The ideal family

  • September 24, 2007

{mosimage}Just as Canadians were waking up to discover that for the first time in history married couples were in the minority earlier this month, they were also reminded of what they had lost. The words came from Pope Benedict XVI, and they were the epitome of common sense.

In remarks to Slovak ambassador Jozef Dravecky on Sept. 13, the Pope had some comments on the value of the family — the family that Catholics know of as man and woman, married, and, with good fortune, in many cases children.

“The family is the nucleus in which a person first learns human love and cultivates the virtues of responsibility, generosity and fraternal concern. Strong families are built on the foundation of strong marriages. Strong societies are built on the foundation of strong families. Indeed, all civic communities should do what they can to promote economic and social policies that aid young married couples and facilitate their desire to raise a family.”

It’s worth quoting a little more of the Pope’s comments in this regard: “Far from remaining indifferent to marriage, the state must acknowledge, respect and support this venerable institution as the stable union between a man and a woman who willingly embrace a life-long commitment of love and fidelity.”

In Canada, today, we are a long, long way from that ideal. The Globe and Mail front page headline the very day of Benedict’s remarks was “Canada redefines family.” The article described a Statistics Canada report which revealed that 51.5 per cent of the adult population is not married (the first time married couples have been a minority), that 15.5 per cent of all couples lived in common-law relationships (a 19-per-cent jump since 2001), that 15.9 per cent of families were led by single parents, that same-sex couples comprise 0.6 per cent of all couples, and the percentage of divorced Canadians is 8.1, up from 3.5 per cent two decades ago.

The nature of the family is changing in other ways, too, though not all are negative. Young adults are living with their parents for longer periods and more men are acting as single parents, reflecting a growth in their willingness to accept responsibility for their children.

It must be stressed what the Pope is not saying about public policy and family life. He isn’t saying that other forms of family cannot provide much-needed love, support and care for children or for the spouses in those relationships. He is saying that the traditional family serves a unique and necessary role in supporting healthy societies.

But the Pope’s starting point is foreign to our society’s way of thinking. The prevailing wisdom says families exist to provide maximum benefit to the individual, and that the individual has no duty beyond his/her own happiness. The Pope sees the individual and families as being at the service of humanity and God. That emphasis makes all the difference.

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