February 5, 2010

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

‘Charity in Truth’: Marriage and sexuality

John F. Fink(Ninth in a series of columns)

Although there is much more in Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical “Charity in Truth” (“Caritas in Veritate”) than I have been able to cover, I will conclude this series of columns by examining what he said about marriage and sexuality.

As is true of everything else in the encyclical, he wrote about those issues within the context of the Church’s social justice doctrines, and specifically concerning the development of peoples.

He wrote that, because of what is happening in many parts of the world, it has become both a social and economic necessity “to hold up to future generations the beauty of marriage and the family, and the fact that these institutions correspond to the deepest needs and dignity of the person.”

Because of this, he wrote, “States are called to enact policies promoting the centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society, and to assume responsibility for its economic and fiscal needs, while respecting its essentially relational character.”

And what is happening in many parts of the world to prompt the pope to come to his conclusions? He pointed out that, although some populous nations have been able to emerge from poverty thanks in part to the size of their population and the talents of their people, other formerly prosperous nations are in a state of decline because of their falling birth rates.

This has become a crucial problem for highly affluent societies, he said, obviously thinking mainly about countries in Europe where the birth rates are now well below replacement level. This creates an aging population that puts a strain on social welfare systems, increases their costs, reduces the availability of qualified workers, and, the pope said, “narrows the ‘brain pool’ upon which nations can draw for their needs.”

The pope disagreed with those who consider population increase as the primary cause of underdevelopment in poor countries. He pointed to “the significant reduction in infant mortality and the rise in average life expectancy” in economically developed countries as contrasted with “the signs of crisis observable in societies that are registering an alarming decline in their birth rate.”

He called for “responsible procreation,” which, he said, “has a positive contribution to make to integral human development.”

Such development, he said, includes full respect for human values in the exercise of our sexuality.

Sexuality, he said, “cannot be reduced merely to pleasure or entertainment, nor can sex education be reduced to technical instruction aimed solely at protecting the interested parties from possible disease or the ‘risk’ of procreation. This would be to impoverish and disregard the deeper meaning of sexuality.”

He repeated that it is irresponsible to view sexuality merely as a source of pleasure or to regulate it through strategies of mandatory birth control. We must defend the fact that it is the family that has the primary competence in the area of sexuality, not the state. Parents, he said, must be suitably prepared to undertake their responsibilities. †

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