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.
Jan. 13, 2013
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from another recent address by Pope Benedict XVI, this time his homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6, 2013). While he does not mention marriage directly, the Holy Father offers guidance and exhortation to bishops (and all of us) to courageously preach the truth, even when it runs against the prevailing cultural headwinds (as the Church’s teaching on marriage most certainly does).
Pope Benedict XVI: “The humility of faith, of sharing the faith of the Church of every age, will constantly be in conflict with the prevailing wisdom of those who cling to what seems certain. Anyone who lives and proclaims the faith of the Church is on many points out of step with the prevalent way of thinking, even in our own day. . . . Therefore the courage to contradict the prevailing mindset is particularly urgent for a Bishop today. He must be courageous. And this courage or forcefulness does not consist in striking out or in acting aggressively, but rather in allowing oneself to be struck and to be steadfast before the principles of the prevalent way of thinking. The courage to stand firm in the truth is unavoidably demanded of those whom the Lord sends like sheep among wolves. ‘Those who fear the Lord will not be timid’, says the Book of Sirach (34:16). The fear of God frees us from the fear of men. It liberates.”
- Homily on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6, 2013), emphasis added
Dec. 9, 2012
One of the key emphases of this Year of Faith is the New Evangelization, the task of re-kindling the faith in those parts of the world where many people have been baptized but are not living out their faith to the fullest. A year ago in his address to the Pontifical Council for the Family, Pope Benedict XVI explained that the family itself plays a key role in evangelization:
Pope Benedict XVI: The family founded on the Sacrament of Marriage is a particular realization of the Church, saved and saving, evangelized and evangelizing community. Just like the Church, it is called to welcome, radiate and show the world the love and presence of Christ. The reception and transmission of divine love are realized in the mutual commitment of the spouses, in generous and responsible procreation, in the care and education of children, work and social relationships, with attention to the needy, in participation in church activities, in commitment to civil society. The Christian Family to the extent it succeeds in living love as communion and service as a reciprocal gift open to all, as a journey of permanent conversion supported by the grace of God, reflects the splendour of Christ in the world and the beauty of the divine Trinity. St Augustine has a famous phrase: “immo vero vides Trinitatem, si caritatem vides” — “Well, if you see charity, yes indeed you see the Trinity” (De Trinitate, VIII, 8). And the family is one of the fundamental places where you live and are educated in love and charity.
Nov. 15, 2012
The U.S. bishops met at their bi-annual plenary assembly in Baltimore this week, November 12-14. On Monday, November 12, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage and Archbishop of San Francisco, gave an oral report to the bishops on the work of the Subcommittee. His address touched on both catechetical initiatives and public policy advocacy work.
Marriage and the New Evangelization
The Archbishop began by referencing Pope Benedict XVI’s homily on October 7, where the Holy Father linked marriage and the New Evangelization. “Matrimony is a gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today,” the Pope said. “Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way…There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage…Marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization.” Archbishop Cordileone commented that Pope Benedict’s words are “sobering but also encouraging.” He added, “To forget the truth of marriage is to forget the truth of the human person and the very truth of God Himself. To rediscover marriage, on the other hand, and to faithfully live it out, hold a key to advancing the New Evangelization and the renewal of our culture.”
Archbishop Cordileone then updated the bishops on the ongoing catechetical work of the Subcommittee. He explained that two video resources have already been released: “Made for Each Other,” about sexual difference and complementarity, and “Made for Life,” about the gift of children and the need for fathers and mothers. He made special mention of the next video to be released, a Spanish-language video called “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida.” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life). This video will be in a “telenovela” dramatic style and, as the Archbishop explained, will include all four themes of the Subcommittee’s messaging: sexual difference, the gift of children, the common good, and religious liberty. The plot is based on a 50th anniversary party and the gentle witness of the long-married grandparents to their grandson and his girlfriend.
The Archbishop also made note that two more English videos are in development, one about marriage and the common good, and one about marriage and religious liberty. Regarding the Marriage: Unique for a Reason website, he thanked those bishops whose archdiocesan or diocesan websites include a Marriage: Unique for a Reason web banner.
