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The Charter of the Rights of the Family Challenges and Blessings
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The Charter of the Rights of the Family Challenges and Blessings
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Jean Laffitte
Tit. Bishop of Entrevaux
Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family


Manila, 15 May 2014

Perhaps fifty years ago, a bishop’s pastoral activity intervention in family matters might have seemed an ordinary, trivial, optional, among the many conferences that we are invited to hear. In fact, only in recent decades, since the Constitution Gaudium st Spes, marriage, family, and life have become central to the Church’s pastoral concern. The reason is well known, in the past there was not a big difference in the anthropological and legal, juridical levels, between the civil society’s concept of the marriage and the family and that of the church and to receive that of the Church. The engagement was basically the same: The engaged pledged to be faithful and to receive the possible fruits of their future union.

Today’s Cultural Context

Meanwhile, we can observe that such convictions of bygone times no longer exist, and therefore, in almost all cultures that we represent here, the church is faced with challenges that were inconceivable half a century ago. I would like to emphasize that this preliminary observation is in no way theoretical, but is a practical fact that each of us experiences in daily life. We all know – whether in our family or in the families of friends – people who live the reality of marriage and family in the midst of trials and fragility due to a certain harmful cultural context. I am convinced that there is no bishop here who does not bear in his heart, as a man and pastor, the family dramas that call for his concern and compassion.

Two events set more dramatically before my eyes the issue that concerns us: 

First is the most recent Synod of Bishops, held in Rome two years ago on the subject of new evangelization. Some of you may have participated in this important event for the church and could confirm what follows and has been observed by all: in their interventions, scores of bishops mentioned what they consider the main problem of the family institution: There will be no new evangelization without strong pastoral action in direction of the families. Since moment of the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI and then Pope Francis have spoken on this issue several times. Here are some examples: On the occasion of a meeting with the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI expressed himself with exceptional concern and gravity, saying: “So it became clear that the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human.” Reflecting on man’s capacity to contract a bond for his entire life, he added: “Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization (…) means that the man remains closed in on himself and keeps his ‘I’ ultimately for himself, without really rising above it. When such commitment is repudiated, the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child – essential elements of the experience of being human are lost.”

Another example is found in the final message given by the Holy Father in conclusion to XIII General Assembly of the Synod, on October 26, 2012. In this programmatic text, the Pope dedicated an entire section to the topic of family, showing that faith is communicated within the family cell, “Ever since the first evangelization, the transmission of the faith from one generation to the next found a natural home in the family…. A new evangelization is unthinkable without acknowledging a specific responsibility to proclaim the gospel to families and to sustain them in their task of education.” The issue of the transmission of the faith in the family unit is not new, but the insistence on its relationship to the transmission of the faith beyond the frontiers of the church is very significant. I could give many more examples of the church’s conviction that the new evangelization absolutely needs a family-centered pastoral action.

The second event, which seems crucial to me, is the extremely rapid extension in the world of laws that endanger the very survival of the family. Two days ago, we had already talked about the spread of the ideology of gender and of the denial of the original and essential character of sexual complimentarity. We could point out some anthropological aspects implied by this ideology. The analysis of the time could be considered overly negative or pessimistic. The evolution in the past three or four years has been much more severe and rapid than I could have thought. I’m referring to the generalization in the various countries of unions between people of the same sex, unions which are abusively called marriages. I would now like to draw your attention to this deep change in the light of the work of the Pontifical Council for the Family on the subject. During these last years, I had the opportunity to visit several countries that have been obliged to confront the ideology of gender. Of course a few years ago when there was talk of relativism around the sexual differentiation, one could see the intent to trivialize the exercise if the sexual faculty between persons of the same sex. Pastors and moralists saw the violation of a moral taboo, which up until the 90s, considered homosexual relations a transgression on an ethical level. Then, the spread of customs expressing ethical relativism, about which the two popes have spoken out many times, struck.

To put it briefly in simple terms: the transgressive aspect was predominant. So, it was only natural that the question interested anthropologists and moralists, including Christian moralists, and even pastors, who have also the task of helping the faithful to distinguish between good and evil. All these aspects of the problem remain today. However, the question becomes extremely complex and troubling when this transgression is given a legal consistency, making the issue an absolute novum that invades various fields of social life: the relational field, the political field, the institutional, to name just a few. The accelerated nature of this innovation – giving homosexual unions legal recognition – leads us to ask if there is a deliberate intention to transverse cultures and finally to impose a new morality and a new organization of life in society.

I have had two opportunities to go to Argentina. The first time I was able to meet several Parliament members who pointed out to me that for the first time the government has made use of a legal argument that seemed impossible for them to contradict: the argument of equality, to justify the initiative of a totally revolutionary law in South America, a law aimed at establishing a “marriage” of persons of the same sex. The expression used by Mrs. Cristina Kirchner’s government was: el matrimonio igualitario, that is the egalitarian marriage.  These Parliament members perfectly understood that the principle of equality is almost infallible, in so far as it provides a legal basis permitting to marginalize the opposition to such a law. After this trip, I missed no opportunity to explain to various bishops of my country and of other countries, beginning in my country, in France. I remember that, during the visit of a group of couples to the Council for the Family, we imagined how the concept el matrimonio igualitario would be translated into my language. I must admit that I didn’t think at that time of the expression that, in just a few weeks, has become a real slogan: marriage pour tous (marriage for all) certainly an even more attractive expression than the Spanish one. As you know, this bill was then voted in the Parliament of my country, despite the huge demonstrations in Paris that gathered a crowd of nearly one million participants. I do not want to focus on what is happening in France, however, I insist that the government’s determination to impose this “marriage pour tous” has something totally irrational, because the number of people interested is less that 0.20% of the population, less than one person out of 500! Let’s go back to Argentina, where I made another visit fifteen months ago. In the city of San Luis was a meeting with three thousand people, couples and families, was organized. In exchanges with scores of them, I felt how disastrous the consequences of the law of matrimonio igualitario have been in the last two years. Through their testimony I could measure that the law had not only divided the citizens, but also greatly weakened the unity within the families themselves: everyone said that it has become impossible to talk about this issue in the family, as the children in boarding schools or universities were subjected to relentless propaganda. I have to say that in less than two years I no longer recognize this country that I have visited at least five times, not to mention the economic situation and the measures like (exchange controls, no access to foreign books, blocking of imported articles in the port of Plata); I saw a totally torn social fabric. If you have the chance to go to Buenos Aires, you will be greeted by huge billboards with the inscriptions: Argentina, an egalitarian country or Argentina, an inclusive country. If I mention in a detailed way these experienced incidents, it is precisely to illustrate this fact: the institution of egalitarian marriage is the central point of a true revolutionary project that seeks to overturn the most fundamental structures of social life. In respect of the same project in my country, I can only quote the lady who was Minister of Justice, who stated that the so-called mariage pour tous was designed as a true change of civilization. We cannot see it in these episodes just random facts. In truth, these are the foundations of an alternative system of morality, also called “moral consensus” that will be fully established when after the complete destruction of the family unit as it has been understood for centuries and around which social fabric of the most advanced societies has gradually been built and consolidated. Other more anecdotal measures contribute to this endeavor. I will mention only the will to put two-year old children into kindergartens (nurseries) for – and I now quote Madame the Minister for the Family in my country – tear away from them every possible social, philosophical, family and religious determinism. I hope that all these examples have convinced you of the radical transformation of civilization in which we are going through. Appropriate responses to this challenge, alongside a genuine family ministry and vigilant discernment, concern the work for in-depth formation that can help us decipher the sign of the times in order to make it possible for young people, couples and families to be able to resist.