Pope Benedict XVI revealed today that the Vatican is preparing a handbook of preparation for marriage inspired by the ideas of John Paul II.
Addressing members of the Pontifical Council for the Family currently taking part in their annual plenary assembly, the Pope said the document will be based around three main preparation stages: “remote, proximate and immediate” (more detail on these below).
Elsewhere in his speech, the Pope praised other initiatives of the Council which seek to raise awareness of the benefits the family brings to society. He also recalled the World Meeting of Families in Mexico last year and looked forward to the next one, in Milan, Italy, in 2012.
Referring to the theme of the plenary assembly: “The Rights of the Child”, chosen to mark the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention on that subject, the Holy Father noted how “the Church over the centuries, following the example of Christ, has promoted the dignity and rights of children”.
But he also took the opportunity to strongly condemn those instances when child abuse has occurred within the Church. “In various cases some of her members, acting against this commitment, have violated these rights; actions which the Church does not and will not fail to deplore and condemn,” he said. Jesus’ harsh words against those “who offend one of these little ones,” he added, are “an admonition to everyone never to lower the level of this respect and love”.
The Holy Father’s comments come after a series of recent reports highlighting clerical abuse and cover-ups in Ireland. He has summoned all the countries bishops to Rome for meetings on Feb. 15th and 16th and said he will write a letter to the Irish faithful on the issue - a very rare move. The Pope and the Vatican are keen to try and address the anger and shock felt by Catholics since the reports were published last year.
Elsewhere in his speech, the Pope noted that marital break-ups “are not without consequences for children” and stressed that supporting the family and promoting “its true good, its rights, its unity and stability is the best way to protect the rights and the real needs of children”.
“The family founded on marriage between a man and a woman is the greatest help that can be given to children,” the Pope stressed. “They want to be loved by a mother and a father who love one another, and they need to dwell, grow and live with both parents, because the maternal and paternal figures complement one another in the education of children and in the formation of their personality and identity. It is important, then, that everything possible be done to ensure they grow up in a united and stable family”.
The Holy Father gave a fairly detailed summary of John Paul II’s approach to marriage preparation: “Remote preparation”, he explained, “concerns children, adolescents and young people. It involves the family, the parish and school, places in which people are educated to understand life as a vocation of love, a love which then takes specific form in the way of marriage or of virginity for the Kingdom of Heaven. In this period, the meaning of sexuality must progressively emerge as a capacity to relate, a positive energy to be integrated into authentic love.”
“Proximate preparation”, he added, “concerns engaged couples and must be configured as an itinerary of faith and Christian life, leading to a deep knowledge of Christ and the Church, of the meaning of grace and responsibility in marriage. ... It should include a course of catechesis and of experience living in Christian communities, involving contributions from priests and other experts” as well as “the accompaniment of an exemplary Christian couple ... in a climate of friendship and prayer. It is important to take particular care that on these occasions the fiancees revive their personal relationship with the Lord Jesus, especially by listening to the Word of God, using the Sacraments and, above all, by participating in the Eucharist”.
Immediate preparation, he said, takes place as the marriage approaches. “Apart from the examination of the fiancees, as laid down by Canon Law, it could also include catechesis on the rite of marriage and its meaning, a spiritual retreat, and efforts to ensure that the celebration of marriage is seen by the faithful (and especially by those preparing for it) as a gift for the whole Church, one that contributes to her spiritual growth”.