NEW YORK — The family has a “unique character” that makes it a “patrimony for all humanity,” Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, told the United Nations.
Despite a hostile culture, the archbishop said, “a clear majority of persons want a family at the center of their life, and it would be mistake to think the family can be done away with.”
“We have to be much more cautious than we have been about weakening this fundamental unity that is not only the bearing wall of social life, but that can also help us avoid the inhuman consequences of a society that has become hyper-individualistic and hyper-technological.”
He called for a “renewal of family models” that foster a family that is more understanding of itself, more attentive to its internal relationships and more able to live in harmony with other families with respect for its surroundings.
Archbishop Paglia, a native of Italy, spoke at the United Nations' headquarters in New York City on May 15, the International Day of Families. The event marks the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, established by the U.N.'s General Assembly to raise awareness about the importance of families and to respond to the challenges they face.
The archbishop explained that the family uniquely combines two forms of relationships that have “radical differences”: the relationship between male and female and the relationship between parent and child. The family is not a venue for individualism that idealizes “autonomy and independence.” Rather, the family features “interdependence” and “reciprocity.”
The family is also a place for “strong relationships” that deeply affect its members “for good or ill.” It lacks the instability of other relationships and requires its members to interact with people different than themselves.
The archbishop said the family is “at the very heart of human development, indispensable and irreplaceable and at the same time beautiful and welcoming.”
Countries that do not make men's responsibility for their children a “structural element” face poorer social development, especially regarding women and children, he noted.
The family plays an important role in the education of children and the creation of family economic resources, like starting a family business or providing mutual assistance to family members. It allows for “the harmonious development of society as a whole.”
He said that family relations have been “purified” by moving away from family models based on “possession” and the “models of inequality accepted without thinking in certain cultural milieus.”
Archbishop Paglia warned of two dangers: “familyism,” in which the good of family is preferred to the good of the individual or the good of society as a whole, and “radical individualism” that destroys the family.
The archbishop said that the family is in “crisis” in recent decades, evidenced by increased divorce, increased out-of-wedlock births and single-parent families and a decline in the number of marriages. This crisis causes problems in demographics, failures in education, the abandonment of the elderly and the spread of social disturbances.
He said that the Catholic Church “never ceases to support and assist the family.”
In the Church’s upcoming synod on the family, Pope Francis intends “to put the family at the center of the Church and of all human reflection.”
The synod will not feature “ideological debates,” but, rather, will consider the role of the family and its mission in contemporary society. Its decisions aim to “empower Catholic families to become active participants in a society-wide ferment that will move all peoples to a culture of solidarity.”
Archbishop Paglia addressed the U.N. after visiting Philadelphia, which will host the Catholic Church’s World Meeting of Families in 2015. The meeting aims to support and strengthen families around the world. The meeting’s organizers are encouraging Pope Francis to attend the event.