Saturday, 5 February 2011

Times: The family in Europe today
Wednesday, 2nd February 2011 by Christine Galea

Over the past 10 years, many things have changed in Europe and this is particularly true with respect to the family. The extension of the European Union, to comprise most of the countries from central and eastern Europe, with most of these countries joining the Schengen agreement, which includes the abolition of physical borders between the countries, heightens the diversification of contacts, economic ambitions, professional careers, etc. Not to mention a decrease in the ability to reflect and a lifestyle that has become shaped by consumerism. These are all decisive changes that have profoundly affected the structures of society in Europe; consequently the lives of individual people and, in particular, family life.

Usually, when we speak of families, most mindsets seize the picture of a married couple of the opposite sex, with children, living in a household together. Yet, as we face the new challenges of an expanding Europe, where mobility is increasing, the way we define marriage, partnership and families is perhaps being altered. The changing concept and structure of the family generates different patterns of questioning and understanding life, values and moral standards. This places the family in Europe in a very fragile and precarious situation.

The first form of fragility lies in the legitimacy of marriage as a social institution. In some European countries, the very basis of marriage is being questioned and a widespread opinion holds that, although family is still valued, marriage is outdated. Indeed, the number of young people living together before marriage is continually growing. This is becoming more and more acceptable and is no longer considered as a moral problem. As a result of this, the number of children born out of wedlock is rising.

Another problem is the “pro-divorce mentality”, which finds its confirmation in the growing divorce rate and its justification. The failure of the relational quality is an important factor for breaking up a marriage and the prevailing culture is favouring the separation of spouses and divorce as the solution to a couple’s problems.

A third problem is the evolution of de facto and same-sex unions. In some European countries, these unions have been integrated into the juridical framework and, although this framework has not always been presented as an alternative to marriage, it has dealt a blow to the family based on the conjugal bond.

Yet, despite these many challenges, the so-called “traditional” family in Europe, based on a solid conjugal bond, seems to be faring much better than expected and most couples continue to live faithfully. To form a family remains a basic aspiration of most people as the place where they can stimulate themselves socially and address the desire for personal fulfilment and meaning. Indeed, to quote Pope John Paul II, “the family has always been an element of cohesion and strength and, even when bitterly contested, has been the object of hopes, desires, projects and nostalgia” (June 25, 2004).

So what exactly is the situation of the family in Europe today? This is the question that will be tackled during a conference which will be held on Monday at 6.30 p.m. at the Phoenicia Ballroom, in Floriana.

The guest speaker will be Francesco Belletti, director of the International Centre for Family Studies in Milan.

Prof. Belletti is a member of the National Council of Pastoral Family at the family office of the Italian Episcopal Conference and, since 2009, he has been a consultant of the Pontifical Council for the Family. He is the author of various research volumes and papers in specialised and well-known magazines.

The conference is organised by ProġettImpenn on the occasion of Family Week (February 7 to 13) and the public is invited to attend.

The author is a member of the Diocesan Commission for the Family.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on the Times' website.]

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