Vatican City, 9 March 2012 (VIS) – This morning in the Vatican Benedict XVI received a group of prelates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who have recently competed their “ad limina” visit. Extracts of his English-language remarks to them are given below:
“In this talk I would like to discuss … the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality. It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost”.
“In this regard, particular mention must be made of the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage. The Church’s conscientious effort to resist this pressure calls for a reasoned defence of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation. Sexual differences cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the definition of marriage. Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike.
“In our conversations, some of you have pointed with concern to the growing difficulties encountered in communicating the Church’s teaching on marriage and the family in its integrity, and to a decrease in the number of young people who approach the Sacrament of Matrimony. Certainly we must acknowledge deficiencies in the catechesis of recent decades, which failed at times to communicate the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament, the vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity”.
“On the practical level, marriage preparation programmes must be carefully reviewed to ensure that there is greater concentration on their catechetical component and their presentation of the social and ecclesial responsibilities entailed by Christian marriage. In this context we cannot overlook the serious pastoral problem presented by the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society. I encourage your efforts to develop clear pastoral and liturgical norms for the worthy celebration of matrimony which embody an unambiguous witness to the objective demands of Christian morality, while showing sensitivity and concern for young couples”.
“In this great pastoral effort there is an urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity. … It is not merely a question of presenting arguments, but of appealing to an integrated, consistent and uplifting vision of human sexuality. The richness of this vision is more sound and appealing than the permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters; these in fact constitute a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young. … Chastity, as the Catechism reminds us, involves an ongoing “apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom”. In a society which increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule this essential dimension of Christian teaching, young people need to be reassured that “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing, of what makes life free, beautiful and great”.
“Let me conclude by recalling that all our efforts in this area are ultimately concerned with the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships. Children are the greatest treasure and the future of every society: truly caring for them means recognising our responsibility to teach, defend and live the moral virtues which are the key to human fulfilment. It is my hope that the Church in the United States, however chastened by the events of the past decade, will persevere in its historic mission of educating the young and thus contribute to the consolidation of that sound family life which is the surest guarantee of intergenerational solidarity and the health of society as a whole”.