Thursday, December 30, 2004

FAMILY: The Call for its Defense

The family takes a center stage in our convention this year. I am very grateful to the organizers of this convention that they have chosen this topic, for it is not only timely, but about time that we the canon lawyers of the Philippines should come out strong in its defense and its promotion. After all the topic is not only relevant, it is proper to us and fulfilling too. It is proper, for canon lawyers are supposed to be drilled to defend the rights of persons, physical as well as juridical. Marriage and family is for sure an institution based on human nature with objective criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and of his acts” (cf. GS, n. 48). God himself is its author and the Church is the staunchest defender and promoter. Its existence and its concomitant rights are duly protected and shielded. In fact, there is no other single subject which is treated more extensively with so many canons in the Code of Canon Law than that of marriage and family. That is how the Church appreciates and gives premium to the nobility and importance of marriage and the family. But it needs men of the law to apply these legal provisions in day to day, flesh and blood realities. Besides, this topic on the family is fulfilling, for it serves to help us meet our deep inner calling. For us canon lawyers, if we care to listen carefully, there resonates from the deep recesses of our being that call to always stand up in defense and promotion of the rights of the Church, its institutions and its members.

But more specifically, to come out in defense of the family ought to be our response to an urgent call. The family is under siege. The attack against it is getting more and more searing through the passing of each day. Forces from many differing sectors are out to destroy it. A tragic situation no doubt, for we know how noble and important the family is.

The Nobility and Importance of the Family. The family is the most basic unit of society. Based on the marriage of one man and one woman, it is a nuclear community of persons that is open to the transmission of life and is committed to the rearing and education of children. As such it is the first and the most important setting in which every single person has to pass through. As John Paul II eloquently puts it: “It (family) is a path common to all, yet one which is particular, unique and unrepeatable, just as every individual is unrepeatable. Indeed, a person normally comes into the world within a family, and can be said to owe to the family the very fact of his existing as an individual… Even if someone chooses to remain single, the family continues to be, as it were, his existential horizon, that fundamental community in which the whole network of social relations is grounded, from the closest and most immediate to the most distant” (N. 2, Letter to Families, 1994). The family is therefore the natural setting in which the genealogy of every individual person begins. Cardinal Sin with his characteristic way of describing reality in crisp and simple lines puts it this: “I would like to consider the family always a place of joy, serenity and peace. But it is not a static milieu. In the family there is a great deal of interaction, of interpersonal relationships. Our parents, brothers and sisters, and other relatives, all contribute to our fulfillment as persons. If we trace the history of each one of us, we can easily see that it is in the family that we learn the basics of life” (“Address”, The Family: At the Center of Human Development, published by the Office on Women, CBCP, 2001, p. 1).

Furthermore, as Pope John Paul II was reflecting more intently into this role of the family in each individual person living on earth, saw it as a sacred place and without apprehension called it the “sanctuary of life”. It is here that life is transmitted and nurtured. It is here too that faith and love of God is handed over. It is a Church, a domestic Church (see LG, 11).

The family therefore has a very important role to society; it bears a very sensitive function to humanity. Family founded on marriage is a patrimony of humanity, a great good of priceless value, necessary for the life, development and the future of peoples. As Pope John Paul II often put it: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family” (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 86).

Family Threats. This is the institution that is under attack, the basic unit of human society that has to parry the external threats for its continued existence and survival. The threats come in different guises and in differing modes. Sometimes they come in the form of legislations in the name of common good; at other times in the guise of medical necessity or psychological needs. The delegates of the International Interfaith Conference on the Family held in Manila last 28th March 1999 in its collegial statement enumerated some of these threats to the family, namely: 1. attempts to replace the traditional or natural family with new “family forms”; 2. attempts to propose new “gender forms” to include homosexuals, lesbians, and so-called transsexuals, same-sex “marriage; 3. the introduction of the most violent forms of population control such as sterilization, abortion and euthanasia; 4. the downgrading of motherhood in the name of “women’s rights”; 5. the rejection and denial of ethical and moral considerations in favor of the economic in resolving family-related issues (cf. op. cit., The Family: At the Center of Human Development, p. 241.

The Holy Father identifies these threats as the logical offshoots of the civilization of death. At the root of this culture, he observes, is the crisis of concepts, the wrong conception of truth. Because of that, the language of the family founded on marriage do not carry anymore the essential meaning that it originally has. “Freedom”, “love”, “gift of self”, “human rights”, “rights of persons” are all distorted by one whose mind is soaked in the philosophy of “utilitarianism”, pragmatism, positivism. As he rightly observes it: “At the root of these negative phenomena there frequently lies a corruption of the idea and the experience of freedom, conceived not as a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan, for marriage and family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often against others, for one’s own selfish well-being” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 4). In his “Letter to Families” on the occasion of the 1994 celebration of the Year of the Family, he again brought out the main cause of all these threats to the family. He said: “Utilitarianism is the civilization of production and of use, a civilization of “things” and not of “persons”, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way that things are used” . In the context of civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members”(Letters to Families, n. 13).

