The family is the foundation of society. God created us as social beings so that no person would have to live alone. Human beings are by our very nature designed for family. Adam was incomplete until Eve was created and they became “one flesh”. They are then expected to be involved in the work of procreation when God instructs them to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”
And Jesus himself was born into a specific family, with parents who showed him affection and love and raised him. With this act God gives the family a unique value.
The Church considers the family as the first natural society. It is the foundation of society and is central to all social life. It is a place where different generations live together and experience affection, solidarity, appreciation, unselfish commitment, help and justice. Every person is loved, just as he is. Indeed the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 16 states that ‘the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.’
Nowhere are children raised better than in the culture of family life based on high ideals and good relationships. It is in the family that individuals can show and learn that mutual respect, justice, dialogue, and love are more important than anything else for successful coexistence.
It is in the family that the mutual giving of self on the part of man and woman united in marriage creates an environment of life in which children “develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny.” (Pope John Paul II in Centesimus Annus). He continues: “The first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology’ is the family, in which man receives his first formative ideas about truth and goodness, and learns what it means to love and to be loved, and this what it actually means to be a person.”
The priority of the family over society and over the state must be affirmed. The family does not exist for society or for the state, but society and the state exist for the family. John Paul II in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio states: “In virtue of the principle of subsidiarity, public authorities may not take away from the family tasks which it can accomplish well by itself or in free association with other families; on the other hand, these same authorities have the duty to sustain the family, ensuring that it has all the assistance that it needs to fulfil properly its responsibilities.”
The Catechism (1601) provides that marriage is the communion of a man and a woman ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. An essential feature of marriage is the mutual promise of the two spouses to love one another unconditionally and to be faithful to each other.
Marriage is also indissoluble and the spouses mutual love and respect should last a lifetime. It ends only with the death of one of the spouses. ‘What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’ (Mt 19:6)
It is in marriage where sexual union has its just place, where the love of a man and a woman becomes fruitful. Marriage is fundamentally designed to be enlarged into a family with children. Marriage is the foundation of the family.
Marriage is aimed at procreation and childrearing and life with children. With this in mind there can be no marriage without a commitment to be open to the gift of children. Note that for couples unable to have children of their own they may be open to adopting children in need of a loving home or becoming more involved in the social needs of their community.
Married couples should accept the children that are sent to them by God though this does not mean that married couples should thoughtlessly have many children. A couple should make their decision about parenthood responsibly, taking into account their health and their economic, spiritual and social situation. Decisions about the interval between births and the number if children are up to the married couple alone, to be made prayerfully and with correctly formed consciences. The practice of natural family planning is accepted by the Church. Natural methods for regulating births are acceptable as it means choosing to base interpersonal relations between the spouses on mutual respect and total acceptance by recourse to periodic abstinence during times of the woman’s fertility. The judgement regarding the interval between births is a matter for the spouses alone with due consideration of their obligations towards themselves, their children already born, the family and society.
It is also important to remember that the Church reaches out with charity to those people who may live in other ways, and looks for opportunities to make of these forms a path of conversion towards the fulness of the vocation of marriage.
The human being is made for love and cannot live without love. When it is manifested as the total gift of two persons in their complimentarities, love cannot be reduced to emotions or feelings, much less to mere sexual expression. In a society that tends to more and more trivialise and relativise the very experience of love and sexuality, exalting its fleeting aspects and obscuring its fundamental values, it is more urgent than ever to proclaim and bear witness that the truth of conjugal love and sexuality exist where there is a full and total gift of persons, with the characteristics of unity and fidelity.
The nature of conjugal love requires the stability of the married relationship and its indissolubility. The absence of these characteristics compromises the relationship of exclusive and total love that is proper to the marriage bond, bringing great pain to the children and damaging repercussions also on the fabric of society.
The whole of society has responsibility for protecting and promoting the family as a fundamental natural institution.
The introduction of divorce into civil legislation has fuelled a relativistic vision of the marriage bond and becomes a “plague on society” (CCC 2385).
The Church does not abandon those who have remarried after a divorce. She prays for them and encourages them in the difficulties that they encounter in the spiritual life, sustaining them in faith and hope.
Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance “which opens the way to the sacrament of the Eucharist” can only be given to those who, after repenting, are sincerely disposed to a new form of life that is no longer in contradiction with the indissolubility of marriage. Acting in this way the Church professes her fidelity to Christ and to his truth; at the same time she shows a maternal spirit to her children.
De Facto Unions including those between homosexual persons
The increasing number of de facto unions which is progressively increasing, are based on a false conception of an individual’s freedom to choose. There is a particular problem concerning demands for the legal recognition of unions between homosexual persons. Anthropology corresponding to the full truth of the human person reveals how incongruous is the demand to accord marital status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed, first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful through the transmission of life according to the plan inscribed by God in the very structure of the human being.
