PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY
FAMILY, MARRIAGE AND “DE FACTO” UNIONS
One very widespread phenomenon that calls strongly upon the
conscience of the Christian community today is the growing number of de facto
unions in society as a whole, with the disaffection for the stability of
marriage that this entails. The Church cannot fail to shed light on this
reality in its discernment of the “signs of the times”.
Aware of the grave repercussions of this social and pastoral
situation, the Pontifical Council for the Family organized a series of study
meetings in 1999 and during the first months of the year 2000. Some outstanding
persons and well-known experts from different parts of the world took part in
order to analyze this delicate problem that has such great transcendence for the
Church and the world.
The present document is the fruit of this study. It takes up
a current and difficult problem that touches the very heart of human relations,
the most delicate part of the intimate union between the family and life, the
most sensitive areas of the human heart. At the same time, the undeniable public
transcendence of the present international political juncture makes it fitting
and urgent to offer a word of guidance addressed especially to those who have
responsibilities in this area. It is they in their legislative task who
can give juridical consistency to the institution of marriage or, on the
contrary, based on an unreal understanding of personal problems, weaken the
consistency of the common good that protects this natural institution.
These reflections are also addressed to pastors who must receive
and guide so many Christians today and accompany them along the way toward
appreciating the natural value that is protected by the institution of marriage
and ratified by the Christian sacrament. The family based on marriage
corresponds to the Creator’s design “at the beginning” (Mt. 19:4).
In the Kingdom of God, where no seed can be sowed other than that of the truth
that is already written in the human heart, the only seed capable of “bearing
fruit through perseverance” (Lk.
8:15), this truth becomes mercy, understanding and a call to recognize in
Jesus the “light of the world” (Jn.
8:12), and the power that frees from the bonds of evil.
This document also proposes to contribute in a positive way to a
dialogue that will clarify the truth about these matters and the requirements
that come from the natural order itself, and to take part in the socio-political
debate and the responsibility for the common good.
May God grant that these serene and responsible considerations,
which are shared by so many persons of good will, redound to the benefit of that
community of life that is necessary for the Church and the world: the family.
Vatican City, July 26, 2000
Feast of Saints Joaquim and
Ann, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Alfonso Cardinal López Trujillo
Most Rev. Francisco Gil Hellín
(1) The so-called “de facto unions” have been taking on special
importance in society during these past years. Some initiatives insist on
their institutional recognition and even their equivalence to families
originating in a marriage commitment. Before a question of such importance
with so many future repercussions for the entire human community, this
Pontifical Council proposes in the following reflections to call attention to
the danger that such recognition and equivalence would represent for the
identity of the matrimonial union, and the grave damage this would entail for
the family and the common good of society.
In this document, after considering the social aspect of de facto
unions, their constitutive elements, and their existential motivations, the
problem is taken up of the juridical recognition and equivalency of de facto
unions, first with regard to the family based on marriage, and then with regard
to the whole of society. The document then deals with the family as a
social value, the objective values to be fostered, and the duty in justice on
the part of society to protect and promote the family rooted in marriage.
Afterwards, some aspects raised in relation to Christian marriage are studied in
depth. Some general criteria are also presented for pastoral discernment
which are necessary to guide the Christian communities.
The considerations presented here are not only addressed to those
who explicitly recognize the Catholic Church as “the church of the living God,
the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tm.
3:15), but also to all Christians who belong to the different Churches and
Christian communities, and to all those who are sincerely committed to the
precious good of the family, the fundamental cell of society. As the
Second Vatican Council teaches, “The well-being of the individual person and of
human and Christian society is intimately linked with the healthy condition of
that community produced by marriage and family. Hence Christians and all men who
hold this community in high esteem sincerely rejoice in the various ways by
which men today find help in fostering this community of love and perfecting its
life, and by which parents are assisted in their lofty calling”.
I – “De facto Unions”
Social aspect of de facto unions
(2) The term “de facto unions” includes a whole series of many
heterogeneous human realities whose common element is that of being forms of
cohabitation (of a sexual kind) which are not marriage. De facto unions
are characterized precisely by the fact that they ignore, postpone, or even
reject the conjugal commitment. Grave consequences are derived from this.
In marriage, through the covenant of conjugal love, all the
responsibilities that result from the bond that has been made are taken on
publicly. From this public assumption of responsibilities a good results
not only for the spouses themselves and for the children in their affective and
formational growth, but also for the other members of the family.
Therefore, the family based on marriage is a fundamental and precious good for
the whole society whose most solid fabric is built on the values that are
developed in family relations and guaranteed by stable marriage. The good
generated by marriage is basic for the Church which recognizes the family as the
“domestic Church”. All this
is endangered by abandoning the institution of marriage, which is implicit in de
(3) Some may wish to, and may use sexuality in a way other than
that written by God into human nature and the specifically human end of their
acts. This goes against the interpersonal language of love and seriously
endangers, through an objective disorder, the true dialogue of life willed by
the Creator and Redeemer of humankind. The doctrine of the Catholic Church
is well known by public opinion, and it is not necessary to repeat it here.
It is the social dimension of the problem that requires greater reflection and
makes it possible to point out, especially to those with public
responsibilities, the inappropriateness of elevating these private situations to
the category of public interest. With the pretext of regulating one
context of social and juridical cohabitation, attempts are made to justify the
institutional recognition of de facto unions. In this way, de facto unions
would turn into an institution, and their rights and duties would be sanctioned
by law to the detriment of the family based on marriage. The de facto unions
would be put on a juridical level similar to marriage; moreover, this kind of
cohabitation would be publicly qualified as a “good” by elevating it to a
condition similar to, or equivalent to marriage, to the detriment of truth and
justice. In this way, a very strong contribution would be made toward the
breakdown of the natural institution of marriage which is absolutely vital,
basic and necessary for the whole social body.
Constitutive elements of de facto unions
(4) Not all de facto unions have the same social weight or the same
motivations. When describing their positive characteristics, over and
above their common negative trait of postponing, ignoring or rejecting the
matrimonial union, some elements stand out. First, there is the purely
factual character of the relationship. It should be pointed out that these
unions imply cohabitation that includes a sexual relationship (which
distinguishes them from other forms of cohabitation), and a relative tendency
toward stability (which distinguishes them from sporadic or occasional forms of
cohabitation). De facto unions do not imply marital rights and duties, and
they do not presume to have the stability that is based on the marriage bond.