Legal and Policy Issues
Remarking on the current legal and policy landscape, Archbishop Cordileone noted that “the urgency around the protection of marriage has grown and is reaching what could be called a critical mass.” He highlighted the referendums held on Election Day, saying that while voters have affirmed the authentic meaning of marriage 32 times in the past, unfortunately on November 6, three states (MD, WA, and ME) voted to redefine marriage in the law, while a fourth (MN) rejected a constitutional amendment that would have added an extra layer of protection to marriage. The Archbishop pointed out that in all four states, “heroic efforts were made in the face of being vastly outspent by those seeking to redefine marriage. . . . We were narrowing the gap and lost by just a small margin in all four states.”
The Archbishop thanked the pertinent bishops in referendum states, saying, “I know how hard you worked. We are in your debt and in debt to all the people who devoted great time, energy, sacrifice, and love in witnessing to the unique meaning of marriage and seeking its protection in your states. . . . This work is not in vain.” He added, “This is not a time to give up, but rather a time to re-double our efforts.”
Moving to the federal level, Archbishop Cordileone said that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, faces “sustained attack” in federal courts. He told the bishops that it is likely that the Supreme Court will choose at least one DOMA case to consider, with a decision by June 2013.
A second marriage-related case that could end up in the Supreme Court is California’s Proposition 8 case. (Background: Proposition 8, which defines marriage in the California state constitution as the union of one man and one woman, was approved by voters in 2008 but has been challenged in federal court and found unconstitutional.) The Archbishop pointed out that a negative decision by the Supreme Court in either the DOMA case or the Prop 8 case “would bring serious negative consequences to the institution of marriage, ultimately leading in all likelihood to marriage redefinition nationwide. In other words,” he added, “the ‘Roe‘ decision for marriage,” referencing the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion throughout the country.
Finally, Archbishop Cordileone highlighted the fact that the executive branch has pursued “considerable erosive activity” regarding the definition of marriage, “and it sadly has shown no signs of letting up.” He concluded by saying, “This is a situation of grave concern that requires our vigilant attention as well as our prayers.”
Spanish-language video trailer
Archbishop Cordileone ended his presentation by sharing with the bishops an extended trailer of the forthcoming Spanish-language video “El Matrimonio: Hecho para el amor y la vida” (Marriage: Made for Love and Life) that is currently in post-production. He explained that the storyline focuses on Hector and Rosa, a husband and wife celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and their grandson Miguel, who is cohabiting with his girlfriend Maria. Miguel and Maria spend the night before the anniversary celebration at Hector and Rosa’s house, and their loving and faithful witness to the meaning of marriage challenges the two young people to re-examine their assumptions about marriage. Currently, the trailer can be viewed via the USCCB footage of Archbishop Cordileone’s presentation (fast forward to 1 hour 43 minutes).
In closing, Archbishop Cordileone thanked each of the bishops for their stewardship of the gift of marriage and family. He assured them of the Subcommittee’s assistance and invited their ongoing guidance and feedback.
Oct. 21, 2012
In his homily October 7 at the opening mass for the Synod of Bishops gathered in Rome to discuss the New Evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the connection between marriage and evangelization. (The Gospel and the First Reading of that Sunday both spoke about marriage.)
Pope Benedict XVI: The theme of marriage, found in the Gospel and the first reading, deserves special attention. The message of the word of God may be summed up in the expression found in the Book of Genesis and taken up by Jesus himself: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8). What does this word say to us today? It seems to me that it invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization. This is already being seen in the many experiences of communities and movements, but its realization is also growing in dioceses and parishes, as shown in the recent World Meeting of Families.
- Homily at the Holy Mass for the Opening of the Synod of Bishops (Oct. 7, 2012), emphasis added
Oct. 18, 2012
For three weeks this October (7-28), bishops from around the world have been meeting in Rome for a Synod on the New Evangelization. During this time, bishops can give what’s called an “intervention,” which is a very short address on something related to the topic at hand, namely the New Evangelization. On October 15, Archbishop Emeritus Vincenzo Paglia, who is the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, gave the following intervention. He explicitly linked marriage and the family with the New Evangelization, emphasizing that the family is not just the object (the recipient) of evangelization but also the subject (the actor) of evangelization, an entity called to evangelize in a unique and very needed way.
