to support young families, because they can’t do it all by themselves. They need a community, a network of friendship. We have to make sure that Sunday allows for a meeting of families within the larger family of faith. This is an enormous task.
We also have to undertake a long journey in the cultural arena to persuade people anew that not only is the family possible, it’s beautiful. It’s simply not true that young people today don’t want it. Quite often, they’re not helped to realize the dream of having a family by the culture, by the economy, even by the ecclesial community sometimes.
Mar. 25, 2013
Just in time for tomorrow’s March for Marriage, here is an interview with Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, on the meaning of marriage and the importance of the upcoming Supreme Court cases.
Notice how the Archbishop often re-frames the questions he’s asked. For example:
Q: What is the greatest threat posed by allowing gays and lesbians to marry?
A: The better question is: What is the great good in protecting the public understanding that to make a marriage you need a husband and wife?
In the interview, Archbishop Cordileone addresses many of the frequently asked questions in the marriage debate: What about infertile couples? Isn’t the Church’s position just like racism? He also fields a few more personal questions, such as how he addresses this issue with friends and family members who have same-sex attraction.
And in regards to the oft-used claim that redefining marriage is “inevitable”, Archbishop Cordileone has this to say:
Q: Has it become more difficult to oppose gay marriage over the years? Does it seem the tide is turning against you?
A:There is a problem here – an injustice, really – in the way that some people are so often identified by what they are against. Opposition to same-sex marriage is a natural consequence of what we are for, i.e., preserving the traditional, natural understanding of marriage in the culture and in the law.
But of course people who are for the redefinition of marriage to include two men or two women are also against something: They are against protecting the social and legal understanding that marriage is the union of a husband and wife who can give children a mother and father.
So there are really two different ideas of marriage being debated in our society right now, and they cannot coexist: Marriage is either a conjugal union of a man and a woman designed to unite husband and wife to each other and to any children who may come from their union, or it is a relationship for the mutual benefit of adults which the state recognizes and to which it grants certain benefits. Whoever is for one, is opposed to the other.
The whole interview is worth reading – find it here!
Jan. 9, 2013
As was said yesterday, Illinois is one of the current battlegrounds for marriage laws. We’ve already shared some great teaching from Cardinal George of Chicago (a letter to parishioners and an article in the Chicago Catholic paper) and Bishop Paprocki of Springfield in Illinois (a letter to parishioners). Today we’ll look at another effort afoot in Illinois to catechize the faithful on the authentic meaning of marriage.
Marriage Toolkit from the Catholic Conference of Illinois [CCI]
Today we have an exclusive interview with a member of the defense of marriage team in Illinois who helped to develop a Marriage Toolkit, about which we’ve previously posted. Carlos Tejeda, the director of the marriage and family life office in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, spoke with Marriage: Unique for a Reason about the new Toolkit and what CCI hopes to accomplish with it.
Carlos said that the Toolkit was developed by a team of people from across the state, all of whom are members of the CCI’s defense of marriage department. (Other departments include Catholics for life, education, and social services.) Less than two years old, the defense of marriage department’s first major project was the Marriage Toolkit, which has been in the works since the department’s inception.
The Toolkit’s Aim, and Promotion Strategy
The inspiration for the Toolkit was the realization that helping people understand the truth of marriage is, as Carlos described it, “a difficult task.” Taking the successful USCCB Respect Life program as a model, the Marriage Toolkit aims to make that “difficult task” of catechizing about marriage more manageable for priests and laity alike.
According to Carlos, what the CCI hopes to accomplish with the Marriage Toolkit is to get a concrete, usable resource into the hands of parishioners, parish staff, pastors, and even non-Catholics – anyone who desires a resource that can help them articulate the truth of marriage in a difficult cultural setting.
There are a variety of avenues that will be used to promote the Marriage Toolkit. The main channel will be at the parish level, through parish staff and pastors. Carlos said that a long-term goal of the defense of marriage department is to have a designated representative at each parish or parish cluster who can relay information from the CCI to the parish. The Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network, or ICAN, provides another way of promoting the Toolkit. Through ICAN, which is run by the CCI, Illinois residents can receive updates on a variety of issues via text message or email. Monthly mailings to priests and parishes, and a priest gathering in the Spring, provide additional opportunities for sharing the Toolkit. And Carlos said that he is making himself available for presentations to parish staff and other groups to get the word out in a more personal manner.
Specific sections: Q&A and Courage
Speaking of the Toolkit’s content, Carlos said that the Q&A section is particularly important. He said that when people read through the questions and answers silently, away from conversation and the adrenaline such a heated topic brings, they can begin to build their confidence about this topic that will aid them when that “teachable moment” arrives. Quoting another member of the defense of marriage department, Carlos said that the long-term goal is for every Catholic to “understand, articulate, and embrace” the Church’s teaching on marriage. All three are important, but often a person might be comfortable with only one or two. The questions and answers included in the Toolkit help foster all three: understanding, articulating, and embracing what the Church tells us about marriage.