They are characterized by their strong assertion to not take on any ties.
The constant instability that comes from the possibility of terminating the
cohabitation is consequently a characteristic of de facto unions. There is
also a certain more or less explicit “commitment” to “mutual fidelity”, so to
speak, as long as the relationship lasts.
(5) Some de facto unions are clearly the result of a decisive
choice. “Trial” unions are common among those planning to marry in the
future, but on the condition that they have the experience of a union without a
marriage bond. This is a kind of “conditioned stage” for marriage, similar to
“trial” marriage,  but, different
from this, a certain social recognition is presumed.
Some other persons who live together justify this choice because of
economic reasons or to avoid legal difficulties. The real motives are often much
deeper. In using this type of pretext, there is often an underlying
mentality that gives little value to sexuality. This is influenced more or
less by pragmatism and hedonism, as well as by a conception of love detached
from any responsibility. The commitment is avoided to the stability, the
responsibilities, and the rights and duties that real conjugal love includes.
In other cases, de facto unions are formed by persons who were
previously divorced and are thus an alternative to marriage. Through
pro-divorce legislation, marriage often tends to lose its identity in personal
conscience. In this sense, a lack of confidence in the institution of marriage
should be pointed out which sometimes comes from the negative experience of
persons who have been traumatized by a previous divorce or by their parents’
divorce. This distressing phenomenon is beginning to become important from
a social viewpoint in the more economically developed countries.
It is not uncommon for persons living together in a de facto union
to make their rejection of marriage for ideological reasons known explicitly.
This then is the choice of an alternative, a certain way of living one’s
sexuality. These persons consider marriage as something to be rejected,
something that is opposed to their ideology, an “unacceptable form of abusing
personal well-being”, or even as “the tomb of passionate love”, expressions that
denote a lack of knowledge about the real nature of human love and sacrifice,
and of the nobility and beauty of constancy and fidelity in human relations.
(6) De facto unions are not always the result of a clear and
positive choice. Sometimes persons who are living together in these unions
show that they tolerate or bear this situation. In some countries, the
increasing number of de facto unions is due to a disaffection regarding marriage
not for ideological reasons, but because of a lack of adequate formation in
responsibility, which is the product of the poverty and marginalization of their
environment. A lack of confidence in marriage, however, can also be due to
family conditioning, especially in the Third World. One important factor
to be taken into consideration are the situations of injustice and the
structures of sin. The cultural predominance of macho or racist attitudes
come together and aggravate this difficult situation very much.
In these cases, it is not unusual to find de facto unions where,
from the beginning, in principle, the partners want an authentic life together,
consider themselves united as husband and wife, and make efforts to fulfill
obligations similar to those of marriage.
Poverty, that is often the result of imbalances in the world economic order and
structural educational shortcomings, poses serious obstacles that keep them from
forming a real family.
In other places, cohabitation (for more or less extended periods of
time) is frequent until the conception or birth of the first child. These
customs correspond to ancestral and traditional practices which are very strong
in some regions of Africa and Asia and are related to the so-called “marriage by
stages”. These practices are in contrast with human dignity, difficult to
uproot, and create a negative moral situation with a characteristic and
well-defined social problem. This kind of union should not be identified with
the de facto unions we are concerned with here (which are formed on the margin
of a traditional kind of cultural anthropology), and pose a challenge for the
inculturation of the faith in the Third Millennium of the Christian era.
The complexity and diversity of the problem of de facto unions can
be clearly seen if we consider, for instance, that in some cases, their most
immediate cause can be related to social security and welfare systems.
This is the case, for example, in the most developed systems where elderly
persons form de facto relationships because they fear that marriage would
involve tax burdens or the loss of their pensions.
Personal reasons and the cultural factor
(7) It is important to ask the deep reasons why contemporary
culture is witnessing a crisis in marriage, both in its religious and civil
dimensions, and the attempt to gain recognition and equivalency for de facto
unions. In this way, unstable situations, which are defined more by their
negative aspect (the omission of marriage) than by their positive
characteristics, seem to be on a level similar to marriage. In fact, all
these situations are consolidated in different kinds of relations, but all are
in contrast with a real and full reciprocal self-giving that is stable and
recognized socially. In a context of privatization of love and the elimination
of the institutional character of marriage, the complexity of the economic,
sociological and psychological reasons suggests the need to delve into the
ideological and cultural background on which the phenomenon of de facto unions,
as we know it today, has been progressively growing and becoming affirmed.
The progressive decrease in the number of marriages and families
recognized as such by the laws of different States, and the increase in some
countries in the number of unmarried couples who are living together cannot be
explained adequately as an isolated and spontaneous cultural movement. It
seems to be a response to the historical changes in societies in the
contemporary cultural moment that some authors describe as “post-modernism”.
It is certain that the decreased influence of the agricultural world, the
development of the tertiary sector of the economy, the increase in the average
life span, the instability of work and personal relationships, the reduction in
the number of family members living under the same roof, and the globalization
of social and economic phenomena have produced great instability in families and
favored the ideal of a smaller family. But is this enough to explain the
contemporary situation of marriage? The institution of marriage is experiencing
a lesser crisis where family traditions are stronger.
(8) In the process that could be described as the gradual cultural
and human de-structuring of the institution of marriage, the spread of a certain
ideology of “gender” should not be underestimated. According to this
ideology, being a man or a woman is not determined fundamentally by sex but by
culture. Therefore, the very bases of the family and inter-personal
relationships are attacked. Some considerations should be made in this
regard because of the importance of this ideology in contemporary culture and
its influence on the phenomenon of de facto unions.
In the integrative dynamics of the human personality, one very
important factor is identity. During childhood and adolescence, a person
progressively gains awareness of being “him/herself”, an awareness of his/her
own identity. This is integrated into a process of recognition of one’s
being and, consequently, of the sexual dimension of one’s being. This is
therefore awareness of identity and difference. Experts usually make a
distinction between sexual identity (i.e., awareness of the psycho-biological
identity of one’s sex, and the difference with regard to the other sex), and
generic identity (i.e., awareness of the psycho-social and cultural identity of
the role which persons of a determined sex play in society). In a correct
and harmonious process of integration, sexual and generic identity are
complementary because persons live in society according to the cultural aspects
corresponding to their sex. The category of generic sexual identity
(“gender”) is therefore of a psycho-social and cultural nature. It
corresponds to and is harmonious with sexual identity of a psycho-biological
nature when the integration of the personality is achieved as recognition of the
fullness of the person’s inner truth, the unity of body and soul.