In his Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, 27 January 1997, John Paul II after expounding the necessity of putting the person in the center of the juridical appreciations and applications of laws on marriage and family, again cited its prime antagonist: “At the root of such an attitude(against the essential properties of marriage and family) we see an individualistic culture, which is antithetical to a true personalism, Individualism presupposes a use of freedom in which the subject does what he wants, in which he himself is the one to establish the truth of whatever he finds pleasing or useful” ( L’Osservatore Romano, Februay 5, 1997).

Family Defense. In the face of such diverse and serious threats to the family, the Church has come out strongly with its response. The response came out in three forms: 1) doctrinal, that is, the Church, basing itself securely in the theological and anthropological reality, expounded in clearer language certain key points of her doctrine on marriage and the family; 2) structural, that is, establishing juridical structures and initiating programs and activities that defend and promote family values; 3) pastoral, that is, making appeal to all people of good will (whether Catholics or Christians, baptized or non-baptized) as well as to some groups and sectors of society to uphold the traditional values of the family.

1. Doctrinal Response. The Second Vatican Council in its document Gaudium et Spes already spelled out certain salient points of the Church doctrine regarding the family. Its purpose is to support and guide those who are struggling to preserve and promote the dignity of the family and its superlative value. The Code of Canon Law of 1983 dedicated one hundred eleven canons (111)on marriage and family (cc.1055-1165). The influence of the conciliar constitution Gaudium et Spes is evident. Obvious too is the personalist approach of some canons. Take for instance canon 1055. It conceives marriage as ordered by its very nature for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children. The hierarchical ordering of the ends of marriage as found in the 1917 Code is dropped. With the new formulation, it comes out that marriage is ordered to the twofold end: the good of the spouses and the good of the children. The ends of marriage are actually one, complimentary, inseparable. The effect of this re-structuring of the purposes of marriage is the underscoring the very dignity of the persons in the family and their being a community.
2. Structural Response. The most important juridical structure established by the Church in order to defend and promote the family is the Pontifical Council for the Family. It was established in 1981 by John Paul II as a Vatican “dicastery” with many areas of competence dealing with marriage, family and human life. Headed by the Cardinal Prefect himself, the Council primarily promotes the pastoral care of families and fosters their dignity and inherent rights in the Church and before civil society. As counterpart to this international Pontifical Council for the Family, the Commission on Family and Life was constituted by CBCP. It acts as lead agency for the defense and promotion of family concerns in the local churches in the Philippines. Meanwhile each and every diocese of the Philippines is also expected to put up its own structural counterpart to oversee that the family and its values are duly protected and promoted at the grass root level. Through these juridical structures, several programs and activities, international as well as local, related to the promotion and defense of the family have been organized. The latest activity is the Fourth World Meeting of Families held here in Manila last January 2003.
3. Pastoral Appeals. a. Appeal to men of good-will. Appeals to save the family and the rights of its members have been voiced by the Church. The impassioned ones are contained in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio of John Paul II who among others said: “The future of humanity passes by way of the family. It is therefore indispensable and urgent that every person of good will should endeavor to save and foster the values and requirements of the family. I feel that I must ask for a a particular effort in this field from the sons and daughters of the Church. Faith gives them full knowledge of God’s wonderful plan; they therefore have an extra reason fro caring for the reality that is the family in this time of trial and of grace”(n. 86). Another impassioned appeal was made recently by John Paul II in his Address to the Fourth World Meeting of Families held in the Philippines last January 25, 2003. He said: “Christian couples, be “good news for the third millennium” by bearing convincing and consistent witness to the truth about the family. The family founded on marriage is a patrimony of humanity, a great good of priceless value, necessary for the life, development and the future of peoples. According to the plan of creation established in the beginning (cf. Mt. 19: 4.8), the family is the setting in which the human person, made in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen 1:26), is conceived and born, grows and matures. The family, as the primary school in which the human person is formed (cf. Familiaris Consortio, 19-27), is indispensable for a true “human ecology” (Centesimus Annus, 39).

b. Appeal to those Experts in Law. In the International Interfaith Conference on the Family held in Manila on the 28th March 1999, the participants came out with an appeal: “We call on all the families of the world to join hands and work together in creating appropriate legal structures to counteract forces destructive to family life and marriage institutions and move to promote growth and development. Every member of the family always has significant role to play. One voice can always make a difference” (cf. op. cit., Family: At the Center of Human Development, p. 243). To empower these families addressed by the Declaration, those knowledgeable with Church’s laws are to come out and help them with their expertise. We, the canon lawyers of the Philippines, are then enjoined to do our part. How to do it depends on the result of our convention this year. Our organizers have invited two resource persons who could assist us along this line.

