Monday, 17 August 2009

Times: The family crisis

Sunday, 16th August 2009 by Fr Joe Borg

"Without the mutual love of the family our society dies".

In a recent decision, the Court of Cassation, Italy's highest court, said there was no substantial legal difference between a family founded on marriage and a family resulting from a cohabiting couple. To buttress its decision, the court referred to what it described as an "evolution" in thinking about the forms that a family takes in modern society. The case concerned theft between an ex-cohabiting couple.

Prof. Giuseppe Dalla Torre, a Catholic legal expert and rector of Rome's LUMSA University, described the sentence as "a serious attack on the family". Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said that he views "with concern this progressive slide toward a further privatisation of the family, as if the family were irrelevant for society".

I respect the decision of those people who, for whatever reason, decide to live together without marrying. It is their choice and their right.

I also think that it is high time to regularise in some measure the rights and duties that result from such a decision.

However, this regularisation should be in such a way that it is very clear that such heterosexual relationships should not be placed on an equal footing with relationships based on marriage. The latter is a public commitment before society (and for believers, in front of God) and consequently promotes a more serious sense of responsibility among those involved.

Developments in several countries that equate relationships ensuing from heterosexual co-habitation and/or from same sex marriage on par with families based on marriage are not promoting the common good.

These developments reminded me of the final statement released last December following the first European Catholic-Orthodox forum. The family was described as "a good for humanity". "The family, born of marriage between man and woman that gives rise to children and an extended network of relationships, needs to be rediscovered as valuable social capital."

The rapid devaluation of this social capital means that the family crisis in Europe is much deeper than the economic one.

The forum stated that "much effort needs to be invested in the promotion of family life. The family needs to be rediscovered for what it offers society." It calls for the positive re-evaluation of both motherhood and fatherhood.

"Mothers who stay at home (and I add, also fathers) in order to raise and educate children should be afforded support both morally and financially. Their mission is not less important than that of other respected professions... The idea of fatherhood is also fundamental for society and it too needs to be rediscovered by contemporary society. It's impossible to speak of a fraternal society without fatherhood."

The final statement emphasises that the needs of children and the well-being of the family should not be subordinated to economic interests. Therefore, the forum called "upon all public institutions to ensure that policies regarding remuneration for work are consistent with establishing and maintaining a family with dignity... It should be such that both parents need not necessarily be obliged to work full time outside the home to the detriment of family life and especially to the detriment of the education of children."

We are free to make choices but we have to carry responsibility for the consequences of the choices we make. We would be foolish to abandon the centuries-old and tried model of the family based on marriage forums other forms of relationships. The family based on marriage is not an outdated notion; on the contrary, it is the future as much as it was the past.

As the final statement of the forum quoted above states: "Without the mutual love of the family our society dies."

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times webite. I am pasting an important one here:]
Aldo Gatt
I too agree the state and society should differentiate between those couples who make a public commitment before society and those who opt to co-habit. That is the precise reason why I have chosen civil partnership in the UK and would not settle for being lumped in the same bag as those who are not ready to make such a pledge, with the responsibilities it brings with it. Fr Borg, I find your argument inconsistent when you then include same sex partners, who have a desire to commit before society, with those heterosexuals who don't.

Read my reply here:


  1. Marriage as we know it today is the result of centuries of evolution. For Christ's sake, let people decide what they want to do with their lives and what is best for them in their particular situation ... marry or cohabit. One is no better than the other. Commitment is all about what's in the heart and has nothing to do with signing a piece of paper or making one's commitment "public". The law should protect both.

  2. Dear Joseph, We are referring here to the relationship between state and the committed couple; what the state's responsibilities are towards the same. Why should the state commit to the couple who decide not to reciprocate? Neither I, nor Fr Borg for that matter, have said the state should not consider co-habitants and their offspring. All we have said is that there is a difference between a couple who have wittingly and willfully registered their interest for each other and their pact before society/the state and those who have not. The dissimilarity is not necessarily in the quality of their affection but in their relationship with the state.

  3. I wish to marry.
    Why haven't I been able to?
    Why is it that a religion based on love, one that recognizes judgment as God's domain (rather than the dubious domain of nearsighted mortals) insists on focusing its resources on preventing a state recognition of what amounts to a basic right to civil union - the right to equal protection and representation regardless of faith, race or sexuality?

    Trying to influence that which is out of its jurisdiction reduces the value of something that is quite simply beautiful; but part of the beauty of religion is that it is there to be chosen – chosen as a guide for those adherents within the bounds of its given place in their lives. An act of will, an expression of freedom, and an application for membership to a way of life.

    The state is there to represent its citizens regardless of faith, gender, ethnicity or even sexuality. There should be no need for an opt in or opt out of a person's birth right: their citizenship. What kind of a country is it that would have its people seek asylum elsewhere simply because their wish to register for recognition of relationship has been denied on the grounds of not falling in with the faith of the majority?

    If the state receives taxes from all but only provides for the union of some it does everyone a disservice. This is not even something that could conceivably be up for referendum – the majority don't get to choose who gets to have their human rights relinquished. We should be acknowledged as all being equal both in the eyes of God and under the law despite what some might have us think.

    For some reason some in the church presume to assume a power they were not elected to receive. Unless people want to vote for them they really should not interfere with the running of the country. The church should cater for the souls of man and leave affairs of state to those who have been voted to run said state.

    Leaning on politicians and using their faith against the good of the country's citizens is wrong. The government has a responsibility. If it fails to provide the equality we each and every one of us have a right to it should be held accountable.

    As for the men of cloth? Let me make peace with my God in my own way. I have heard your argument, I understand it, I now wish to exercise that God given right to free will. I will meet my maker soon enough and when I do I want to be able to honestly and without resentment say ''I weighed the options and chose to express the freedom of my equality in such a way.''