ON THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY OF
The following address was delivered in English by Cardinal Alfonso
Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, at the
Fellowship of Catholic Scholars' 27th Anniversary Convention in
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on 24 September.
Ten years ago, in 1994, the Year of the Family was convoked by
the United Nations, after some unexpected events and opposition from
certain nations and groups. The Holy Father immediately saw the
importance of such an event and with much interest welcomed the
The Year of the Family in the Church, as we know, was
celebrated with great jubilation, dynamism and hope. The Holy See not
only made itself present in the various stages of the United Nations'
preparations and in the different programmes that were held, but also,
within the Church, encouraged numerous activities in many Episcopal
Conferences, Dioceses, parishes, apostolic movements, nongovernment
It commissioned the Pontifical Council for the Family to extensively
plan theological reflections and pastoral animations of wide
'Year of the Family'
The United Nations was grateful for all the Church's support. The
Holy Father's close accompaniment was continuous, and his efforts were a
unique stimulus and inspiration for all.
It was furthermore necessary to guide certain concepts and directions
in something that was without doubt historical, but which was also
challenging, given that certain tendencies showed the need for
fundamental clarifications regarding the concept itself of family
on marriage, which ran the risk of losing its core and its meaning.
We could not leave to oblivion certain themes that came up especially
during the preparation of the Cairo Conference on population and
One problem that came up ever since the beginning stages of the
preparation for the Year of the Family was the attempt to
consider families, in the plural, and to avoid the use of the singular,
the family. That was the goal: to impose an unacceptable interpretation
that evaded the model of the family willed by God, in this natural
institution that should be recognized without reluctance and with all
the consequences as the basic unit of society.
The use in the plural of the families opened the doors to diverse and
capricious concepts of families, dissipating its "truth".
In certain parliaments and institutions, tendencies were already
being announced that in these last 10 years would introduce remarkable
conceptual ambiguities, giving rise to serious confusion in the
philosophical, juridical, anthropological and cultural realms, the
effects of which are now evident.
This was, in broad strokes, the context that the Church has always
wanted to underline. The Year of the Family was in itself a positive
event; but it required particular attention and reflection, since in
certain milieus even within the Church there were signs of less profound
insight and coherence regarding the truth of the family.
Reflection on the family
This was the context, I think, in which the Holy Father thought out
and formulated the Letter to Families. It represented a special
gift for the Church, and carried the date of 2 February 1994. It was a
privileged occasion to echo with great force the proclamation of this
Good News, of this Gospel, of this "splendid news".
It would be good to say something about the literary genre of this
most important Document of great impact, and which is part of the
radiant triptych of his Magisterium: the Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio, the Letter to Families and the Encyclical
I have thought that a document of similar value and depth could have
been an encyclical. The Holy Father wanted it to be a "Letter", which we
usually cite as "Gratissimam Sane", and with which he knocks with
fatherly hope on the doors of our homes.
The Letter begins thus: "Dear Families! The celebration of the Year
of the Family gives me a welcome opportunity to knock at the door of
your home, eager to greet you with deep affection and to spend time with
The first Document of the triptych, as I have just mentioned, is the
Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. It was the first of
his Pontificate and corresponded to the Bishops' Synod on the Family.
This has been the literary genre for documents based on the Bishops'
Synods: the Holy Father gathers the propositions presented to him by the
Bishops, and after careful elaboration and profound study presents them
to the Church.
Perhaps, and this is just my personal perception, the Holy Father did
not wish that by using the genre of an "Encyclical", the immense value
of the cited Document would sort of be diffused. Thus, he preferred to
call it a "Letter". The name "Encyclical" was used for Evangelium
Vitae out of consideration for the Cardinals' desire that the
proclamation and defence contained in the Document they requested from
the Pope would have a special significance, due to the special meaning
and transcendence of its theme.
The Holy Father has also called other documents "Letters".
