VATICAN CITY — One of the most important offices in the Vatican, the Pontifical Council for the Family is celebrating its 25th anniversary this spring. Last month, it marked the occasion by bringing together leading Church figures, consultants and experts to discuss the family — which today is currently under a great threat.

And this month, it followed up that meeting with the release of a major new document addressing the threat in detail (see accompanying story).

In his address to the delegates May 13, Pope Benedict XVI underlined the importance of the essential purpose of the family and its vital contribution to the well being of society.

“The historic moment we are living calls for Christian families to attest with courageous consistence that procreation is the fruit of love,” the Holy Father said. “Such a witness will be an incentive for politicians and lawmakers to safeguard the rights of the family.”

Opening the plenary meeting themed, “Twenty-Five Years of the Pontifical Council for the Family: Achievements, Challenges and Projects,” Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the council president, called for reflection on the theological and pastoral aspects of family and life. Both, he said, are “placed in crisis and troubling difficulty from an ever creeping secularization and paganism, above all in state legislation around the world.”

The cardinal paid tribute to Pope John Paul II, who founded the council as a “single prophetic force.” Since it replaced Paul VI’s Committee for the Family in 1981, it has been responsible for the promotion of the pastoral ministry and apostolate to the family, sustaining and coordinating initiatives in defense of human life in all stages of its existence, from conception to natural death.

Various speakers shared experiences from their own countries. Bishop Klaus Kung of Polten, Austria, described the situation facing the family in German-speaking countries as “tragic.” The number of marriages has plummeted, he noted, while the number of “de facto” couples has increased.

Msgr. Michael Schooyans, professor emeritus at Belgium’s University of Louvain, discussed various strategies for dealing with aging populations, while Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha reviewed significant changes in the field of legislation relating to the family. Such legislative changes require delicate Christian discernment and an adequate pastoral response, Archbishop Curtiss said.

Speaking during a break, professor Janne Haaland-Matlary, a council consultant, highlighted two key areas of concern: a pervasive individualism and selfishness whereby young people prefer to be without children.

Haaland-Matlary, a former foreign minister of Norway, said she would like to see the council do even more to address this key area.

“This is one of the most important areas of the Church, so I wish we could be more concerted in making a strategic effort because the Church is unique in terms of hierarchy and global scope,” Haaland-Matlary said. “We should be much, much better today at using this.”

       

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.