Carlos also highlighted the section of the Toolkit that identifies Courage as a ministry for persons with same-sex attraction who want to live a life of chastity. He noted that the Church is our Mother, and if a mother has a child with a difficulty, she doesn’t just let him be burdened, but instead she helps him. People with same-sex attraction are children of the Church. They need clarity on the Church’s teaching, yes, but they also need to be equipped to live out chastity, a call applicable to everyone. In other words, both clarity and pastoral action – truth and charity – are essential.
Finally, Carlos noted that the main task now for the defense of marriage department is to share and implement the Marriage Toolkit. Depending on what the Illinois legislature does with the pending marriage redefinition bill, the context of the Toolkit could change. For example, religious liberty implications of marriage redefinition could be brought more to the forefront. But regardless of political outcomes, the goal of the Marriage Toolkit remains the same: equipping Catholics and all people of good will to understand, articulate, and embrace the timeless teachings of the Church on marriage and sexual difference.
- Read the Catholic Conference of Illinois’ Marriage Toolkit [PDF]
- Sign up for the Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network
- Read the letters on marriage by Cardinal George and Bishop Paprocki, read at all masses January 5/6 in Chicago and Springfield in Illinois, respectively
- Read Cardinal George’s article: “Legislation creating ‘same-sex’ marriage: What’s at stake?”
Oct. 3, 2012
On Tuesday, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore spoke with the National Catholic Register about a number of topics, including marriage and religious liberty. Lori is also chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty. Here are pertinent snippets from the interview, with emphasis added.
Interviewer: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a self-identified Catholic and a leading advocate for legalizing same-sex “marriage” in the state, says the law protects religious freedom. But many constitutional scholars who support “marriage equality” acknowledge that it poses a direct challenge to the free exercise of religion.
Archbishop Lori: The ballot language is frankly deceiving. It is dressed up in religious-liberty language, but there are almost no protections for religious liberty if the law goes into effect.
Some people will think that simply not requiring priests and ministers of churches opposed to same-sex “marriage” to solemnize such marriages will protect religious liberty.
The real threat lies in the area of licensing of Catholic Charities’ adoption agencies and accreditation of schools and universities that maintain their support of traditional marriage.
Most people don’t realize how pervasive marriage is in federal and state law. We won’t recognize the consequences of redefining it until some years and many lawsuits down the road.
While the HHS mandate has been front and center, I’m even more concerned about the possibility that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) will be overturned. It is not unthinkable that defending traditional marriage will be regarded as bigotry and hate speech and that all kinds of strictures will be placed on our schools.
Interviewer: After opponents of same-sex “marriage” in Maryland got enough signatures to challenge the state law and put it on the ballot, the names of the petition signatories were posted on several websites. Are public-disclosure laws being used to enforce political correctness?
Archbishop Lori: Recently, I spoke with a gentleman and asked him to support this effort. I told him, “Your donation is not tax-deductible.” I said, “It will be made public, and I can’t guarantee there won’t be harassment.”
He told me, “My wife and I want to stand up for marriage.” Sometimes bearing witness is costly.
Am I concerned? Yes. I don’t want anybody to be subject to harassment for stating their convictions in public as both citizens and believers.
Interviewer: The Church’s fight against the mandate comes at a time of high anxiety for American Catholics and the West in general. The economic crisis hasn’t lifted, and activists want to redefine marriage. Many fear the country is moving in a dangerous, unpredictable direction. Our complacency has been shaken.
Archbishop Lori: We do find ourselves in a new situation. An aggressive and Godless secularism has overtaken our culture. It has always been a secular culture, but it is newly aggressive, and that presents multiple challenges.
But one reason why legal challenges have been mounted against religious freedom and the family is that these things have already become broadly acceptable in the culture.
We must and do struggle against these things legally and politically. But there is a more fundamental task before us: It is the New Evangelization, and it is about re-proposing the truths of reason and Revelation to a secular and hardened culture using a new apologetics.
The way that Pope Benedict exercises the papal magisterium provides a model for how we might do this. He has announced the Year of Faith to help us address the more fundamental task at hand.
Those of us who are in the Church need to go deeper than knowing what the Church teaches. We must study why the Church believes and teaches what she does. With prayer, reflection and mutual support, we can reach the conviction that what she teaches is not only true, but it is good, beautiful, coherent and utterly necessary — not only for our lives, but for the lives of those around us and for our culture.
Despite secularism, people still care about the essential questions: Why am I here, and how can I find true fulfillment? People wonder, In the midst of having it my way, why do I still feel so empty?
There are many openings for the Gospel, but we cannot defend traditional marriage, for example, without engaging the New Evangelization. Yet, in an election year, we have a tendency to drop everything else to focus on the campaign, to exaggerate both the importance of victory and the dangers of defeat.
Mar. 10, 2012
Earlier this week, we shared the news of a new pastoral letter about marriage by Bishop Richard Malone of Portland, Maine, and a new marriage website connected with the letter: www.beautyofmarriage.org.
