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RC bishops blame collapse of marriage on the economy

13 October 2014


Episcopal ink: Bishops make notes during the presentation of the summary document from the first week of the Synod, on Monday morning 

Episcopal ink: Bishops make notes during the presentation of the summary document from the first week of the Synod, on Monday morning&nbs...

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 afford.

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 marriage".

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 relationship.

"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 importance."

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 unobtainable.

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."

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