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1st European-Catholic-Orthodox Forum's statement on the family

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  • Nina_Dimas_42
    http://www.interfax-religion.com/?act=documents&div=136 16 December 2008, 00:16 The First European Catholic-Orthodox Forum`s statement on the family The
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 15, 2008
      16 December 2008, 00:16

      The First European Catholic-Orthodox Forum`s statement on the family

      The Family: A Good for Humanity


      By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we, thirty representatives of the
      Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches in Europe, from countries
      stretching from the Urals to the Atlantic, have gathered together for
      the First European Catholic-Orthodox Forum. We express our gratitude
      to all who have worked for the success of this meeting, especially to
      the Archbishop of Trent who warmly received us and offered
      hospitality. The meeting has been organised by the Council of
      European Bishops Conferences (CCEE), in close collaboration with
      various Orthodox Churches and some of the dicasteries of the Holy

      We have expressed our deep sorrow at the sudden death of His
      Holiness, Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and All Russia, who had
      warmly extended his blessing upon the project of this Forum.

      What is the purpose of the Forum? It is not to discuss theological
      issues that are treated at other levels. Our task rather is to
      concentrate on anthropological issues of crucial importance for the
      present and future of humanity. The goal of the Forum is to help
      define common positions on social and moral questions. By engaging in
      this exchange, we help each other realise just how close our moral
      and social doctrines are. At the same time we make the world aware of
      our concerns.

      We agreed to dedicate our first encounter to "The Family: A Good for
      Humanity". Countless numbers of families have contributed so much to
      European culture. We are grateful to them and in our prayer for
      families we remember specially those going through difficulties.

      Over our four days together we have discussed topics relating to
      marriage and family, as well as various aspects of sexual ethics. It
      has been an opportunity for us to proclaim and live our faith, pray
      to the Lord for grace and reflect on how we might collaborate more.
      In particular, animated by the love of Christ for humanity, we have
      focussed on the family, acknowledging all the efforts being done to
      promote family life on our continent, but also voicing our concern
      for the deteriorating condition of family life that is evident in
      many ambits of society.

      Marriage and the family belong to the created order and are not a
      product of mere human decision. Written into the very nature of human
      being and revealed to us in the Bible, the family, founded on
      marriage, was established by God as a union between man and woman.
      The Bible presents us with a vision of the family as a unity of life-
      giving love, an indissoluble relationship, open to life.

      I - Marriage and Family

      Over the course of these days, we listened to some reports concerning
      the views of Catholic and Orthodox Churches in Europe. The following
      is a summary.

      A. Orthodox Views on Marriage and the Family

      In the Christian Orthodox tradition marriage is viewed as an eternal
      union of spouses, strengthened not only by physical, but also by
      spiritual intimacy. In spite of widespread belief to the contrary,
      the Orthodox Church "by no means calls on its members to shun the
      body or sexual intimacy as such, for physical relations between a man
      and a woman are blessed by God in marriage, where they become a
      source of the continuation of the human race and express chaste love,
      total community and the "unity of souls and bodies" of the spouses."
      According to the teaching of the Orthodox Church, "the transformation
      of these relations, which are pure and worthy according to God's
      plan, as well as of the body itself into an object of degrading
      exploitation and trade aimed at the receiving of egoistic and
      impersonal, loveless and distorted satisfaction, deserves
      condemnation." (The Bases of the Social Conception of the Russian
      Orthodox Church X, 6.)

      According to the Orthodox understanding, an essential element of the
      marital union and the fruit of the love between man and wife are
      children, the birth and upbringing of which are one of the main goals
      of marriage (Ibid., X 3-4). In accordance with this view, the
      Orthodox Church considers the freely willed rejection of childbirth
      and the artificial termination of pregnancy inadmissible. As the
      equivalent of murder, abortion is unequivocally rejected by the
      Church, which insists on the personal responsibility of all who take
      part in this act: the woman, the man (in the case of his consent) and
      the doctor (Ibid., XII,2).

      On the basis of Holy Scripture and Tradition the Orthodox Church
      denounces homosexual relations, seeing in them the distortion of
      man's divinely created nature (Ibid., XII, 9). It also rejects all
      forms of fornication, adultery and marital infidelity, as well as
      prostitution and promiscuity. At the same time, it recognizes the
      need to pastorally assist those people who have disordered
      inclinations and whose way of life does not correspond to the
      Gospel's moral teaching.

      B. Catholic Positions on Marriage and the Family

      According to Catholic teaching, as affirmed also by the Orthodox,
      Jesus Christ raised natural marriage to the dignity of a
      sacrament: "The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman
      establish between themselves a partnership of their whole life and
      which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the
      spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has,
      between the baptised, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity
      of a sacrament" (CIC can. 1055 - 1).