Within the subject we are dealing with, we also find the Apostolic
Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, dated 15 August 1988. To a great
extent it tackles the theme of the woman, who is spouse, mother,
daughter and sister, and who performs an important task in society,
without this important quality being opposed but rather integrated into
a vocation to which she is fittingly called. The eminent dignity of the
woman should be acknowledged and fully respected.
In the same Year of the Family, on 13 December 1994, the Holy Father
John Paul II wrote the Christmas Letter to all children, Ad Paucos
Deis, brief, full of love and tenderness towards those who are the
centre of the home, object of the tenderness and care of their parents,
by way of a simple dialogue.
On 29 June 1995, he wrote the Letter to Women of the whole world,
A Ciascuna di Voi.
'Patrimony of humanity'
With the date of 22 October 1983, we have the Charter of the
Rights of the Family of the Holy See, which had been requested
during the Synod dedicated to the Family. It is a valuable instrument of
dialogue which considers the family as a subject in which all other
members are integrated, with their rights and duties, within the
recognition due it by the State.
The Holy Father formulated the Letter to Families, the volume and
importance of which were appreciated. Being closely related with
Familiaris Consortio, but without in the least becoming its
repetition, he treats questions of great importance, with the focus,
experience and richness of his work in the Church.
Gathering the historical challenges faced by the family, which he
would later call "patrimony of humanity", he profoundly reflects on the
"splendid news" of its identity in the reciprocal gift that spouses
exchange in their total self-giving. Explaining the demands of this
reciprocal self-giving by the spouses in marriage, which is the
foundation of the family, and the characteristic values dealt with in
Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae, he reflects on conjugal love,
which is faithful, exclusive, lasting until death and open to the gift
This Letter does not only penetrate questions of greater relevance
today, but also by dealing with openness to life it adequately prepares
and treats themes falling under proclamation and respect for life, which
anticipated the historical Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
Some thought that a new document would no longer be necessary, since
the `` had made a complete consideration of serious questions
such as abortion and other attacks against human life that increased at
an alarming rate.
Luckily the Successor of Peter did not listen to such insinuations,
even as he formulated his rich teachings and defence against abuses
against life that were explicitly requested from him by the Cardinals in
the Extraordinary Consistory that took place from 4 to 7 April
1991. Their vote was unanimous, asking him "to reaffirm with the
authority of the Successor of Peter the value of human life and its
inviolability, in the light of present circumstances and attacks
threatening it today" (Evangelium Vitae, n. 5).
What I have called a triptych abundantly shows how family and life
are inseparable, and how the domestic Church is at the same time the
sanctuary of life and its cradle, and how human procreation forms an
essential part of the mission of marriage. This explains why in the
pastoral field the Pontifical Council for the Family normally has as
participants in the Episcopal Conferences the Commission on Family and
Life, and how the Pontifical Academy for Life in another domain and the
Dicastery for the Family (Pontifical Council for the Family) should work
closely with each other, each in its own sphere and at the service of
the Successor of Peter.
Let us now see some aspects of the Letter to Families that
have particular importance.
I do not wish to extend too much in this occasion to make a more
I would like to point out once more the great value of Gratissimam
Sane, which has notably nourished the reflections of theologians and
pastoralists, of the Commissions in Episcopal Conferences and Dioceses,
parishes and apostolic movements that work with great dynamism.
Meaning of conjugal love
Gratissimam Sane has a notable anthropological depth. Its
reflection reveals the profound
value of the concept of the truth about man, marriage, the family. It
has contributed a lot to
the thought regarding the value and meaning of conjugal love, beginning
from the reciprocal
self-giving of the spouses and its demands.
Its brilliance takes it roots from the teachings of the Second
Vatican Council, and more
concretely from the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, and
from the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio. It also
receives influence from the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor.
It additionally bases itself on Gaudium et Spes, "Fostering
the Nobility of Marriage and the Family" (Part II, Chap. I).
The Conciliar principle which is without doubt most often cited in
the Magisterium of the Holy Father on marriage and the family and which
appears often in the Letter to Families is the following: "man...
is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself", and that he
"cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (Gaudium
et Spes, n. 24).