Starting from the decade between 1960-1970, some theories (which
today are usually described by experts as “constructionist”) hold not only that
generic sexual identity (“gender”) is the product of an interaction between the
community and the individual, but that this generic identity is independent from
personal sexual identity: i.e., that masculine and feminine genders in society
are the exclusive product of social factors, with no relation to any truth about
the sexual dimension of the person. In this way, any sexual attitude can
be justified, including homosexuality, and it is society that ought to change in
order to include other genders, together with male and female, in its way of
shaping social life.
The ideology of “gender” found a favorable environment in the
individualist anthropology of radical neo-liberalism.
Claiming a similar status for marriage and de facto unions (including homosexual
unions) is usually justified today on the basis of categories and terms that
come from the ideology of “gender”.
In this way, there is a certain tendency to give the name “family” to all kinds
of consensual unions, thus ignoring the natural inclination of human freedom to
reciprocal self-giving and its essential characteristics which are the basis of
that common good of humanity, the institution of marriage.
II – The Family based on marriage and de facto unions
Family, life and de facto unions
(9) It is useful to understand the substantial differences between
marriage and de facto unions. This is the root of the difference between
the family originating in marriage, and the community that originates in a de
facto union. The family community comes from the covenant of the spouses’
union. The marriage that comes from this covenant of conjugal love is not
created by any public authority: it is a natural and original institution that
is prior to it. In de facto unions, on the other hand, reciprocal
affection is put in common but, at the same time, the marriage bond, with its
original public dimension that gives the foundation to the family, is absent.
The family and life form a real unit which must be protected by society because
this is the living nucleus of the succession (procreation and education) of
In today’s open and democratic societies, the State and the public
authorities must not institutionalize de facto unions, thereby giving them a
status similar to marriage and the family, nor much less make them equivalent to
the family based on marriage. This would be an arbitrary use of power
which does not contribute to the common good because the original nature of
marriage and the family proceeds and exceeds, in an absolute and radical way,
the sovereign power of the State. A serenely impartial perspective free
from any arbitrary or demagogical positions invites us to reflect very seriously
in the different political communities on the essential differences between the
vital and necessary contribution to the common good of the family based on
marriage, and the other reality that exists in merely emotional forms of
cohabitation. It does not seem reasonable to hold that the vital functions
of family communities, whose nucleus is the stable and monogamous institution of
marriage, can be carried out in a large-scale, stable and permanent way by
merely emotional forms of cohabitation. The family based on marriage must
be carefully protected and promoted as an essential factor in social existence,
stability and peace, in a broad future vision of the society’s common interest.
(10) Equality before the law must respect the principle of justice
which means treating equals equally, and what is different differently: i.e., to
give each one his due in justice. This principle of justice would be
violated if de facto unions were given a juridical treatment similar or
equivalent to the family based on marriage. If the family based on
marriage and de facto unions are neither similar nor equivalent in their duties,
functions and services in society, then they cannot be similar or equivalent in
their juridical status.
The pretext used for exerting pressure to recognize de facto unions
(i.e., their “non-discrimination”) implies a real discrimination against the
family based on marriage because it would be considered on a level similar to
any other form of cohabitation, regardless of whether there is a commitment to
reciprocal fidelity and the begetting and up-bringing of children or not.
The orientation of some political communities today of discriminating against
marriage by attributing an institutional status to de facto unions that is
similar, or even equivalent to marriage and the family, is a serious sign of the
contemporary breakdown in the social moral conscience, of “weak thought” with
regard to the common good, when it is not a real and proper ideological
imposition exerted by influential pressure groups.
(11) Along the same line of principles, it is good to keep in mind
the distinction between public interest and private interest. Regarding
the former, society and the public authorities must protect and encourage it; as
to the latter, the State must only guarantee freedom. Whenever a matter is
of public interest, public law intervenes, and what , on the contrary,
corresponds to private interests must be referred to the private sphere.
Marriage and the family are of public interest; they are the fundamental nucleus
of society and the State and should be recognized and protected as such.
Two or more persons may decide to live together, with or without a sexual
dimension but this cohabitation is not for that reason of public interest.
The public authorities can not get involved in this private choice. De
facto unions are the result of private behavior and should remain on the private
level. Their public recognition or equivalency to marriage, and the
resulting elevation of a private interest to a public interest, damages the
family based on marriage. In marriage a man and a woman constitute a
community of the whole of life which is ordered by its very nature to the good
of the spouses and the generation and up-bringing of offspring. In
marriage, different from de facto unions, commitments and responsibilities are
taken on publicly and formally that are relevant for society and exigibile in
the juridical context.
De facto unions and the conjugal covenant
(12) The evaluation of de facto unions also includes a subjective
dimension: they are formed by concrete persons with their own vision of life,
their own intentions, in brief, their “history”. We should consider the
existential reality of individual freedom of choice and the dignity of persons
which may be in error. However, in a de facto union, the presumption to
have public recognition does not only affect the individual area of freedom, and
so it is necessary to take up this problem from the viewpoint of social ethics:
the human individual is a person and therefore social; a human being is no less
social than rational.
Persons can meet and refer to shared values and needs regarding the
common good in dialogue. The universal reference point, the criterion in
this area, can be none other than the truth about the human good which is
objective, transcendent and equal for all. To attain this truth and remain
in it is a condition for freedom and personal maturity, and the real objective
of an orderly and fruitful social coexistence. Exclusive attention to the
subject, to the individual, his intentions and choices, without referring to the
social and objective dimension, oriented to the common good, is the result of an
arbitrary and unacceptable individualism that is blind to objective values,
against the dignity of the person, and harmful to the social order.
“Therefore, it is necessary to promote a reflection that will help not only
believers but all men of good will to rediscover the value of marriage and the
family. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can read: ‘The
family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in
which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of
life. Authority, stability and a life of relationships within the family
constitute the foundations for freedom, security and fraternity within society.