Another obstacle is the absence of the conditions for that interpersonal complimentarity between male and female willed by the Creator at both the physical, biological and the eminently psychological levels. It is only in the union of two sexually different persons that the individual can achieve perfection in a synthesis of unity and mutual psychophysical completion.
Homosexual persons are to be fully respected in their human dignity and encouraged to follow God’s plan with particular attention in the exercise of chastity.
It is the task of the Christian community and of all who have the good of society at heart to reaffirm that “the family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual, and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of its own members and of society.” (Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family)
The family founded on marriage is truly the sanctuary of life, “the place in which life “the gift of God” can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed.” (Centesimus Annus, 842)
Faced with theories that consider gender identity as merely the cultural and social product of the interaction between the community and the individual, independent of personal sexual identity without any reference to the true meaning of sexuality, the Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: “Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral and spiritual difference and complimentarity are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.”
Law should reflect the natural law; that sexual identity is indispensible, because it is the objective condition for forming a couple in marriage.
Sterilisation and Contraception
Recourse to contraceptive methods in their different forms is to be rejected (Gaudium et Spes). This rejection is based on a correct and integral understanding of the person and human sexuality and represents a moral call to defend the true development of peoples . On the other hand, the same reasons of an anthropological order justify recourse to periodic abstinence during times of the woman’s fertility (Paul VI Encyclial Letter Humanae Vitae). Rejecting contraception and using natural methods for regulating births means choosing to base interpersonal relations between the spouses on mutual respect and total acceptance, with positive consequences also for bringing about a more human order in society.
All programmes of economic assistance aimed at financing campaigns for sterilisation and contraception, as well as the subordination of economic assistance to such campaigns, are to be morally condemned as affronts to the dignity of the person and the family.
All reproductive techniques such as the donation of sperm or ova, surrogate motherhood, heterologous artificial fertilisation are ethically unacceptable. Equally unacceptable are methods that separate the unitive act from the procreative act by making use of laboratory techniques, such as homologous artificial insemination or fertilisation, such that the child comes about more as an act of technology than as the natural fruit of a human act in which there is a full and total giving of the couple.
On the other hand, those methods that are meant to lend assistance to the conjugal act or to the attainment of its effects are legitimate. (CCC 2375)
In terms of human cloning, the simple replication of normal cells or of a portion of DNA presents no particular ethical problem. However, cloning in the sense that it refers to the reproduction of individuals at the embryonic stage with methods that are different from those of natural fertilisation and in such a way that the new beings are genetically identical to the individual form which they originate. This type of cloning is contrary to the dignity of human procreation because it takes place in total absence of an act of personal love between spouses.
The fact that cloning is used to create embryos from which cells can be removed for therapeutic use does not accentuate its moral gravity, because in order that such cells may be removed the embryo must first be created and then destroyed.
The Mission of Christian Families
“Christian families have a particular mission to be witnesses to and proclaimers of the Gospel of Life. By serving the Gospel of life the family works to ensure that the laws and institutions of the state in no way violate the right to life, from conception to natural death, but rather protect and promote it.” (Evangelium Vitae 507-508)
Through the creation of new life, families contribute to the “communion of generations” and in this way provide essential and irreplaceable support for the development of society. For this reason, the family has a right to assistance by society in the bearing and rearing of children. Those married couples who have a large family have a right to adequate aid and should not be subjected to discrimination.
The Task of Educating
The family has a completely original and irreplaceable role in raising children. The parents’ love, placing itself at the service of children to draw forth from them the best that is in them, finds its fullest expression precisely in the task of educating. The right and duty of parents to educate their children is essential and it is incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.
Parents also have the duty and right to impart a religious education and moral formation to their children, a right the State cannot annul but which it must respect and promote. This is a primary right that the family may not neglect or delegate.
Parents have the right to found and support educational institutions and public authorities must ensure that public subsidies are allocated so that parents are free to exercise this right without incurring unjust burdens.
It is important that parents work together in the education of their children and exercise their authority with respect and gentleness but also, where necessary, with firmness and vigour; it must be consistent, credible and wise and always exercised with a view to children’s integral good.
Parents have a particular responsibility in the area of sexual education and this must be done in an orderly and progressive manner and that children learn to appreciate the human and moral values connected with it. Parents also have an obligation to inquire about the methods used for sexual education in educational institutions in order to verify that such an important and delicate topic is dealt with properly.
Family and Work
Work is essential insofar as it represents the condition that makes it possible to establish a family, for the means by which the family is maintained are obtained through work. In order to protect this relationship between family and work, an element that must be appreciated and safeguarded is that of a family wage, a wage sufficient to maintain a family and allow it to live decently (Quadragesimo Anno (Pius XI)). Such a wage must allow for savings that will permit the acquisition of property as a guarantee of freedom.
Society must be at the service of the family and neither society nor the state may absorb, substitute or reduce the social dimension of the family; rather, they must honour it, recognise it, respect it and promote it according to the principle of subsidiarity. The state should also bring about authentic and effective policies to meet the needs and rights of the family.