Unfortunately, Bishop Malone’s approach to the current debate in Maine about the meaning of marriage has been widely misunderstood. Many media sources are interpreting the fact that the diocese of Portland will not be contributing financially to the referendum process underway as a sign of “retreat” or “backing down” on the question of marriage. But according to Bishop Malone, this is far from accurate.
Case in point: on Thursday, Bishop Malone was interviewed over the phone by CNN. During the interview, Bishop Malone asserted that the diocese’s approach to the marriage referendum is in no way a “retreat” from protecting marriage:
“Let there be no confusion about the fact that the diocese and I will still be very involved in the effort to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But we’ve decided this year that our best efforts can be to put our energies and resources into education our Catholic community better about the very nature of marriage.”
Later in the interview, in response to the question whether he was “softening” his stance on marriage redefinition, the Bishop said: “Not at all. It will be even stronger and more vigorous.” Continuing, he explained,
“One of our discoveries in 2009 was that really, many of our Catholic people in Maine could use a bit more profound understanding of how the Church has understood marriage for 2,000 years. So, I decided, while we will certainly be in close contact with our allies who will lead the political battle, we intend to focus on the education and formation of consciences of our people.”
The interviewer then pointed out that recent polls have indicated that many Catholics nationwide support marriage redefinition. She asked whether this factor influenced Bishop Malone’s strategy. He responded that to the extent that the numbers can be trusted, the polls “prove exactly the motivation for the approach that we’re taking. We’re taking no chances that our people will not have a really accurate understanding of what marriage is and to the impact on society should anyone try to challenge that definition of marriage.”
Finally, to the interviewer’s question of why the Bishop doesn’t just “get on board” with the Catholics who support redefining marriage, Bishop Malone said,
“Well, their thinking is outside the realm of Catholic teaching for 2,000 years. And those are the folks that we want to focus on so they’ll perhaps be able to have what I would call an intellectual conversion about a very key building block of society, that is the nature of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Read the entire transcript of the CNN interview with Bishop Malone on the Beauty of Marriage website (under Blog).
Mar. 3, 2012
This November in Minnesota, voters will be asked whether they approve a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Catholic Church has joined with others in hearty support of this amendment, and a leading voice in this effort has been that of Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Previously in 2010, the Archbishop wrote to the faithful in his diocese about marriage and distributed DVDs to Catholics throughout Minnesota explaining the Church’s teaching on marriage and why that teaching matters to public policy.
In a March 1st interview, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke with Barb Ernster of the National Catholic Registerabout the meaning of marriage, its importance to society, and why the marriage amendment matters.
Why is [the marriage amendment] such an important issue?
The other Minnesota Catholic bishops and I see the erosion of healthy, happy marriages all around us: the high degree of marriages ending in divorce, the rising number of couples cohabitating with no intention to marry, and the spike in the number of children born out of wedlock, many to single mothers living in poverty. The true importance of marriage as a natural and, for us as Catholics, a sacramental reality is being eclipsed throughout our society.Now there is a driving force, with full media support, to redefine or, in truth, “undefine” marriage from a child-centered institution that unites one man and one woman together with any children born from their union into something different altogether: a system of domestic partnerships based on the romantic inclinations of adults. We understand this to be yet another assault against the dignity of marriage that will likely reinforce some of the negative cultural trends I previously mentioned, developments that research clearly shows are having very bad effects on children and, in turn, all of society.
What do you hope will be accomplished within the parishes?
We hope to educate our Catholic people on why our understanding of marriage matters for the good of the couple, for the good of children and for the common good of the society in which we all live. In short, we hope to show to our people that this is not just a “Catholic” or “Christian” issue. This is a question that touches upon the foundational principles of our society.
Some religious groups have come out against the amendment, and some have remained neutral, stating it is up to individuals to vote their consciences.
How would you address this issue with Catholics?First of all, I remind our Catholic people that an understanding of marriage is not something the bishops or the Church made up. Marriage between a man and a woman predates any civil government or even religion, for that matter. The state simply recognizes and supports marriage; it has no power to redefine it.It is unreasonable and, I dare say, unnatural to think that changing the definition of a word has the power to change the reality that underlies that word — it does not; it cannot. And it becomes a pretense to argue differently.
How do you address the claim that the Church is getting too political and detracting from its spiritual mission?
What is more central to the spiritual mission of the Church than fostering good, healthy marriages between husbands and wives and ministering to the varied challenges that they and their children face in their family life?
We have to remember, too, as the Holy Father has been reminding us of late, that the Church’s work in the public square contributes to the New Evangelization. It is not just the Church “doing politics,” but instead, constitutes her perennial task of forming consciences, promoting justice and announcing truths that are written on the human heart. In this way, we also point to the source of those truths — the eternal Word who has written them into the fabric of our human nature.
- Read the entire interview with Archbishop Nienstedt.
- Find out more about the efforts in Minnesota to defend marriage by visiting the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Marriage and Family webpage.