If reason listens to the moral law written in the human heart, it can
arrive at the rediscovery of the family. As a community based on and
enlivened by love, 
the family derives its strength from the definitive covenant of love whereby a
man and a woman give themselves to one another mutually and together become
God’s cooperators in the gift of life”.
The Second Vatican Council points out that so-called free love
(“amore sic dicto libero”)
constitutes a factor that breaks down and destroys marriage because it lacks
the constitutive element of conjugal love which is based on the personal and
irrevocable consent whereby the spouses give and receive one another mutually,
giving rise to a juridical bond and a unit sealed by a public dimension of
justice. What the Council calls “free” love, which opposes true conjugal
love, was then—and is now—the seed that produces de facto unions. Later,
with the speed of today’s socio-cultural changes, it has also given rise to the
current projects to confer public status on de facto unions.
(13) Like every other human problem, the problem of de facto unions
must also be taken up from a rational perspective, more precisely, from “right
With this term from classical ethics, it is stressed that the interpretation
of reality and the judgment of reason must be objective, and free from
conditioning, such as disorderly affectivity or weakness in considering
sorrowful situations that inclines toward a superficial kind of compassion,
eventual ideological prejudices, social or cultural pressures, conditioning by
lobbies or political parties. Of course, Christians have a vision of
marriage and the family whose anthropological and theological foundation is
rooted harmoniously in the truth that comes from the Word of God, Tradition, and
the Magisterium of the Church.
But the light of the faith itself teaches that the reality of the sacrament of
marriage is not something subsequent or extrinsic, or just an external
“sacramental” addition to the spouses’ love; it is the natural reality of
conjugal love that has been assumed by Christ as a sign and means of salvation
in the order of the New Law. Consequently, the problem of de facto unions
can and must be faced from the viewpoint of right reason. It is not a
question primarily of Christian faith but of rationality. The tendency to
oppose denominational “Catholic thought” on this matter to “lay thought” is
III – De facto unions in the whole of society
Social and political dimension of the problem of equivalency
(14) Some radical cultural influences (such as the ideology of
“gender”, which we mentioned earlier) result in damage to the family
institution. “Still more distressing is the direct attack on the family
institution that is developing both on the cultural as well as on the political,
legislative and administrative levels...The tendency is clear to make the family
equivalent to other very different forms of cohabitation, apart from fundamental
considerations of an ethical and anthropological order”.
For this reason, the definition of the family’s identity is a priority.
The value of and the need for stability in the marriage relationship between a
man and a woman are pertinent to this identity, and this stability is expressed
and confirmed in a perspective of procreation and up-bringing of children which
benefits the entire social fabric. Such marital and family stability does not
only depend on the good will of concrete persons; it takes on an institutional
character of public recognition by the State of the choice of conjugal life.
The recognition, protection and promotion of this stability contributes to the
general interest, especially of the weakest, i.e., the children.
(15) Another risk in the social consideration of the problem that
concerns us is its trivialization. Some affirm that recognition and
equivalency of de facto unions should not cause excessive concern because the
number of these cases is relatively small. If this were the case, however,
the opposite should be concluded because a quantitative consideration of the
problem ought to lead to doubting the advisability of raising the problem of de
facto unions to one of primary importance, especially where adequate attention
is barely given to the grave problem (both present and future) of protecting
marriage and the family through adequate family policies that really affect
social life. The undifferentiated exaltation of individuals’ freedom of
choice, with no reference to a socially relevant value order, obeys a completely
individualistic and private approach to marriage and the family that is blind to
its objective social dimension. It must be kept in mind that procreation
is the “genetic” principle of society, and that the children’s upbringing is the
first place for the transmission and cultivation of the social fabric as well as
the essential nucleus of its structural configuration.
Recognition and equivalence of de facto unions discriminates
(16) Through public recognition of de facto unions, an asymmetrical
juridical framework is established. Whereas society would take on obligations
towards the partners in a de facto union, they in turn would not take on the
essential obligations to society that are proper to marriage. Making them
equivalent aggravates this situation because it privileges de facto unions with
respect to marriages by exempting the former from fulfilling essential duties
for society. In this way, a paradoxical disassociation is accepted that is
ultimately detrimental to the institution of the family. With regard to
the recent legislative attempts to make the family and de facto unions
equivalent, including homosexual unions (it is good to keep in mind that their
juridical recognition is the first step toward their equivalency), members
of parliament should be reminded about their grave responsibility to oppose
them, for “lawmakers, and in particular Catholic members of parliaments, should
not favor this type of legislation with their vote because it is contrary to the
common good and the truth about man and thus truly unjust”.
These legal initiatives present all the characteristics of non-conformity to the
natural law which makes them incompatible with the dignity of the law. As
Saint Augustine says, “Non videtur esse lex, quae iusta non fuerit”.
An ultimate foundation of the juridical system must be recognized.
This does not mean presuming to impose a given behavior “model” on the whole of
society, but rather the social need for recognition, by the legal system, of the
indispensable contribution of the family based on marriage to the common good.
Wherever the family is in crisis, the society falters.
(17) The family has a right to be protected and promoted by
society, as many Constitutions in force in States around the whole world
recognize. This is a
recognition in justice of the essential function which the family based on
marriage represents for society. A duty of society, which is not only
moral but civil too, corresponds to this original right of the family. The
right of the family based on marriage to be protected and promoted by society
and the State must be recognized by laws. This is a question that affects
the common good. With clear argumentation, Saint Thomas Aquinas rejects
the idea that moral law and civil law can be in opposition: they are different
but not in opposition; both are distinguished from one another, but they are not
disassociated from one another; between them there is neither unanimity nor
contradiction. As John
Paul II stated: “It is important that all who are called to guide the destiny of
nations recognize and strengthen the institution of marriage; in fact, marriage
has a particular juridical status that recognizes the rights and duties of the
spouses to one another and to their children, and families play an essential
role in society, whose permanence they guarantee. The family fosters the
socialization of the young and helps curb the phenomena of violence by
transmitting values and the experience of brotherhood and solidarity which it
allows to become a reality each day. In the search for justified solutions
in modern society, the family cannot be put on the same level as mere
associations or unions, and the latter cannot enjoy the particular rights
exclusively connected with the protection of the conjugal commitment and the
family based on marriage, a stable community of life and love, the result of the
total and faithful gift of the spouses, open to life”.