It is thus the reflection on "the gift", the reciprocation of the
spouses in offering or giving themselves, that of the children, who are
God's gifts, the most precious gifts to the parents, to the family and
The concepts of the Church as the family of God, of human society as
family of the peoples, that have characterized the continental Synods,
especially the Synod on Africa, find in this Letter a rich inspiration
(cf. especially Ecclesia in Africa, n. 6; Ecclesia in Asia,
n. 13; Ecclesia in America, n. 32).
The Letter assumes and qualifies the uneasy dimension of the
challenges that family and life face, without forgetting the progress
made in the different fields and the great number of marriages that give
living witness. The atmosphere of hope dominates in the face of a crisis
that presents its objectivity.
Family pillar of society
The divine plan on marriage and the family, fundamental pillar of
society and of the Church that has to found a "civilization of love", is
in stark contrast from a destructive anti-civilization that takes the
form of many tendencies and situations that in fact threaten "a kind of
cultural uprooting", which is the greatest danger that should be
exposed, and a kind of progressive dehumanization in the name of
"modernization", and which
is supported by a secularism bordering with neopaganism,
The crisis that has been increasing in the last decade is manifested
in evil laws, which reveal the attitude of not a few members of
parliament. Such a phenomenon is a crisis: "Who can deny that our age is
one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound
'crisis of truth'?" (Gratissimam Sane, n. 13).
Romano Guardini forewarned of this phenomenon which he described as a
disease of the soul, precisely because the soul without the truth is
sick and gives rise to an inhuman man.
The Pope's diagnosis is realistic and worrying: "A crisis of truth
means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts" (ibid., n. 13). John
Paul II continues: "Do the words 'love', 'freedom', 'sincere gift', and
even 'person' and 'rights of the person', really convey their essential
As an effort to respond to such grave confusion, the Pontifical
Council for the Family has come up with the Lexicon: Ambiguous and
Discussed Terms on Family, Life and Ethical Questions. The book has
been published in Italian and Spanish, and will be soon out in French;
steps have recently been initiated for the publication of the English
It frees the truth imprisoned by a "culture" that, having lost its
values, leads to a defeat in terms of true humanity, and which obliges
in us a passion for the truth.
The Encyclical Veritatis Splendor had to examine the
foundations themselves of moral truth. Not a few allow themselves to be
seduced by a false science and think they serve the Church by
surrendering to all sorts of pressures and hiding the demands.
Have we not seen such behaviour in the ethical relativism that slips
into the adjusted interpretations not only of Humanae Vitae, but
also of the concepts of contraception, contragestation? The definitions
of family and life are changed.
This Letter warns that today we consider that man, unique and
unrepeatable, cannot be separated from this way, the family. He comes to
the world through the family and "owe[s] to the family the very fact of
his existing as an individual" (Gratissimam Sane, n. 2).
Thus, "when he has no family, the person coming into the world
develops an anguished sense of pain and loss, one which will
subsequently burden his whole life" (ibid.). It is the proof that
cannot be hidden: only through the family can man integrally humanize
himself. It is an irreplaceable institution.
That is why "the Church considers serving the family to be one of her
essential duties" (ibid.). One must go to what is central,
essential. Otherwise, one is ruined.
To keep silent, not to announce the Gospel of the family and life or
to soften it through an incoherent political position, is to contribute
to the defeat of man, whose future would be removed from hope.
The family is and has always been considered the first and
fundamental expression of the social nature of man. Its essential
nucleus has not been changed, not even today. The family constitutes the
smallest and primordial human community (cf. Gratissimam Sane, n.
A number of clarifications that have been incorporated into the
habitual language of theologians and pastoralists in this priority
action of the Church come from Gratissimam Sane.
Man and woman: 'one flesh'
Emphasis and reflections on the truth of the Gospel and of life have
been considered. These have been placed on guard, along the line of
Familiaris Consortio, with regards to new problems that have been
seriously burdening a certain crumbling of the structure and identity of
the family. This has occurred within the immense surprise regarding new
hostilities from certain tendencies that manifest a torment of the
cultural uprooting stated above, of forgetting the existence of a
natural law and of its demands, of the eclipse of a concept of the
dignity of the person, that brings about a certain dismantling of that
which should be a community of persons and thus the first human society
(cf. ibid., n. 7).
This stable community of love and life, built upon the pact of
marriage, "is brought to completion in a full and specific way with the
procreation of children: the 'communion' of the spouses gives rise to
the 'community' of the family" (ibid.). The personal communion of
the "I" and "you" opens itself up through human procreation towards the
most noble task of paternity and maternity, which is made through the
permanent fidelity in mutual self-giving.
Conjugal love brings along with it "the truth of the person", its
rational and free being, eminent image of God who has his roots and is
deduced from the mystery of the Trinitarian "We".
"The family, which originates in the love of man and woman,
ultimately derives from the mystery of God. This conforms to the
innermost being of man and woman, to their innate and authentic dignity
as persons" (ibid., n. 8).
In conjugal love, uniting themselves in "one flesh", their union
takes place "in truth and love" (ibid.). Man is called from
conception and birth, as a new being, to regard himself as a person, and
is destined to express the plenitude of his humanity (cf. ibid.,
The family fulfils itself in the process of conjugal love from which
new life arises as a common good of the same family and of humanity (cf.
ibid., n. 11). There is not even a minimal opposition between
love among spouses, that is due reciprocally, and being instruments of
God's love in procreation.
The children's new life is not limited to a merely biological level,
but implies an integral procreation that demands the true education of
How far this is from a minimalist vision, from a sort of alteration
that transforms integral human procreation into production,
in an almost technical language, that does not fail to hide the fact
that a person is conceived as an object, as a thing, and that the
encounter is subject to a technical mediation with the illicit modes of
"assisted fecundity". In this way the self-giving and encounter of
bodies and spirits are replaced by dehumanizing technical advances, in
the drama of those who desire a child as if it were a right at all cost.
How far is what we really are from the concept of de facto
unions, in its different versions, which in such juridical fiction rob
marriage of its identity. How can we conceive of the family apart from a
genuine concept of "gift"?
"The family is indeed
more than any other human reality
the place where an individual can exist 'for himself' through the
sincere gift of self" (ibid., n. 11). What some attempt to
introduce still remains a caricature, in a profound dehumanization,
sustained in a false concept of law and of that which is discrimination,
of that which is the ideology of "gender".
Men, women in the Church
It is bitterly surprising that. God's plan is changed, that the
complement between man and woman is changed through this odd position
that was never known in the various cultures and religions. How can we
explain why some government leaders and members of parliament see a
progress, a gain, of freedom, democracy, in a superficial hypothesis
that does not contemplate man and woman as they are and how God has
wanted them to be?
A Document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was
necessary. I refer to the recent "Letter to the Bishops of the
Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and
in the World", dated 31 May of this year. The concepts of
"opposition between men and women", and of course, of "gender", have as
a consequence a "harmful confusion regarding the human person, which has
its most immediate and lethal effects in the structure of the family" (Letter
on the Collaboration of Men and Women, n. 2).
As to the ideology of "gender", "The obscuring of the difference or
duality of the sexes has enormous consequences on a variety of levels" (ibid.).
"Its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be
freed from one's biological conditioning. According to this perspective,
human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute
manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like,
since they are free from every predetermination linked to their
essential constitution" (ibid., n. 3).
The social influence, cultural evolution, an arbitrary concept of
freedom, would replace the plan of God which is full of love and wisdom,
regarding the complementarity of the sexes. This Document cites the "Letter
to Families" several times.
A community of persons is in opposite poles with the inhuman
"community" of things, which is the destruction of the whole concept of
what is marriage.
We are victims of ethical relativism, of utilitarianism denounced in
the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor.
"Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a
civilization of 'things' and not of 'persons', a civilization in which
persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a
civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a
hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom
of its members" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 13).
The situation cannot be more alarming: "It is evident that in this
sort of a cultural situation the family cannot fail to feel threatened,
since it is endangered at its very foundations" (ibid.).
Sex made banal, sex education with models that give rise to a false
anthropology, love converted into egoism: are they not a tremendous
threat to society? And these are the ways of life that many wish to
To work for the family is to liberate society from a profound
dehumanization. "Within a similar anthropological perspective,... man...
ceases to live as a person and a subject. Regardless of all intentions
and declarations to the contrary, he becomes merely an object" (ibid.,
Since "modern rationalism does not tolerate mystery" (ibid.),
man becomes a reality unknown to himself (cf. ibid.), an
incognito, and rushes to his own ruin.
Another aspect that is of certain originality in the Letter to
Families is the deepening of the meaning of subject in the community of
The family can be atomized or separated into the members composing
it. This is proper of an individualistic form of thinking and leaves its
traces in some legislations. It is the doubt raised in the Convention
of the Rights of the Child itself of the United Nations, which in
some points does not remove such conditioning.
The family is not taken as a whole, truly as a community, but rather
children are considered separately from the parents. This is the
temptation when one removes children from the environment of their
parents in their sexual education, for example, and when one considers
their problems without relying on those who have given them life.
Furthermore, in the relationship between the family and the state,
respect due the family and its relative independence is lost, and thus
the family is invaded, is "colonized". This is well-known in
totalitarianisms and in the phenomena of privatization, considered
elsewhere (see my article, Familia y Privatización,
ambiguos y discutidos sobre familia, vida y cuestiones
The family would no longer be of great public interest, protected by
laws, but a phenomenon reduced to the private sphere, to the whims of
the spouses. Its public and political dimensions, central in social
life, have to be preserved.
The family "expects a recognition of its identity and an acceptance
of its status as a subject in society" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 17).
"As a community of love and life, the family is a firmly grounded
social reality. It is also, in a way entirely its own, a sovereign
society, albeit conditioned in certain ways" (ibid.).
At this point the Letter to Families treats the Charter of
the Rights of the Family, dated 1983, which maintains its ardent
relevance. Formulated by the Holy See, its great importance for dialogue
and for legislatures has been proven.
Some rights refer to the family, others to life (cf. ibid.).
It consolidates the family institution in national and international
communities with an "almost organic" link.
The family contributes to the nation's cultural patrimony and
emanates its own culture and language, which helps the family and the
nation find its spiritual sovereignty.
As we have indicated earlier, this Letter is a cry and a protest
against the attacks against the dignity of human life and an
anticipation of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae.
Family as centre of life
The family is in the midst of a decisive combat for a humanity with a
face that is, we repeat, human.
"The history of mankind, the history of salvation, passes by way of
the family.... The family is placed at the centre of the great struggle
between good and evil, between life and death.... To the family is
entrusted the task of striving, first and foremost, to unleash the
forces of good, the source of which is found in Christ the Redeemer of
man" (Gratissimum Sane, n. 23).
Just a few more words before concluding these lines. In this
historical combat the family maintains a strong current of energy, which
is seen in the millions and millions of homes that splendidly give their
witnessing. With extraordinary dynamism, the movements, parishes and the
force of the good abound.
There is an immense reaction to give a soul to the world from the
faith, for the family, source of humanization.
The Holy Father insistently convokes us to prayer, and for this
reason he directs himself to all families, regardless of the diversity
and complexity of the cultures (cf. ibid., n. 4), to ask for a
new sending of the Spirit, so that by virtue of his love he may be
infused into their hearts (cf. ibid.).
He invites us to discover the Lord in ourselves. To this end the Pope
dedicates the whole of the second chapter, "The Bridegroom is with
This splendid truth of the family moves us to joyfully announce it to
the world, thus sowing the hope of life and the family in the Lord, who