Meantime the addresses of the Holy Father to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota could give us some guidelines on how to effectively approach the laws of the Church, properly interpret them in consonance to these guidelines and apply them accordingly.

b. 1. Address to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, 27 January 1997 (www.vatican.va). Here, the Holy Father observed that the Second Vatican Council’s vision of marriage and family contains personalist aspects. As this view of marriage has entered in the codification of 1983 Code of Canon Law, the Holy Father has been asking what would be the juridical consequences that would necessarily flow from these personalist aspects of marriage and family. His answer is to place the persons at the center of the civility of love. For him this approach will not exclude the law. In fact “it demands it, leading to a rediscovery of law as an interpersonal reality and to a vision of juridical institutions that highlights their constitutive link with persons themselves, which is so essential in the case of marriage and the family” (Address of John Paul II, 27 January 1997, 3). It means that correct interpretation of the law and its application can only happen when the person involved is considered in all his/her reality and duly appreciated. Law is an interpersonal reality; juridical institutions demand the constitutive link with persons themselves. Hence, there is no conflict between law and the interpersonal aspects of marriage. Take for instance the “relations between the spouses, in fact, like those between parents and children, are constitutively relations of justice, and for that reason have in themselves juridical significance. Married and parent-child love is not merely an instinctive inclination, nor an arbitrary and reversible choice, but is rather a love that is due” (op. cit.).

Correct approach of the law therefore demands the integral vision of man. This implies knowledge of the human person in all its reality. It has first of all to keep in mind the essential nature of the person, the essential nature of his conjugal dimension and the resulting natural inclination to marriage. Human person, that is, a free and conscious agent in relation to another, has a “nature” in the metaphysical sense. By virtue of his nature, the person is subject to essential rights and obligations of marriage which are objective and juridical (cf. op. cit., 5).

Integral vision of man includes man as redeemed. It envisioned man with a sound realism “in its conception of personal freedom, place between the limits and influences of a human nature burdened by sin and the always sufficient help of divine grace” (op. cit. 4).

A novel approach to the law and its interpretation this is. We the canon lawyers are enjoined to enter into it. If apprehension takes the better of us, let us be reminded of what the Holy Father said to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota. He said: “On these subjects the Magisterium of the Church goes well beyond the mere juridical dimension, but it does keep it constantly in mind. As a result, a preeminent source for understanding and correctly applying canonical marriage law is the Church’s same magisterium, which is responsible for authentically interpreting the word of God concerning this reality (see Dei Verbum, no. 10), including its juridical aspects. The canonical norms are only the juridical expression of an underlying anthropological and theological reality, and we must be in constant touch with reality if we are to avoid the risk of facile interpretations. The guarantee of certitude, in the structure of the People of God as communion, is offered by the living Magisterium of the Pastors” (op. cit., 3).

2. Address of John Paul II to the Prelate Auditors, Officials and Advocates of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota., 30 January 2003 (www.vatican.va)

In this address the Holy Father highlights the importance and the significance of the religious dimension of marriage and the family. He cited the phenomenon of many recent matrimonial cases and observed that there is a pattern. The pattern is the diminishing awareness of the spouses of the significance of the sacramentality of the Christian marriage. Spouses do not consider anymore the transcendence of Christian marriage, its intimate meaning, its intrinsic supernatural value, its positive effects on the conjugal life and family. He also observed that secularism has much to blame to this modern phenomena in Christian marriage. He said: “Today’s strongly secularized mentality tends to affirm the human values of the institution of the family while detaching them from religious values and proclaiming them as fully independent of God. Influenced as it is by models of life that are too often presented by the mass media, today’s mentality asks, ‘Why must one spouse always be faithful to the other?’ A person of faith can easily answer that question; but a person who is cut off from that religious dimension of marriage is in a quandary. Caught in a crisis, this person of no faith “will even reformulate the preceding question in this way: why it is always necessary to love the other spouse even when so many apparently justifying reasons would lead one to leave?”

Confronted with such a phenomenon, the Holy Father enjoined the audience to help the families to value the significance of the sacramentality of marriage in their own lives. He also urged them to always consider the religious dimension when dealing with sacramental marriage. He said: “The consideration of the sacramentality highlights the transcendence of your function, the bond that links it to the economy of salvation. The religious dimension should for this reason permeate all your work. From handling scientific studies on marriage to the daily activity of the administration of justice, there is no room in the Church for a vision of marriage that is merely immanent and profane, simply because such a vision is not true theologically and juridically” (op. cit., 6).

Conclusion. We are in the position to defend and to promote the traditional values of marriage and family. Meantime the Church Magisterium is enjoining us to have an integral vision of marriage, appreciate the significance of the sacramentality of Christian marriage, and put the spouses and children in the center of the law. How all of these will work out concretely in our area of responsibility are questions that we have to discuss during our convention. To assist us the organizers have dutifully invited two resource speakers. With them and with your cooperation, we are hopeful that our convention this year will be successful in the name of our families.


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