(18) Those who are involved in politics ought to be aware of the
seriousness of this problem. In the West, current political activity often
tends to privilege pragmatic aspects in general and the so-called “policy of
balances” on very concrete matters, without entering into a discussion of
principles that may endanger difficult and precarious compromises between
parties, alliances and coalitions. But shouldn’t these balances be based
on clear principles, fidelity to essential values, and clarity in the
fundamental postulates? “ If there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct
political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for
reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values turns
easily into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism”.
The legislative function corresponds to political responsibility; in this sense,
it is up to politicians to be vigilant (not only on the level of principles but
also of applications) to avoid a breakdown, with serious present and future
consequences, of the relationship between moral and civil law, and the defense
of the educational and cultural value of the juridical system.
The most effective way to watch over the public interest does not consist in
demagogic concessions to pressure groups that promote de facto unions, but
rather the energetic and systematic promotion of organic family policies, which
consider the family based on marriage as the center and motor of social policy,
and which cover the extensive area of the rights of the family.
The Holy See has dedicated its attention to this aspect in the Charter of the
Rights of the Family, 
going beyond a merely welfare conception of the State.
Anthropological foundations of the difference between marriage
and “de facto” unions
(19) Marriage is based on some well-defined anthropological
foundations which distinguish it from other kinds of union and which—beyond the
realm of concrete action and what is “factual”—root it in the very essence of
the person of the woman or the man.
These presuppositions include: equality between men and women, for
both are persons equally 
(although in different ways); the complementary character of the sexes
from which comes their natural inclination toward the generation of children;
the possibility to love one another precisely because they are sexually
different and complementary in such a way that “this love is expressed and
perfected uniquely through the acts proper to marriage”;
the possibility—of freedom—to set up a stable and definitive relationship,
i.e., one that is due in justice;
and, lastly, the social dimension of the conjugal and family condition which
constitutes the first context of education and openness to society through
family relations (which contribute to shaping the identity of the human person).
(20) If the possibility is accepted of a specific love between a
man and a woman, it is obvious that this love is inclined (in itself) toward
intimacy, a certain exclusivity, the generation of offspring, and a joint life
project. When this is what is wanted and in such a way that the other is
given the ability to be entitled to this, then real self-giving and acceptance
between the man and woman comes about which constitutes the conjugal communion.
“Amor coniugalis, therefore, is not only or primarily a feeling, but
essentially a commitment to the other person, a commitment made through a
precise act of the will. It is this commitment which gives amor the
quality of coniugalis. Once a commitment has been made and accepted
through consent, love becomes
conjugal and never loses this character”.
This, in the Western Christian historical tradition, is called marriage.
(21) Marriage is therefore a stable, joint project that comes from
the free and total self-giving of fruitful conjugal love as something due in
justice. Since an original social institution is founded (and which gives
origin to society), the dimension of justice is inherent in conjugality itself.
“They are free to celebrate marriage, after having chosen each other with equal
freedom, but as soon as they perform this act, they establish a personal state
in which love becomes something that is owed, entailing effects of a juridical
nature as well”. Other
ways of living sexuality can exist—even against natural tendencies-, other forms
of living together, other friendly relationships –whether based or not on the
sexual difference-, and other ways of bringing children into the world. But what
is specific about the family based on marriage is that it is the only
institution that incorporates and unites all the elements mentioned at the same
time and in an original way.
(22) Consequently, it seems necessary to stress the gravity and the
irreplaceable character of some anthropological principles regarding the
man-woman relationship, which are fundamental for human cohabitation, and all
the more so for safeguarding the dignity of all persons. The central
nucleus and the essential element of these principles is the conjugal love
between two persons who have equal dignity but are different and complementary
in their sexuality. It is the essence of marriage, as a natural and human
reality, which is at stake, and it is the good of all society that is up for
discussion. “As everyone knows, not only are the properties and ends of
marriage called into question today, but even the value and the very usefulness
of the institution. While avoiding undue generalizations, we cannot ignore, in
this regard, the growing phenomenon of mere de facto unions (cf. Familiaris
Consortio, 81), and the unrelenting public opinion campaigns to gain the
dignity of marriage even for unions between persons of the same sex”.
This is a basic principle: in order to be real and free conjugal
love, love must be transformed into one that is due in justice through the free
act of marital consent. The Pope concluded in this way: “In the light of these
principles, we can identify and understand the essential difference between a
mere de facto union –even though it claims to be based on love—and marriage, in
which love is expressed in a commitment that is not only moral but rigorously
juridical. The bond reciprocally assumed has a reinforcing effect in turn
on the love from which it is derived, fostering its permanence to the advantage
of the partners, the children and society itself”.
Marriage, in fact, the foundation of the family, is not a “way of
living sexuality as a couple”. If it were only this, it would be just one
of many possible ways.
Nor is it simply the expression of a sentimental love between two persons: this
characteristic is usually present in every loving friendship. Marriage is
more than that: it is a union between a man and a woman, precisely as such, and
in the totality of their male and female essence. This union can only be
established through an act of the partners’ free will, but its specific
content is determined by the structure of the human being, the woman and the
man: mutual self-giving and the transmission of life. Such self-giving, in
the whole complementary dimension of a woman and a man, together with the
willingness to owe oneself in justice to the other, is called conjugality, and
the partners in this way become spouses: “This conjugal communion sinks its
roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman, and is
nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire
life-project, what they have and what they are: for this reason such communion
is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly human need”.
Making homosexual relations equivalent to marriage is much more
(23) The truth about conjugal love also makes it possible to
understand the serious social consequences of the institutionalization of
homosexual relations: “We can also see how incongruous is the demand to grant
‘marital’ status to unions between persons of the same sex. It is opposed,
first of all, by the objective impossibility of making the partnership fruitful
through the transmission of life according to the plan inscribed by God in the
very structure of the human being. Another obstacle is the absence of the
conditions for that interpersonal complementarity between male and female willed
by the Creator at both the physical-biological and the eminently psychological
levels”. Marriage cannot
be reduced to a condition similar to that of a homosexual relationship: this is
contrary to common sense.
In the case of homosexual relations, which demand to be considered de facto
unions, the moral and juridical consequences take on special relevance.
“Lastly, ‘de facto unions’ between homosexuals are a deplorable distortion of
what should be a communion of love and life between a man and a woman in a
reciprocal gift open to life”.
