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Pope and Prelates Warn of Threats to Foundation of Society

ROME, FEB. 5, 2006 (Zenit) - The future well-being of society depends on strengthening family life. This is a constant message in many of the Pope's recent speeches. On Dec. 1, in a speech to the newly arrived ambassador of St. Lucia to the Holy See, Benedict XVI stated that "the sacred institution of marriage is vital to the well-being of every nation."

He warned that "any hope for renewal of society which does not adhere to God's plan for matrimony and the family is destined to founder, for it is there that the God-given dignity of every person is first realized and the self-esteem necessary for mature adult relationships is first experienced and nurtured."

In the face of current challenges to marriage, both civic and religious authorities need to work together to uphold this vital institution, the Pope insisted.

In his speech to another new ambassador, from France, on Dec. 19, the Pontiff called for "special attention on the institutions of marriage and the family." These institutions are, he said, "the basis of social life."

The Holy Father had earlier referred to the recent riots by young people in France. Marriage and the family, he said, "have an irreplaceable role in the education of the young, combining authority and emotional support, imparting to all young people the values that are indispensable to their personal development and sense of the common good, and the necessary reference points for social life."

The Pope has also raised the issue of family life in a number of meetings with bishops. On Nov. 18 he told visiting bishops from the Czech Republic that they had done well to make family life one of their pastoral priorities. The family is a basic building block of society, and plays a vital role in handing on the Christian faith, the Pontiff noted.

On Dec. 3 he spoke to the presidents of Latin American episcopal commissions for family and life. Marriage and the family, noted Benedict XVI, are threatened both by the phenomenon of secularization and the pressure of unjust laws that fail to recognize their fundamental rights. As a result, "Today, it is necessary to proclaim with renewed enthusiasm the Gospel of the family," he said.

Elementary truths

The Pope has also spoken about family life to local Italian groups. On Dec. 30, the day when the Church celebrated the feast of the Holy Family, he visited the Vatican's St. Martha's dispensary.

In his speech to those working there, Benedict XVI thanked them for their devotion in helping children and their parents. The mission of being parents, he noted, often receives little help from modern society.

Then, in a Jan. 12 encounter with government officials from Rome and the surrounding Lazio region, he noted that in recent years the family has been a priority for the local diocese.

Benedict XVI explained that in insisting on support for the family the Church is not imposing Catholic doctrine or morality on a secular society. Rather, it is a question of "elementary truths that concern our common humanity." For government officials to respect these truths is perfectly legitimate since these realities are "essential for the good of the person and of society," the Pope said.

He further contended that local government can play an important role in supporting young couples, particularly regarding matters such as the cost of housing, and the availability of nurseries and schools.

And, in a clear reference to efforts to claim legal status for de facto couples and same-sex unions, the Holy Father insisted: "It is a serious error to obscure the value and roles of the legitimate family founded on marriage by attributing legal recognition to other improper forms of union for which there is really no effective social need."

His words were echoed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Pope's vicar for the Diocese of Rome and president of the Italian episcopal conference. Addressing a meeting of the Italian bishops on Jan. 23, Cardinal Ruini insisted that in the forthcoming elections one of the central themes voters should take into consideration must be the defense of the family and marriage, along with respect for human life from conception through to natural death. National parliamentary elections will be held April 9.

The cardinal was careful to point out that the Church had no intention of allying itself with any political group or party during the electoral campaign.

Spain and Scotland

Bishops in other countries are also speaking out to defend the family. On Dec. 30 the subcommission on family and life of the Spanish episcopal conference issued a message on the theme of transmitting the faith to children.

The document also spoke of the shadows cast on family life due to the "culpable omission" of support from the state for families in matters such as housing and education. The bishops also renewed their criticism of the Socialist government's law giving recognition to same-sex unions, as well as easing rules to make divorce easier.

And in Scotland, on Jan. 25 the Catholic Media Office released the text of pastoral letter on the family, written by Archbishop Mario Conti, on behalf of the bishops. "Nothing is more fundamental to the common good than the stability of family life," the letter stated. But this is being ignored by civil leaders and, hence, there exists "a society in moral decline, a civilization in cultural decay."

Instead of supporting married couples and family life, the government is extending benefits "to partnerships which are of their nature incapable of providing tomorrow's citizens whose values will determine our society," Archbishop Conti lamented.

The law is creating "a fiction of marriage" by permitting the registration of civil unions, his letter noted. We should not exclude people from society based on their sexual orientation, the letter said. But neither should we extend to same-sex unions "an equivalence in law and public esteem to that of conjugal love," it added.

"This is a time when marriage and the family are in crisis with many of our social ills traceable to this cause," Archbishop Conti noted. "Therefore we must be at the forefront of promoting family life."

This involves activities such as assisting families to find suitable and affordable accommodations, and offering young people counseling in preparation for marriage, he said. Also needed, at times, are conciliation services, instead of easier access to divorce.

In a New Year's Day homily preached in St. Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, Cardinal Keith O'Brien also spoke out on family issues. According to a press release from his office, the cardinal's comments followed the introduction of legislation to allow same sex civil partnerships and the vote by the Scottish Parliament to dramatically reduce the waiting periods for divorce.

The family is "the basic social unit, which needs to be recognized protected and promoted as the most vital cell of society," the cardinal commented. Unfortunately this truth is being obscured today, he said. "It is not without reason that human societies throughout history and across cultures have flourished only when they have built their human relationships on the rock of marriage." A somber warning that the Church hopes governments heed.

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