Mons. Vincenzo Paglia
Council for the Family, President
The Family as a Resource for Society
anniversary of the United Nations International Year of the Family
anniversary of the Holy See’s Charter of the Rights of the Family
is an honor and a pleasure to address you in this Event being conducted under
the auspices of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) in preparation for the Twentieth Anniversary of the
International Year of the Family.I offer my sincere thanks to His Excellency,
the Most Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to
the United Nations, for all he has done to make this Event possible.
the Department has emphasized, the Anniversary is an “opportunity to refocus on the role of families in development; take
stock of recent trends in family policy development; share good practices in
family policy making; review challenges faced by families worldwide and
well, I am in agreement with Resolution 2012/10 adopted by ECOSOC that stresses
the need “for undertaking concerted
actions to strengthen family-centered policies and programs as part of an
integrated, comprehensive approach to development”; and that invites
States, civil society organizations and academic institutions “to continue providing information on their
activities in support of the objectives of and preparations for the twentieth
the reason why we are here.
you all know, this is a particularly important time for the whole Catholic
Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has announced that on February 28th he
will retire from his ministry as Supreme Pastor of the Church.This is the first
time, in the more than 2000 years of the Church, that a pope has done so of his
own free will; and it shows the great spiritual stature of His Holiness. Realizing
that age has weakened him significantly, he is stepping aside to a life of
prayer and preparation for his eternal reward so that the Church can choose a
new successor of Peter who will guide it in fulfilling its mission at this
crucial moment in human history.
Holy See nevertheless considers it very important to speak to the world
whenever possible, particularly about the core issues of life and human
relationships, so notwithstanding the loss we feel as a Church, we would not
miss this opportunity for me to address you as President of the Pontifical
Council for the Family.
family in fact is the fundamental unit of human society. It is where the
generations meet, love, educate, support each other and pass on life from age
understanding of the family has been embraced by all cultures throughout
history. With good reason the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes
Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or
religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to
equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only
with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and
fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and
the Holy See, recognizing that attention to the family and its rights is
crucial in the formulation of government policies, thirty years ago promulgated
its Charter of the Rights of the Family to
reaffirm the importance of that institution and to strengthen the family’s
unique role in society.
Preamble to the Charter reads: “The
rights of the person, even though … expressed as rights of the individual, have
a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and vital expression in
the family.” And therefore, “based on
marriage, that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a
woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed
indissoluble bond of matrimony and is
open to the transmission of life,”
the family should be protected and promoted by society and by the State.
in the Charter, the common experience of humankind finds an explicit and
forceful documentary affirmation.
this reason, I would like speak about the family as the fundamental resource of
society, the source of social capital and the birthright of all humanity. Indeed
the stability of any society depends pari
passu on the stability of the families from which it springs.
however, the family is threatened on many sides, and its extinction is
prophesied time and again. Nevertheless it continually exhibits a vigor much
greater than that of the many forces which have tried to eliminate it as a
relic of the past and as obstacle to the emancipation of the individual and the
creation of a more free, egalitarian and happy society.
I can tell you now, without any hesitation, that in all our research the
family--mother, father and children--notwithstanding the many attacks to which
it is subject—comes first in the hearts of the world’s peoples; and studies
show that the great majority of young people look forward happily to marriage
as a lifelong faithful union with their husband or wife.
the fact that the family comes first in the hearts of the people is further
proof that it is the foundation of society itself, and indeed that it is the
primary and the richest of humanity’s resources
that vision is opposed by cultural currents that for example consider it
impossible to love someone forever. But when I hear things like that, I ask
myself how can a young man profess, with great enthusiasm, undying love for his
favorite sports team but can’t do the same for his wife! Clearly something is
provide what I hope are some useful guideposts, I would like to expand my
discussion to four separate areas, drawing on certain sociological studies
promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Family.
the couple and marriage. The fact of getting married constitutes an
added value for persons and for society, in that the marriage contract enhances
the quality of the relationship of the couple and has important positive
consequences (biological, psychological, economic and social) for children and
adults. Simple cohabitation is not equal to marriage because it renders
relations unstable and creates major uncertainty in the lives of children. Divorce
itself (or the choice of single parenthood) increases the risk of school
failure for children. The stability of family relations is a precious good, and
when it is lacking, all members of the family are at risk. In particular,
marriage stability is decisive for the successful socialization of children. Divorce,
as well as birth outside marriage, increases the risk of poverty for children
and mothers. Stepfamilies, reconstituted families and blended families
experience many problems with respect to relations between the new parents and
the children of their former unions.
the other hand, marriage, between a man and a woman, generates benefits that
other forms of “living together” do not. Those other forms are just not the
same as marriage.