However, the presumption to make these unions equivalent to “legal marriage”, as
some recent initiatives attempt to do, is even more serious.
Furthermore, the attempts to legalize the adoption of children by homosexual
couples adds an element of great danger to all the previous ones.
“The bond between two men or two women cannot constitute a real family and much
less can the right be attributed to that union to adopt children without a
To recall the social transcendence of the truth about conjugal love and
consequently the grave error of recognizing or even making homosexual relations
equivalent to marriage does not presume to discriminate against these persons in
any way. It is the common good of society which requires the laws to
recognize, favor and protect the marital union as the basis of the family which
would be damaged in this way.
IV – Justice and the Family as a Social Good
The family, a social good to be protected in justice
(24) Marriage and the family are a social good of the first order:
“The family always expresses a new dimension of good for mankind, and it thus
creates a new responsibility. We are speaking of the responsibility for that
particular common good which includes the good of the person, of every member of
the family community. While certainly a ‘difficult’ good (‘bonum arduum’),
it is also an attractive one”.
It is certain that not all spouses nor all families really develop all the
personal and social good possible. 
As a result, society must do its part by making the means as accessible as
possible that will facilitate the development of its values: “Every effort
should be made so that the family will be recognized as the primordial
and, in a certain sense ‘sovereign’ society! The ‘sovereignty’ of the
family is essential for the good of society”.
Objective social values to be fostered
(25) In this sense, marriage and the family constitute a good for
society because they protect a precious good for the spouses themselves,
for “the family, a natural society, exists prior to the State or any other
community, and possesses inherent rights which are inalienable”.
On the one hand, the social dimension of being married persons postulates a
principle of juridical security. Since becoming a wife or a husband pertains to
the area of being—and not just of acting, the dignity of this new sign of
personal identity has a right to public recognition which society should give,
as the good it constitutes deserves.
Obviously the right order of society is aided when marriage and the family are
formed as they truly are: a stable reality.
Moreover, the complete self-giving as a man and a woman in their potential
fatherhood and motherhood, with the resulting union—that is also exclusive and
permanent—between the parents and the children, expresses unconditional trust
that is expressed in strength and enrichment for all.
(26) On the one hand, the dignity of human persons requires their
origin to be from parents joined in marriage, from the necessary intimate,
integral, mutual and permanent union that comes from being spouses. This
then is a good for the children. This is the only origin that
adequately safeguards the principle of the children’s identity not only from the
genetic or biological viewpoint, but also from the biographical and historical
perspective. On the other
hand, marriage itself constitutes the most human and humanizing context for
welcoming children, the context which most readily provides emotional security
and guarantees greater unity and continuity in the process of social integration
and education. “The union between a mother and a conceived child and the
irreplaceable function of the father require the child to be welcomed into a
family which will guarantee it if possible the presence of both parents.
The specific contribution offered by them to the family, and through it, to the
society, is worthy of great consideration”.
Furthermore, the continued sequence between conjugality, motherhood/fatherhood
and kinship (filiation, fraternity, etc.) avoids many serious problems for
society which come up precisely when the chain of the different elements is
broken in such a way that each of them acts independently from the others.
(27) Also for the other members of the family, the marriage
union as a social reality, is a good. In fact, in the family that grows from the
conjugal bond, not only are the new generations welcomed and taught to cooperate
in what is proper to them, but also the previous generations (the grandparents)
have the opportunity to contribute to the common enrichment: to contribute their
own experiences, to feel valid once more in their service, to confirm their full
dignity as persons who are valued and loved for themselves and accepted in an
inter-generational dialogue that is often fruitful. In fact, “the family
is the place where different generations come together and help one another to
grow in human wisdom and to harmonize the rights of individuals with other
demands of social life”. At the
same time, elderly persons can look to the future with confidence and certainty
knowing they are surrounded and taken care of by those whom they have taken care
of for many years. Moreover, it is known that when the family really lives
as such, the quality of the attention to the elderly cannot be substituted—at
least for certain aspects—by the care provided by outside institutions, even
though they are conscientious and have advanced technological means.
(28) Other goods for the whole of society, which are derived
from the conjugal communion as the essence of marriage and the origin of the
family, can also be considered, such as: the principle of a citizen’s
identification; the principle of the unitary character of kinship—which
constitutes the origin of relations in society as well as their stability; the
principle of the transmission of cultural goods and values; the principle of
subsidiarity, because the disappearance of the family would oblige the State to
substitute it in tasks which are its own by nature; the principle of economy
also in legal matters, because when the family breaks down, the State must
increase its interventions in order to solve problems directly which ought to
remain and be solved in the private sphere, with great traumatic effects and
high economic costs as well. To summarize, in addition to what has been
mentioned, it must be remembered that “the family constitutes, much more than a
mere juridical, social and economic unit, a community of love and solidarity,
which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social,
spiritual and religious values, essential for the development and well-being of
its own members and of society”.
Moreover, far from contributing to a greater sphere of freedom, the breakdown of
the family would leave the individual more and more vulnerable and defenseless
before the power of the State and impoverish him by requiring a progressive
Society and the State must protect and promote the family based
(29) To summarize, the human, social and material promotion of the
family based on marriage, and the juridical protection of the elements that
comprise it in its unitary character are not only a good for the members of the
family considered individually, but also for the structure and appropriate
functioning of the interpersonal relations, the balance of powers, the
guarantees of freedom, the educational interests, the personalization of the
citizens, and the distribution of functions between the different social
institutions: “Consequently the role of the family in building a culture of life
is decisive and irreplaceable”.
We cannot forget that if the crisis of the family has been, on certain
occasions and for certain aspects, the cause of greater intervention by the
State in its sphere, it is also certain that in many other cases and for many
other aspects it has been the initiative of lawmakers that has facilitated or
promoted the difficulties and breakdowns of many marriages and families. “The
experience of different cultures throughout history has shown the need for
society to recognize and defend the institution of the family; society, and in a
particular manner the State and International Organizations, must protect the
family through measures of a political, economic, social and juridical
character, which aim at consolidating the unity and stability of the family so
that it can exercise its specific function”.