Archbishop Paglia’s intervention (emphasis added):
“In his opening homily, the Holy Father underlined: “Matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today” because it “is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God”. The union between man and woman speaks strongly about God. It is a Good News because it answers the rooted need for an inscribed family, from its origins, deep within man and woman. God said: “It is not right that the man should be alone. I shall make him a helper” (Gen 2:18). Man is nothing by himself: everything relies on inter-dependence. Yet, so much of Western history has been conceived as the liberation from any tie, even family ties. The explosion of the family seems like the number one problem of today’s society, even if few realize this. This does not hold true for the Church, truly an “expert in humanity”, as Paul VI said. We cannot be silent. And not because we are conservative or defenders of an obsolete institution. The stability itself of society is at stake. Of course, it is urgent, very urgent, for a more careful cultural reflection for the Family to become the center of politics, of economy, of culture, and a more attentive strategy to defend its rights on national and international levels.
“Another aspect must be underlined. While being a minority, there are many Christian families that live, even heroically, faithfulness and marital and familial commitment. This extraordinary light of love should be placed in the candelabra so that it may illuminate and warm this world of ours so saddened and blurred. The Church must become more the family of families, even the wounded ones, living a mutual movement of give and take. What is opened here is the broad spectrum of the family as the subject of evangelization. John Paul II asserted: “the future of evangelization largely depends on the domestic church”. Experience tells us that the Church attracts if it is truly [lived] in a familial way. And if we find pastoral infertility in so many corners of the world, isn’t it because we have become more of an institution than a family? Living the Church in a familial way and the family as a small church – is the challenge of a Church of Communion, the one hoped for by Vatican Council II – even today we will taste the joy of the first Christian community when “day by day the Lord added to their community those destined to be saved” (Act 2:47).”
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.
Aug. 12, 2012
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote is not about marriage per se, but about the joy that is necessary for the work of the New Evangelization, of which proclaiming the truth about marriage is an important part!
Pope Benedict XVI: “Now, someone could ask whether it is right to be so happy when the world is so full of suffering, when there exists so much darkness and evil? Is it right to be so high spirited and joyful? The answer can only be ‘yes!’ Because saying ‘no’ to joy we do nothing of use to anyone, we only make the world darker. And whoever does not love himself cannot give anything to his neighbor, he cannot help him, he cannot be a messenger of peace.
“From our faith we know and every day we see that the world is beautiful and God is good. And because of the fact that he became man and dwelled among us we know it definitively and concretely: yes, God is good and it is good to be a person. We live in this joy, and from this joy we try to bring joy to others, to reject evil and to be servants of peace and reconciliation.”
- Address to pilgrims from Bavaria (August 6, 2012), translation from Zenit
Aug. 5, 2012
Today’s Sunday Pope Quote comes from an apostolic letter written by Bl. Pope John Paul II in the Jubilee Year 2000, Novo Millenio Ineunte. In it, the Holy Father offers encouragement to those who build and strengthen the family – encouragement needed perhaps even more today than twelve years ago.
Bl. Pope John Paul II: At a time in history like the present, special attention must also be given to the pastoral care of the family, particularly when this fundamental institution is experiencing a radical and widespread crisis. In the Christian view of marriage, the relationship between a man and a woman — a mutual and total bond, unique and indissoluble — is part of God’s original plan, obscured throughout history by our “hardness of heart”, but which Christ came to restore to its pristine splendour, disclosing what had been God’s will “from the beginning” (Mt 19:8). Raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, marriage expresses the “great mystery” of Christ’s nuptial love for his Church (cf. Eph 5:32).
On this point the Church cannot yield to cultural pressures, no matter how widespread and even militant they may be. Instead, it is necessary to ensure that through an ever more complete Gospel formation Christian families show convincingly that it is possible to live marriage fully in keeping with God’s plan and with the true good of the human person — of the spouses, and of the children who are more fragile. Families themselves must become increasingly conscious of the care due to children, and play an active role in the Church and in society in safeguarding their rights.
- Apostolic Letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (2000): no. 47; bold emphasis added
Jun. 24, 2012
For today’s Sunday Pope Quote, seeing as we are in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom, we’re revisiting an address given by Pope Benedict XVI to a group of visiting U.S. bishops on January 19, 2012. In it, he discusses threats to religious freedom and speaks specifically of the need for lay involvement in evangelizing the culture. In light of the connection between marriage and religious liberty, the Holy Father’s words are timely and much needed.
Pope Benedict XVI: In the light of these considerations, it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.
Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society. The preparation of committed lay leaders and the presentation of a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society remain a primary task of the Church in your country; as essential components of the new evangelization, these concerns must shape the vision and goals of catechetical programs at every level.
Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of the United States on their “Ad Limina” Visit, Rome (January 19, 2012)
Fortnight for Freedom posts: