Marking 25 years: looking back and ahead
The Pontifical Council for the Family held its Plenary Assembly
from 11 to 13 May on the occasion of its 25th anniversary (13 May
1981). The Pope addressed the participants on Saturday, 13 May. The
following is a translation of the Conclusions of the Pontifical
Council's 17th Plenary Assembly, which were written in Italian.
We celebrated our Plenary Meeting from 11-13 May 2006, the
anniversary of the establishment of our Pontifical Council for the
Family. On that very day, 13 May, 25 years ago, the Holy Father was the
victim of an attack in St Peter's Square. On that day, he had been
intending to announce this Dicastery's birth to the world. Thus, we are
speaking of a baptism with blood for this Council's existence.
At the Meeting, we addressed the items on the agenda that concerned
our achievements, challenges and projects.
It is only right to thank the Lord for having given such a great
impetus to all that concerns marriage, the family and life, through Pope
John Paul II's insight.
We must give thanks for the great gift of this irreplaceable natural
institution which God has given to humanity and which, as the cradle of
life and the domestic Church, renews society and the Church.
There are millions and millions of families on all the continents
that are still living in a dimension of love open to life, faithful and
exclusive until death. Let us ask the Lord to increase this vitality of
the Church for the good of humanity's future.
The long, fruitful and providential Pontificate of John Paul Il was a
period of doctrinal and pastoral formulation. It should be remembered as
a trilogy with a wealth of guidelines: in addition to the Post-Synodal
Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, the Letter to
Families, Gratissimam Sane, was published in the International
Year of the Family (1994), and then, the historic Encyclical
Evangelium Vitae in 1995, which outlines the stages of the mission
of the family, defined as the "domestic Church" and "sanctuary of life".
The Holy Father John Paul II wrote a variety of Documents on many
different occasions, but especially for his Apostolic Visits. They are a
splendid legacy and a reliable guide for our work.
The Pontifical Council has sought to be faithful to the Holy Father's
Magisterium and to draw from it permanent inspiration and encouragement
in our time, marked by positive signs and by well-known difficulties.
In the past 25 years, the pastoral structures for the family in the
Bishops' Conferences have been consolidated. In almost all of them,
Episcopal Commissions for the Family and for Life have been established
and are flourishing.
In many Dioceses, satisfactory structures have been created such as
pastoral vicariates, diocesan offices and centres for pastoral
Particularly encouraging are the progress and organization throughout
the world of the many generous Movements that include millions of
families and mobilize them in society with hope and commitment.
Among our numerous publications, let us list only the best known:
The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality. Guidelines for Education
within the Family (1995); Vademecum for Confessors Concerning
Some Aspects of the Morality of Conjugal Life (1997) requested
expressly by the Holy Father; Conclusions of the Second Meeting of
European Politicians and Legislators on Human Rights and Rights of the
Family (22-24 October 1998); Family, Marriage and "de facto" Unions
(2000); The Enchiridion on the Family. A Compendium of Church
Teaching on Family and Life Issues from the Second Vatican Council to
the Present (2004, in various languages); The Dignity and Rights
of Children (2002); Globalization, Economics and the Family
(2002); The Family and Ethical Questions (Vol. I, 2004; Vol. II,
2006 - Vol. III is planned); The Family and Human Procreation
We have also undertaken to publish Lexicon: Ambiguous and
Debatable Terms Regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions (2003),
which has already been translated into various languages (Spanish,
French, English) and has been enthusiastically received in the different
The four World Meetings for the Family deserve special mention:
The Family: Heart of the Civilization of Love (Rome, 1994); The
Family: Gift and Commitment, Hope of Humanity (Rio de Janeiro,
1997); Children, the Springtime of the Family and Society (Rome,
2000); The Christian Family, Good News for the Third Millennium
The Fifth World Meeting took place in Valencia, Spain, from 1-9 July
on the theme: The Transmission of Faith in the Family.
We cannot forget that when challenges to the family are faced with a
keener Christian awareness, they have often made it possible to discover
clearly the fundamental equality of the spouses and the rights of their
children. Determined efforts to further legislation that helps families
and their development are noted.
However, challenges to the family and life continue to be numerous
and serious; some are distressingly new, presenting false alternatives
to the family identity, and picture a science and technology that know
At the root of many of the listed and studied challenges is the
State's claim to "neutrality". It is based on a certain concept of the
right to autonomy and equality, founded on ethical agnosticism, which
holds that the truth about the good of the person and society cannot
reasonably be affirmed and demonstrated.
As we have said, this atmosphere fosters the spread of a current of
ethical relativism that is ever more widespread. It impels Parliaments
to approve iniquitous laws in conformity with the trends of the majority
parties as if they were certain to guarantee a true democracy.
The truth about the intrinsic good of the person and society is said
not to exist; there is also a more radical tendency to declare that any
institution whatsoever (marriage or other types of union) is an unjust
imposition and a violation of the person's absolute autonomy.
It is forgotten that unjust laws are not binding (cf. St Thomas
Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1-11, q. 93, a. 3), and the conviction
is growing that what is legal is also moral adds to the confusion, also
An effort is being made to decriminalize abortion, and the
misunderstood criterion of "discrimination" has come to be used
ambiguously. Unjust laws are passed in the name of this so-called
The entire process under way resorts to semantic manipulation by
means of words and expressions used as if they were "innocent" in the
media, but which promote the trivialization of the meaning of life and
sexuality and mask attacks on life and the family.
Examples of this are seen in the spread of abortion in the guise of
"reproductive health" or encouraging the promotion of the "gender"
concept, since sexual identity is claimed to be a free cultural choice.
With regard to this latter point, the final goal would be to obtain a
homologation of behaviour; in this way all human beings would be equal
under the banner of "gender". It would thus be possible to switch from
one "gender" to another at will. The door has been opened to "de facto"
unions, even between people of the same sex.
At the religious level, one often meets Catholics who know very
little about the wealth of the Church's doctrine. Religious ignorance is
a barrier to recognition of the proper value of the person and the
In addition to draining the faith of its content, this ignorance
paves the way to spreading erroneous concepts of marriage and the
family. Recourse to the sacraments, particularly Penance and Sunday
Eucharist, is often discontinued, to the detriment of the family's
Ignorance of the teaching of the Church's Magisterium abounds; in
many places, the Magisterium's doctrine is seen as one of many opinions.
The full harmony of one and all (Bishops, priests, deacons and
catechists) with respect for and obedience to the Church's teaching is
There is no doubt that this doctrinal enfeeblement in the People of
God is one of our most serious challenges. Without losing our own
doctrinal identity in defence of marriage and the family we ought also
to consider establishing ecumenical contacts. We note with satisfaction
that Muslims defend many of the family values, even if they do not see
eye to eye with us on some points.
We listened with gratitude and veneration to the words of
encouragement that the Holy Father Benedict XVI spoke to us, the
Pontifical Council for the Family, and to his precise guidelines for our
work. The Dicastery will do its utmost to act in accordance with the
Holy Father's recommendations.
"I am grateful to your Pontifical Council because at various
continental and national meetings, it seeks to enter into dialogue with
those who have political and legislative responsibility in this regard,
as it also strives to set up a vast network of conversations with
Bishops" (Address to Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the
Pontifical Council for the Family, 13 May 2006; L'Osservatore
Romano English edition, 24 May, p. 7).
It is to be hoped that the Pontifical Council for the Family will
continue the work it has already started with a greater cooperation from
both men and women, especially Catholics.
Only an integral humanism that grasps the precise meaning of what the
the Imago Dei, collaborator of God in the world
actually is, can unfold the horizons of the future. Man, with the light
of reason and faith and a sense of responsibility, must enter his
history and build a practical house with a view to the future.
Our reflections were guided by the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est,
in which the Holy Father reminds us that: "The first novelty of biblical
faith consists, as we have seen, in its image of God. The second,
essentially connected to this, is found in the image of man....
"Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow
rooted in man's very nature... eros directs man towards marriage,
to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it
fulfil its deepest purpose.
"Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous
marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the
icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa.
God's way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close
connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no
equivalent in extra-biblical literature" (n. 11).
As regards the human family, it must be founded on the basis of its
dignity, from which derive the rights to which every person and every
family are entitled. It is important to recover natural law as its true
foundation and participation in the eternal law of the rational
Consequently, it can be understood that those laws incompatible with
natural law are not only false and dangerous but further, they are not
and cannot be binding since they are in opposition to the human good.
The modern mind set that forgets the concept of nature, conceiving it as
incompatible with the concept of freedom, is a great hurdle which cannot
be overcome with these false promises. What is needed is conversion to
God, to the truth and to the full dignity of the human being.
Moreover, it is necessary to foster family ministry at various
levels: in the dioceses, parishes, apostolic movements and institutes of
consecrated life. It is also important to promote pro-family movements
and groups involved in social communications which are in line with the
We should not forget to develop pastoral care for those who are
divorced and remarried, in accordance with the guidelines of
Familiaris Consortio and valid experiences in this regard. It is
necessary to offer these people a charitable welcome so that they will
feel like children of God, beloved by the Church, despite being
prevented from receiving Eucharistic Communion.
Again, a catechesis must be encouraged which helps parents pass on
the faith to their children, as well as the value of the family itself;
it is likewise essential to help them consider the possibility of a
vocation to the priestly life. The teaching of the social doctrine of
the Church, as presented in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of
the Church, should be emphasized in the teaching on the family.
It is vital to have renewed hope and trust in the future and to raise
prayers of gratitude to the Lord for the ground already covered in the
midst of so many difficulties. The Christian faith tells us that the
Risen Christ lives in the family's midst and that through his power we
can confidently resume the dialogue with husbands and wives, parents and
With the help of politicians, legislators and people of good will,
may men and women grow in humanity so as to achieve their ideal: "Gloria
Dei vivens homo, vita autem hominis visio Dei (the glory of God is
man alive; the life of man consists in beholding God)" (St Irenaeus,
Adversus Haereses, IV, 20, 7).