THE bishops of the Roman Catholic Church have blamed the
collapse of marriage in the West on high taxation, job uncertainty,
and low wages.
A document summarising discussions at the first week of the
extraordinary synod on the family in Rome (News,
10 October) said that many young couples were choosing to
cohabit because marriage had become a "luxury" which they could not
The document, called the Relatio post disceptationem
(report after discussion), suggested that, instead of condemning
such couples, the Church should welcome them, and assist them with
"patience and delicacy" to recognise marriage as a vocation.
The document was also pastoral in its tone towards the issues of
homosexual unions, and the reception of holy communion by people
who had divorced and remarried.
The report was presented on Monday, the start of the second week
of discussions during the two-week meeting called by Pope Francis
to discuss the range of pastoral challenges to the family. The
first of its kind since 1980, the synod brings together 184 bishops
from around the world, as well as 69 other delegates.
It will conclude on Sunday with the beatification of Pope Paul
VI, the Pontiff whose 1968 encyclical letter Humanae Vitae forbade
married couples from using artificial methods of birth control to
regulate their fertility.
The "mid-term report" reveals that many of the bishops believe
that marriage breakdown, the rise of cohabitation, and the collapse
of the birth rate in the West are all being exacerbated by economic
factors. Many modern families felt crushed by the socio-economic
situation of the 21st century, the report said.
People often experienced "growing precariousness" in the
workplace "as a nightmare", the document said, adding that "heavy"
taxation "certainly does not encourage young people to
It continued: "Economic factors sometimes have enough weight to
contribute to the sharp drop in the birth rate which weakens the
social fabric, compromising the relationship between generations
and rendering the view of the future less certain. Being open to
life is an intrinsic requirement of married love."
The bishops also blamed such factors for the high divorce rate
in many countries. "The number of divorces is growing, and it is
not rare to encounter cases in which decisions are taken solely on
the basis of economic factors," it said.
The emerging situation meant that the Church needed to
reappraise its attitude towards couples who were cohabiting, the
report suggested. "When a union reaches a notable level of
stability through a public bond, is characterised by deep
affection, responsibility with regard to offspring, and capacity to
withstand tests, it may be seen as a germ to be accompanied in
development towards the sacrament of marriage.
"Very often, however, cohabitation is established not with a
view to a possible future marriage, but rather without any
intention of establishing an institutionally-recognised
"For this reason, what is required is a missionary conversion,"
the bishops continued. "It is necessary not to stop at an
announcement that is merely theoretical, and has nothing to do with
people's real problems.
"It must not be forgotten that the crisis of faith has led to a
crisis in matrimony and the family, and, as a result, the
transmission of faith from parents to children has often been
interrupted. Confronted by a strong faith, the imposition of
certain cultural perspectives that weaken the family is of no
The bishops said that, while some people cohabited because they
rejected commitment, others were afflicted by such "material
poverty" that they viewed getting married as "a luxury" that was
The observations of the bishops come just months after a UK
charity set up to promote marriage, the Marriage Foundation,
predicted that 47 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men in
Britain who are now aged 20 will never marry.
Research by the charity showed a contemporary generational shift
away from marriage as couples increasingly cohabit without ever
taking the decision to commit for life. Cohabitees, however,
account for 19 per cent of parents, but 50 per cent of all family
breakdown in the UK. Just seven per cent of cohabiting couples stay
together until a child reaches 15 years.
Such trends reflect a dramatic change in lifestyles compared
with the baby-boomer generation, in which 87 per cent of men and 92
per cent of women married at some stage. In 1970, the peak year for
marriage, 564,818 men and women aged 25 got married. In 2010, just
56,598 tied the knot: a fall of 90 per cent.
The synod document reported that the bishops had also discussed
pastoral challenges posed by divorced people, saying that those who
had not remarried should draw strength from the regular reception
of holy communion.
It reflected divisions among the bishops over the continued
prohibition from the sacrament of divorcees who had remarried,
calling for further theological study. It also advised Roman
Catholics to treat such people respectfully, "avoiding any language
or behaviour that might make them feel discriminated against.
"For the Christian community, looking after them is not a
weakening of its faith and its testimony to the indissolubility of
marriage, but rather it expresses precisely its charity in its
caring," the document said.
The document revealed no shift on Roman Catholic teaching
against contraception, and it explicitly rejected same-sex marriage
and the international promotion of "gender ideology".
But it recognised the "gifts and qualities" that homosexuals
offered to Christian communities, and asked whether the RC
Church could value their "sexual orientation without compromising
Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony".
"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual
unions, it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid
to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the
life of the partners," the document noted.
"Furthermore, the Church pays special attention to the children
who live with couples of the same sex, emphasising that the needs
and rights of the little ones must always be given priority."