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Archbishop Naumann on Benedict XVI and the Family

Interview With Kansas City Prelate

KANSAS CITY, Kansas, JUNE 12, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's trip to Spain for the World Meeting of Families next month will only confirm the pontiff's evident concern for the renewal of the family.

So says Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City, a member of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family.

Archbishop Naumann, 57, shared with us how the Pope has shown that the state of the family is a priority during the first year of his pontificate.

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has made few international trips, but he has decided to be present at the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Valencia. What does it tell us about the importance he places on the family?

Archbishop Naumann: His decision to attend the World Meeting of Families is a public affirmation of the invaluable worth he places on the family. We have already seen in just the year since his election that renewing the family is a priority of his pontificate.

His first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," gives much attention to the love between a man and a woman, how human love, especially eros, must be connected to divine love and the good of children, and the important role of love in the public life.

And since the family is the first school of love, we can infer that a healthy family is essential to a healthy society.

With all of this is Pope Benedict's constant interest in uniting questions of the social order with a vigorous pursuit of truth. To be a well-ordered society the truth of the family must be upheld.

So, his decision to attend the World Meeting of Families is consistent with his interest in defending the proper relationship between truth and love within the family.

Q: Does the Pope have a "theology of the family"?

Archbishop Naumann: I would not necessarily say that Pope Benedict XVI has his own theology of the family, but that he teaches with unique clarity the mind of the Church.

His new role as the universal pastor of the Church means that he is not out to suggest his own way of thinking, but to simply propose in new ways what the Church already believes.

Pope Benedict's teaching on marriage and family is obviously consistent and in harmony with the teaching of Pope John Paul II. We must, therefore, read Pope Benedict within the context of John Paul II.

If anyone hopes to understand the mind of Pope Benedict relative to the family, he or she needs to spend time with the writings of Pope John Paul II, especially "Familiaris Consortio" and his "Letter to Families."

That being said, Pope Benedict is making some important applications, especially as to the situation in Europe, about the decline of the family's unique role in culture, and how a European culture separated from its Christian roots is harmful to family life.

He recently affirmed that marriage is one of the issues that Catholics cannot allow any compromise. This should not be surprising, but it does suggest that this issue is very much something that concerns him.

Q: Is there anything in the then Cardinal Ratzinger's writings or background that may provide a clue to his pastoral plan at the meeting?

Archbishop Naumann: Again, I would first suggest that we can get insight into Cardinal Ratzinger's thinking by looking at the writings of Pope John Paul II.

As prefect for Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger reviewed and contributed to the official writings of John Paul II. The two of them had a very close relationship and it is reasonable to think that they influenced each other.

Aside from his collaborations with Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict spoke many times with his own voice about the dignity of marriage and family.

A few years ago, when then Cardinal Ratzinger addressed the Italian Senate, he identified three areas of concern for Europe -- one of which was the legal status of the family. He argued that Europe would no longer be Europe if the status of the family was essentially changed.

From this I think it is safe to assume that he will vigorously defend a Christian understanding of the family. Christian people have a responsibility to stand against the dissolution of marriage and the family, and I imagine the Pope will remind the Church of her role as a defender of the family.

We see in his motto, "cooperators veritatis," that he is especially concerned with truth. He believes the family, as well as being a place of love, is called to be a school of truth.

Civilization must be founded on truth, and it is within the Christian family that truth is first lived and experienced. The relationship of the family to truth and love within culture is a theme that he has touched on in the past; whether he brings it up explicitly, it colors his entire approach to the subject.

Q: It appears that the nations of Europe are aggressively trying to redefine the family. What can philosophers and theologians do to combat this trend?

Archbishop Naumann: This is a critical issue facing the Church today. More and more, traditional marriage is under attack in Europe.

The European Union, in particular, is pressuring all its members into abandoning the traditional definition of marriage and family. Europe is turning into a culture that is growing more hostile toward traditional marriage -- not just in practice but also in law.

Pope Benedict has said, however, that either Europe is Christian or there is no Europe. The fight for the family, which is part of the fight for Europe's Christian identity, will determine whether Europe continues to exist as we know it.

It is the responsibility of the laity to engage the emerging European culture and political order to remind Europe of its heritage and the dangers of abandoning the values that held Western civilization together through some very difficult periods of history.

Philosophers and theologians must show the errors of an absolute secularization of European culture and provide coherent reasons to protect the family from being redefined into nonexistence.

Europe has tragically suffered through countless wars, but the cultural war we see today and the growing widespread antagonism toward Christianity imperils the very soul of Europe in ways that Europe has to date been able to resist.

This is no more evident than in the battle for marriage and the family, which is seen in the growing societal acceptance of anti-family forces such as contraception, divorce and homosexuality.

It is up to the Church, especially those who can influence the public debate, to fight against a secular Europe, and uphold the dignity of traditional, Christian values.

Q: The Pope has made several pronouncements criticizing same-sex unions. What are his reasons behind his conviction that they are not an acceptable form of the family?

Archbishop Naumann: Same-sex unions are not marriages. The attempt to put same-sex unions on equal footing with marriage is a direct attack on the family, and the Pope is right to speak out aggressively in defense of traditional marriage.

Marriage, by its natural purpose, is directed toward the complementary union of the man and the woman and the gift of children; homosexual relationships seek to remove sexuality from these goods.

Marriage is not a convenient arrangement by which two individuals seek self-gratification. It is ordered toward the gift of self, both in the form of the spouses to each other and in the raising of children.

Same-sex unions are a violation on the moral order. The premise of same-sex union is homosexual activity of the participants. Homosexual activity violates the natural law, clear biblical teaching and the consistent teaching of the magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The effort to give societal approval to same-sex unions, consciously or unconsciously, undermines traditional marriage by equating it with sinful behaviors. While in fact, traditional marriage is an opportunity to imitate the love of Jesus for his spouse the Church.

Q: How do you think Pope Benedict conceives of the family's role in the re-evangelization of Europe?

Archbishop Naumann: My impression is that he believes that there cannot be a re-evangelization of Europe without a defense and renewal of the family. The two are intimately connected.

His encyclical suggests that love is the source for hope. If there is to be a re-evangelization of Europe it will come through love, which is born from the family.


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