by Theresa Notare
May 9, 2003
In September of 2002 a meeting was held in Santo Domingo on The Situation and Perspectives on the Family and Family and Life in America. It was convened by the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and the Latin American Episcopal Council. Participants included the bishops who are presidents of Episcopal Conferences in America, married couples and university professors. They reviewed laws and analyzed problems concerning the family and life on the American continent in the context of cultural globalization. Two important documents were produced as a result: the Santo Domingo Declaration and a Report of Pastoral Conclusions. Both urge vigilance and vigorous effort to combat threats to the family, as well as efforts to support pro-family government policies.
Why tell you about this meeting and these particular Church documents? Because most Catholics are unaware of the great cultural battle that has been raging over the family for decades, and our ignorance in this regard is costly.
Since the beginning of the 19th century when civil divorce laws grew by leaps and bounds (some might argue even earlier), the Church fought to protect the nature of the family as that central social unit consisting of husband, wife and children, imbued with natural rights and responsibilities. Divorce, obviously, severs this unit. Despite the Church's best efforts, laws were changed. Today there is broad social acceptance of divorce despite the fact that it's impact has been largely negative. Next, forces in society pressed to legalize contraception, and again, despite the Church's efforts, those forces were successful. "What could be bad about that?" many would ask. But sex, babies and marriage go together. Once contraception was legalized it wasn't long before the link between marriage and sex was broken. Likely we all know a married couple who doesn't want children, and single men and women who live with their partners with no intention to marry. How does this life-style help them grow in faithfulness and generosity? What happens when a pregnancy occurs? After taking the baby out of sex and sex out of marriage, it was only a few steps to legalized abortion and the push for legal recognition of same-sex unions. Is there anything these trends have contributed to the well being of society?
The Church continues to speak the truth about the family as God created it. The Santo Domingo Declaration continues this tradition, noting that the family is the "sanctuary of life and the first and most profound school of love." Indeed, "The future of humanity will not be possible without recognition and respect for the values of the natural institution of the family." The Declaration then urges specific action. It says
By virtue of the very meaning of laws for the sake of the common good, politicians and lawmakers, and not only Catholics, are asked to not give their votes to unjust legislative bills. We urge them to seek creative initiatives in favor of the family and life which, as far as possible, will take the concrete form of organic, positive legislation.As Catholics we must maintain our perspective on the family. But it is not enough to merely become aware of dangerous cultural trends. We need to act. To study our beliefs regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. To teach our children these beliefs. To have the courage to discuss the difficulties of co-habitation with friends and family who are considering that life-style. And lastly, we should become knowledgeable about laws and legislative initiatives that are harmful to the family, and lobby our representative to adopt laws that support family life.
Theresa Notare is the Assistant Director of the Diocesan Development Program for Natural Family Planning, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.