      This sacramental value requires fidelity unto death among the spouses
      in the indissolubility of the marriage bond. Marital love between the
      spouses is the basis of the family, the first personal communion into
      which a human being is born. It must be promoted by society as its
      fundamental cell. The Catholic Church recognises the inseparable link
      willed by God between the unitive and procreative meanings of married
      love. Exclusion of offspring is therefore contrary to the unity of
      marital love. Sexuality is recognised as a dimension of the image of
      God in human beings and so has a personal value. Men and women must
      learn in the language of the body their vocation to responsible love
      as a true gift of themselves. Other sexual expressions such as
      fornication, homosexual acts and sexual unions outside marriage are
      contrary to this vocation to love.

      II. Mission of the Family

      After outlining some elements of the teachings of our Churches, we
      also underlined how much we hold in common. And so we would like to
      underline the following issues that we together consider important
      for the well-being of society.

      A. Key Common Points

      God's commandment to the first human family remains relevant to all
      subsequent families: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth
      and subdue it' (Gen 1:28). Catholics and Orthodox agree that the
      family is the unique moral environment in which the gift of human
      life should be transmitted by the marital act.

      The human being is the only one created in the image and likeness of
      God and this constitutes his particular dignity. We do not give life
      to ourselves, nor are parents the sole source of human life, since
      divine intervention is necessary. The sacredness of human life from
      conception to natural death should be fully respected.

      We acknowledge the positive international documents that support the
      family. For instance, art. 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human
      Rights states that: "Man and woman of full age, without any
      limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to
      marry and to found a family" and "the family is the natural and
      fundamental group of society and is entitled to protection by society
      and the State." In the past the family and childbirth were regarded
      as something sacred. In recent years, however, these notions are
      questioned. There is an attempt to change language and introduce
      ambiguity into international documents under the ideological
      introduction of the gender theory.

      Today both men and women are equally busy with the realization of
      their professional potential, and both have to bear the burden of
      financial responsibility for the family. Under these circumstances
      the possibilities of bearing and rearing children are drastically

      A particularly tragic phenomenon has emerged in twenty first century
      Europe. Due to wages that do not sustain families, hundred of
      thousands of mothers and fathers have had to leave their families to
      go to wealthier countries to provide for the basic needs of their
      families. This has resulted in increased numbers of divorces, and in
      great suffering to children, with many of them being deprived of the
      presence of their parents' love and care.

      The secular vision prevailing in modern society often undermines the
      notion of motherhood as a personal vocation. It is sometimes
      devalued. We, Orthodox and Catholics together, insist on the
      sacredness of motherhood and on the need for society to respect it.
      Mothers who stay at home in order to raise and educate children
      should be afforded support both morally and financially. Their
      mission is in no way less important than that of other respected
      professions. Motherhood is a mission, and as such it deserves
      unconditional support and respect. 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.

      B. Family and Education

      Having given the gift of life to their children, parents are their
      first educators. "The right and duty of parents to give education is
      essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life;
      it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of
      others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship
      between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and
      inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to
      others or usurped by others". (Familiaris Consortium 36). Integral
      education within the family is not limited simply to the development
      of a child's natural gifts and capacities, but refers also to
      spiritual values, in particular the handing on of faith. Parents are
      to be the first witnesses of the Gospel. In the family life we learn
      the meaning of faith as the true light that guides a person's life.

      The most suitable environment for the harmonious development of the
      child is the family, composed of a father, mother and siblings. Other
      bodies that help the family in education of their children must act
      in collaboration with parents, passing on the principles and values
      which always remain the parents' primary responsibility to transmit.
      In the context of education one often hears about the rights of the
      child. This is good but such rights must always be considered within
      the environment of the family.

      The issue of "sex education" merits particular attention. Here, too,
      parents are the first teachers. The principle aim of such teaching is
      directed towards forming young people in the meaning of married
      love: "Education in love as self-giving is also the indispensable
      premise for parents called to give their children a clear and
      delicate sex education" (Ibid., 37). In the family, where we have the
      first experience of personal communion, we are introduced into love
      in all its dimensions: the family is the first place of personal
      socialization. Furthermore, parents must provide information
      proportionate to each stage of the individual development of their
      children. Other bodies, such as the school, for example, constitute,
      in this sense, an aid for parents.

      Particular influence is brought to bear on the education of children
      and young people by the mass media that strongly condition family
      relations. Young people imitate the examples communicated through the
      media. Alongside many positives aspects, however, the means of
      communication unfortunately and increasingly present pornographic
      material and an individualist, egoistic culture.

