WASHINGTON — Church teaching on marriage and family life is crucial to understanding Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical, experts insisted at a conference on Monday.
“Catholic social teaching recognizes that one of the social contributions central to the common good is marriage and the family that flows from it,” said Melissa Moschella, professor of philosophy at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, at an Oct. 26 faith and science conference on Laudato Si held at the university.
“That new human ecology that [Pope Francis] wants to foster focuses importantly on fostering a healthy marriage culture as a crucial aspect of that,” she stated.
Moschella’s talk was entitled “A New and Universal Solidarity Within the Human Community.” She was one of a number of experts from a variety of fields, including natural science, theology and philosophy, discussing applications of the encyclical to their fields.
The 184-page encyclical Laudato Si was published in June and named after St. Francis of Assisi’s “Canticle of the Sun,” in which he praised God for creation. Although it addresses human care for the natural environment, the letter also upholds human dignity and the need for persons to live in accord with the moral law.
The family is key to understanding this encyclical, Moschella explained, because it is at the heart of the “human ecology” the Pope speaks of, the relationships of human persons.
In Paragraph 5 of of Laudato Si, Pope Francis emphasizes the need to preserve not only the “natural environment,” but also the “human environment.”
“The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement,” he wrote.
“Human ecology,” Moschella explained, means the proper conditions “for authentic human development and fulfillment”: social, economic, political and environmental.
Pope Francis teaches that “a healthy marriage culture” best meets these conditions, she said. This is because human beings, made in the image of the “Triune God whose inner life is one of complete and reciprocal self-gift,” best practice this self-giving within family life.
In marriage, the spouses must give of themselves to each other and to their children, she reflected. Children, in turn, learn from their parents’ example. And through the “daily requirements of family life,” they also are “learning to share.”
“This is one of the things, too, that our contraceptive culture forgets about,” she said, noting that people don’t want children “because of the demands that children entail.” However, she added, “it’s actually precisely in responding to the demands of children that couples grow in love.”
Chad Pecknold, a theology professor at CUA, agreed. The family (understood also as “the whole human family”) is a “central theme in Laudato Si,” he said in his talk on “Human Responsibility for the Natural World.”
The encyclical focuses on “our common home,” he said, which implies a family gathered in the home. And as human persons, we are all sons and daughters of God the Father, he added, and we constitute a “universal family” in relation to each other.
Pope Francis adds that the human family is the basic cell of society, Pecknold noted, and is at the “heart of the culture that cares for creation.” Children will first learn to care for creation in their family life.
Human ecology is also directly connected to natural ecology, both Pecknold and Moschella explained.
Moschella cited Pope Francis’ address at the Humanum conference on the complementarity of man and woman in November of 2014, where he said that “the crisis in the family has produced an ecological crisis.”
The natural environment directly suffers as a result of poor human ecology, Pecknold explained. The widespread use of contraceptives has harmed countless families, he said, but it has also entered the water supply, harming fish and “altering the hormonal balance of our children.”