Today more than ever, adequate attention becomes necessary—for the
sake of the family and for society itself—to the current problems of marriage
and the family, a special respect for its freedom, legislation that will protect
its essential elements and not weigh on its free decisions regarding: women’s
work that is not compatible with their situation as wives and mothers,
a “culture of success” which does not allow those who work to reconcile their
professional competence with dedication to their family,
the decision to have the number of children which the spouses decide in
conscience,  protection of the
permanent character to which married couples legitimately aspire,
religious freedom and the dignity and equality of rights,
the principles and carrying out of the kind of education desired for their
children,  fiscal treatment and
other norms of a patrimonial nature (inheritance, housing, etc.), treatment of
their legitimate autonomy, and respect and encouragement of their initiative in
the social and political sphere, especially with regard to their own families.
 From this comes the
social need to distinguish phenomena that are different in their legal aspect
and in their contribution to the common good, and to treat them accordingly as
being different. “The institutional value of marriage should be upheld by the
public authorities; the situation of non-married couples must not be placed on
the same level as marriage duly contracted”.
V – Christian Marriage and de facto unions
Christian marriage and social pluralism
(30) More intensely in recent times, the Church has repeatedly
stressed the trust that is due to the human person, his freedom, dignity and
values, and the hope that comes from God’s saving action in the world which
helps overcome all weakness. At the same time, it has made its grave
concern known regarding different attempts against the human person and his
dignity and pointed out some ideological presuppositions typical of the
so-called “post-modern” culture which make it difficult to understand and live
the values required by the truth about the human person. “It is no longer a
matter of limited and occasional dissent, but of an overall and systematic
calling into question of traditional moral doctrine, on the basis of certain
anthropological and ethical presuppositions. At the root of these
presuppositions is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought
which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive
relationship to truth”.
When freedom is disconnected form truth, “any reference to common
values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life
ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point,
everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining, even the first of
the fundamental rights, the right to life”.
This is also a warning that is surely applicable to the reality of marriage
and the family, the sole source and fully human channel for the realization of
that first right. There is “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 the family, but as an autonomous power of self-affirmation, often
against others, for one’s own selfish well-being”.
(31) In the same way, from the beginning the Christian community
has held that the constitution of Christian marriage is a real sign of Christ’s
union with the Church. Marriage was elevated by Christ to a saving event in the
new order set up in the economy of the Redemption: i.e., marriage is a sacrament
of the New Covenant, 
an essential aspect for understanding the content and importance of the
marital community between baptized persons. The Magisterium of the Church
has also pointed out clearly that “the sacrament of Matrimony has this specific
element that distinguishes it from all the other sacraments: it is the sacrament
of something that was part of the very economy of creation; it is the very
conjugal covenant instituted by the Creator ‘in the beginning’”.
In the context of a society that is often de-Christianized and
removed from the values of the truth about the human person, it is now of
interest to emphasize the content of “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man
and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life,
[which] is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the
procreation and education of offspring”,
as instituted by God “from the beginning”,
in the natural order of Creation. A serene reflection is useful not only
for faithful believers, but also for those who are now far from religious
practice, who lack faith, or hold beliefs of a different kind: for every human
person, men and women, members of a civil community and responsible for the
common good. It is also useful to recall the nature of the family that
originates in marriage, its ontological and not only historical and conjunctural
character, over and above the changes in time, place and culture, and the
dimension of justice that flows from its very essence.
The process of the family’s secularization in the West
(32) At the beginning of the process of secularization of the
matrimonial institution, the first and almost only thing that was secularized
was the wedding or the way of celebrating marriage, at least in the Western
countries with Catholic roots. For a certain period of time, both in the
people’s conscience and in the secular systems, the basic principles of marriage
persisted, such as the precious value of the indissolubility of marriage and, in
particular, the absolute indissolubility of sacramental marriage between
baptized persons, ratified and consummated.
The widespread introduction of legislative systems which the Second Vatican
Council described as “the divorce epidemic”, gave rise to a progressive
darkening in the social conscience regarding the value of what constituted a
great conquest of humanity over the ages. The early Church did not succeed
while in making sacred or Christianizing the Roman concept of marriage, it did
restore this institution to its origins from creation, as explicitly willed by
Jesus Christ. It is certain that in the conscience of the early Church it
was already understood clearly that the natural essence of marriage had been
conceived originally by God the Creator as a sign of God’s love for his people,
and when the fullness of time came, of Christ’s love for his Church. But
the first thing the Church did, guided by the Gospel and the explicit teachings
of Christ, was to bring marriage back to its beginning, aware that “God himself
is the author of marriage which he endowed with various goods and ends”.
Moreover, the Church was well aware that the importance of this natural
institution has “a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race,
on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a
family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself
and of human society as a whole”.
Those who get married according to the stablished formalities (by the Church and
the State, according to the cases), can and normally want to contract a real
marriage. The inclination toward the conjugal union is innate in human persons,
and the juridical aspect of the conjugal covenant and the origin of a real
conjugal bond is based on this decision.
Marriage, the institution of conjugal love and other kinds of
(33) The natural reality is taken into consideration in the
canonical laws of the Church.
Canonical law describes substantially the essence of marriage between baptized
persons, both in its moment in fieri – the conjugal covenant – and as a
permanent state in which the conjugal and family relations are situated.
In this sense, the ecclesiastical jurisdiction over marriage is decisive and
represents an authentic protection for family values. The basic principles
of the essence of marriage with regard to conjugal love and its sacramental
nature are not always sufficiently understood and respected.
(34) As to the first, love is often spoken about as the basis of
marriage, a community of life and love, but its real condition as a conjugal
institution is not always affirmed clearly by not including the dimension of
justice proper to consent. Marriage is an institution. Failure to
note this deficiency usually produces a grave misunderstanding between Christian
marriage and de facto unions. Partners in de facto unions can also say
that they are based on “love” (but a “love” described by the Second Vatican
Council as “sic dicto libero”), and that they constitute a community of life and
love, but they are substantially different from the “communitas vitae et amoris
coniugalis” of marriage.