      Families that teach their children well, attentive to establishing
      proper relationships between all family members, constitute a
      valuable human capital that has great importance for society in both
      its economic and spiritual well-being. Family life creates culture:
      man learns the essential language of life and all that helps him
      become fully human. All culture, in its beginnings and in its
      development is a family event.

      C. The Crisis of our Society: Challenges and Opportunity

      Today we are faced with a certain ideology of culture that emerged
      with the sexual revolution in the last century. This has brought
      about a deep crisis in the vision of what it is to be human and
      family life. It is a major challenge to the evangelisation of the
      Christian Churches that are attentive to the needs of the heart of
      the human being and his or her calling to full life in Christ.

      Among the profound changes of our society, a deep economic crisis has
      recently emerged. The banking, financial and economic crisis of today
      is one of the indicators of a major turning point in our global and
      European society. We are all rightly concerned. But another vital
      element of this turning point is the crisis in regard to family life.
      The demographic trends alone in Europe are clear signals of a crisis
      much greater than the financial one. 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. We appeal to political and social leaders to address this
      major social issue before it is too late. Without this attention,
      lack of financial funds will pale before the lack of social and human
      resources that the family brings.

      On the other hand, we express gratitude for what has been done. Many
      positive developments have helped the family: recent social and
      economic recognition in some countries of the contribution of
      motherhood to society, financial and social assistance for the care
      of disabled and elderly, medical cover for those disadvantaged
      members of society.

      III - Recommendations and Appeals

      In recent years the Churches have become aware of the importance of
      supporting spiritual renewal and in particular accompanying young
      people as they journey towards becoming husbands and wives, fathers
      and mothers. While assisting all families pastorally, we recognise
      that special care needs to be given to newly established families.
      Marginalised families (and often migrant families are such) deserve
      attentive care. The Church's mission is to give hope to our society
      that today is faced with many challenges. We need to show signs of
      solidarity and through the media communicate our positive message
      regarding the family.

      All of us together, Catholics and Orthodox, affirm the following
      recommendations and appeal to all people of good will in society to
      act together with us on them:

      1. There is a most urgent need to rediscover the understanding of the
      family and marriage. We believe that one of the primary causes of the
      current demographic crisis and all related crises is the rejection of
      this understanding. Much effort needs to be invested in the promotion
      of family life. The family needs to be rediscovered for what it
      offers society. In the family, we have homes that are creative,
      dynamic and vital schools of socialisation in many ways: educating
      family members to a discovery of the value of community and
      otherness, forming them in a culture of giving, encouraging openness
      to diversity in solidarity, facilitating mutuality in communication
      and providing a dynamic towards discovery and novelty, fruit of
      interpersonal endeavour.

      2. We affirm that it is only in relationship to God that all human
      beings blossom in their full humanity. Accordingly, it is our belief
      that promoting family institution, based on the marriage of man and
      woman, Europe will be furthering this fundamental unit of society
      that carries out a vital liberating, fulfilling and enlightening role
      in society. To recognise this is the beginning of a renewal of our
      European culture that is seeking its way forward at this time of
      profound soul-searching. Our appeal to political and social leaders
      is the following: The family is not an outdated notion! Rightly
      rediscovered, it is the future. Without the mutual love of the family
      our society dies.

      3. We affirm that, since they have conferred life on their children,
      parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate
      them. They must be acknowledged as the generally best suited and the
      first and foremost educators of their children. We call upon the
      political institutions to ensure the parents' right to educate their
      children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions,
      taking into account the cultural traditions of the family. This
      includes the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary
      to educate their children in keeping with their convictions. In
      particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must
      always be carried out according to their choice and under their close

      4. We see a great danger in the apparent subordination of the needs
      of children and the well-being of the family to economic interests.

      5. We call upon all public institutions to ensure that policies
      regarding remuneration for work are consistent with establishing and
      maintaining a family with dignity. This could be obtained by tax laws
      which recognise the indispensible contribution of the family to
      society. 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
      call upon the public institutions to recognise and respect the work
      of the mother in the home because of its value for the family and for
      society. The issue of "child care" needs further consideration with
      the best interests of the child as the guiding principle.

      6. Finally, we call to mind the moral choice on which the future of
      the whole of humanity depends. Its essence is expressed as a central
      point of the Covenant God made with the humankind which is fulfilled
      in Christ: "See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and
      death and evil; In that I command thee this day is to love the Lord
      thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments... that
      thou may live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee...
      I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore
      choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deut. 30:15-19).

      IV - Follow up

      The experience of this Forum has been very positive in building up
      our fraternity and enabling us to share in our Christian concern for
      people. On the basis of this good experience, we intend to meet
      regularly to strengthen our mutual relations and address common
      challenges facing Europe.

      Trent, Italy
      December 14, 2008
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