Intergenerational Concerns. Natural families experience solidarity
between generations much more frequently and more deeply than other forms of
life in common. Children who live with their own biological parents enjoy
better physical and psychological health, and experience more trust and hope in
life, in comparison with those who live in other contexts. For example,
adolescent children of married couples are at less risk of developing deviant
behaviors (including abuse of alcohol and drugs) than those living with single
parents, unmarried couples or separated couples.
analysis of three different family structures, intact two-parent families,
blended families and single-parent families, demonstrates the greater fragility
of the latter two patterns. In blended families following separation, the
parents have major difficulties in developing their educational role and are
more often in disagreement with each other as regards educational themes.
Single parents or those separated or divorced are characterized by major
distrust of external social contexts and develop a privatized vision of the
family. Children of divorced parents exhibit increased incidence of major psychological
illnesses and states of anxiety.
worse, studies show that children raised without a father account for a very
high percentage of the homeless, of adolescents who commit homicides, of
adolescent suicides and of incarcerated youth. This last data gives serious
grounds for caution when we speak of alternative “families.” All too often,
decisions, even legislative decisions, seem to be made without taking into
account the tragic consequences that might result.
Family and Work.It is crucial to remember that the family
constitutes an incredibly rich resource for the world of work, much more than
the world of work benefits the family. In other words, the world of work
“exploits” the family-resource and does not take sufficiently into account the
demands of family life. It is enormously difficult for families, especially
those with children, to harmonize family and professional life. As a
consequence, the world of work, recognizing the importance of the family to
human society, should organize itself in a way that puts the needs of the
that context, and particularly during times of high unemployment, the actions
of government as they affect families must be examined carefully. The welfare
state is characterized by family assistance programs principally intended to
address situations where the family is broken, unstable or lacking in internal
resources. In these cases the state attempts in effect to be a substitute for
the family, or at least for some missing element of the family. But by
substituting itself for the family, the welfare state produces a kind of
vicious circle where instead of strengthening family relationships, it weakens
them even further, and thus creates increased need for government assistance. Increased
need leads to crisis, however, because it gives rise to expectations that the
government cannot hope to meet, firstly because financial resources are never
unlimited, but more importantly because government cannot itself function as a
family, only as an agency. It thus becomes clear how important it is for
government programs not only to promote family “mainstreaming” but more
importantly for the government to have a correct understanding of the family
when formulating public policy and to respect subsidiarity, which should be a
guiding principle in any governmental action.
Family and Social Capital.Free and democratic political and
economic processes are possible only where there is a strong social fabric,
where the public and civil sphere requires and rewards basic human values,
promotes the common good and ensures the circumstances in which families can be
created and thrive.
when speaking of social fabric, it is important to remember that, in the words
of Alexis de Tocqueville, “modern democracy
needs a solid and stable family.” This means that not only does the family
benefit from a strong social fabric, but as it builds and strengthens
relationships it is also the creator of primary social capital. Thus, using
Adam Smith’s terminology, the family, as the creator of the fabric that it
needs, can be regarded as an important source of “the wealth of nations.”
four considerations bring us to a very clear, very precise conclusion: the
natural family (marriage, father, mother, children) is and remains a vital
resource for society.
may say that the family has changed over the centuries, but we must also
realize that, whatever circumstances families may encounter on an empirical
level, the family’s constitutional genome does not cease to be the source and
origin of society. Without this ‘social genome,’ society would lose loses the
quality and power of the family as a living organism (the fundamental cell)
which, rather than being a burden on society, constitutes the primary vehicle for
the humanization of persons and social life.
the fact that the family is a primary school of love and gratitude is
manifested in a particular way in families where weak and disabled members are
present, because the person in difficulty requires a special organization of
family life. Families in such circumstances develop specific virtues that can
be called empowerment and resilience. Such virtues bring with them social
advantages that the family with disabled or dependent members offers to
society. As a matter of fact, the effort that these families undertake for the
rehabilitation and social inclusion of their disabled or dependent member in
all spheres of society, from school to work, reflects a humanizing belief in
the possibility of social inclusion and human solidarity, in particular with
regard to the weakest and most marginalized. These families provide domestic
care for the seriously disabled, thereby activating the virtues that family
members practice in being care-givers, each according to his or her specific
capabilities. Another example of families that clearly generate benefits for
all of society can be found in those that adopt children or act as foster
friends, in contemporary debate there is much discussion of different types
“families” in the plural, and disagreements are fairly marked, but on one point
I believe that all are in agreement: the natural family progression–marriage,
mother, father, children–is the one in which our humanity is best and most surely
realized and the one which–while no one in other circumstances is to be
marginalized or denied solidarity–society is called on to regard most highly.
ECOSOC Resolution 2012/10 Member States are encouraged to implement effective
national policies, strategies and programs to address family poverty, social
exclusion, work-family balance and intergenerational solidarity. Everyone who
cares about the family should welcome all these goals, but all efforts
undertaken to reach them should reflect commitment to and respect for the
family as human society’s foundation, source and protection.
I would add that the Holy See’s Charter of the Rights of the Family, which I
want not only to commemorate but also to promote among all nations, can well
serve as a model for the tools to be used as those goals are pursued.
you for your attention.