(35) With regard to the basic principles related to the
sacramentality of marriage, the question is more complex because the pastors of
the Church have to consider the immense wealth of grace that gives dynamism to
the sacramental essence of Christian marriage and its influence on the family
relations derived from marriage. God wanted the conjugal covenant from the
beginning, the marriage of Creation, to be a permanent sign of Christ’s union
with the Church and thus a real sacrament of the New Covenant. The problem
lies in understanding properly that this sacramentality is not something that is
added or extrinsic to the natural essence of marriage, but that it is the same
indissoluble marriage willed by the Creator that was elevated to a sacrament
through the redeeming action of Christ, without this implying any
“de-naturalization” of the reality. By not understanding the particular
feature of this sacrament compared to the others, some misunderstandings can
arise that obscure the notion of sacramental marriage. This is especially
important in marriage preparation: the praiseworthy efforts to prepare the
engaged to celebrate the sacrament can vanish if there is no clear understanding
of what the absolutely indissoluble marriage is which they are about to
contract. Baptized persons do not present themselves to the Church just to
celebrate a feast with some special rites, but to contract a lifetime marriage
which is a sacrament of the New Alliance. Through this sacrament they
share in the mystery of the union of Christ and the Church, and they express
their intimate and indissoluble union.
VI – Christian Guidelines
Basic approach to the problem: “At the beginning it was not that
(36) The Christian community is challenged by the phenomenon of de
facto unions. The unions without any legal institutional bond –civil or
religious—constitute an increasingly frequent phenomenon to which the pastoral
action of the Church must pay attention.
Not only through reason, but also and above all through the “splendor of truth”,
which has been given to them through faith, believers are capable of calling
things by their own name: good, good and evil, evil. In the current
context, which is highly relativist and tends to dissolve all differences,
including essential ones between marriage and de facto unions, greater wisdom
and more courageous freedom are needed to avoid errors or compromises,
with the conviction that “the most dangerous crisis which can afflict man…[is]
the confusion between good and evil, which makes it impossible to build up and
to preserve the moral order of individuals and communities”.
When carrying out a specifically Christian reflection on the signs of the times
before the apparent obscuring in the hearts of some of our contemporaries of the
profound truth about human love, it is good to draw closer to the pure waters of
(37) “Some Pharisees came up to him and said, to test him, ‘May a
man divorce his wife for any reason whatever?’ He replied, ‘Have you not
read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and declared,
‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife,
and the two shall become as one’? Thus they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore, let no man separate what God has joined.’. They said to him, ‘Then
why did Moses command divorce and the promulgation of a divorce decree?’
‘Became of your stubbornness Moses let you divorce your wives,’ he replied; ‘but
at the beginning it was not that way’” (Mt 19:3-8). These words of
the Lord are well known, like the reaction of the disciples: “If that is the
case between man and wife, it is better not to marry” (Mt 19:10).
This reaction was certainly framed in the prevailing mentality of the time, a
mentality that broke with the Creator’s original plan.
The concession by Moses expressed the presence of sin which took on the form of
a “duritia cordis”. Today, perhaps more than in other eras, this obstacle
of the intelligence must be taken into consideration, the hardening of the will,
the fixation of the passion, which is the hidden root of many of the factors of
fragility that influence the present spread of de facto unions.
De facto unions, factors of fragility and sacramental grace
(38) The presence of the Church and of Christian marriage over the
ages has made civil society capable of recognizing marriage in its original
condition to which Christ alludes in his response.
 The original condition of
marriage and the difficulty of recognizing it and living it as an intimate truth
in the depths of one’s being, “propter duritiam cordis”, always seems to be a
current question. Marriage is a natural institution whose essential
characteristics can be recognized by intelligence, over and above cultures.
This recognition of the truth about marriage is also of a moral nature.
However, the fact cannot be ignored that human nature, wounded by sin and
redeemed by Christ, does not always succeed in recognizing clearly the truths
written by God in the human heart. Hence Christian witness in the world,
the Church and its Magisterium have to be a living teaching and a testimony in
the world. In this
context it is also important to stress in this context the real and proper need
for grace so that married life can reach its true fullness.
Therefore, when making a pastoral discernment of the problem of de facto unions,
it is important to consider human fragility and the importance of a truly
ecclesial experience and catechesis which will guide toward a life of grace,
prayer, the sacraments and in particular Reconciliation.
(39) Different elements must be distinguished among these factors
of fragility that give rise to de facto unions characterized by what is called
“free” love which neglects or excludes the bond characteristic of conjugal love.
Moreover, as we said earlier, a distinction must be made between the de facto
unions into which some consider themselves compelled by difficult situations,
and the others which are sought by people who “scorn, rebel against or reject
society, the institution of the family and the social and political order, or
who are solely seeking pleasure”.
It is also necessary to consider those who are driven into de facto unions “by
extreme ignorance or poverty, sometimes by a conditioning due to situations of
real injustice, or by a certain psychological immaturity that makes them
uncertain or afraid to enter into a stable and definitive union”.
Ethical discernment, pastoral action and Christian engagement in
political realities will thus have to take into consideration the many real
situations included under the common term “de facto unions” as we said earlier.
Whatever the causes that give rise to these unions, they entail “serious
pastoral problems, because of the grave religious and moral consequences that
are derived from them (loss of the religious meaning of marriage seen in the
light of God’s Covenant with his People, deprivation of the sacramental grace,
serious scandal), as well as social consequences (destruction of the concept of
family, lessening of the significance of fidelity, also toward society, possible
psychological traumas in the children, and the reaffirmation of selfishness)”.
For this reason, the Church is sensitive to the spread of non-matrimonial unions
due to the moral and pastoral dimensions of the problem.
Witness of Christian marriage
(40) The efforts to obtain legislation favorable to de facto unions
in many countries with an ancient Christian tradition are of great concern to
pastors and the faithful. Often it might seem that one does not know what
answer to give to this phenomenon, and that the reaction is merely defensive,
thus giving the impression that the Church only wants to maintain the status
quo, as if the family based on marriage were simply the cultural model (a
“traditional” model) of the Church that it wants to keep, despite the great
transformations in our era.
In this regard, the positive aspects of conjugal love must be
deepened so that it will be possible to return to inculturating the Gospel truth
in a way similar to that of the Christians during the first centuries of our
era. The privileged subject of this new evangelization of the family are
Christian families because they, being the subjects of evangelization, are the
first evangelizers of the “Good News” of “fair love”,
not only through their words, but above all through their personal witness.
It is urgent to rediscover the social value of the wonder of conjugal love
because the phenomenon of de facto unions is not on the margin of the
ideological factors that obscure it and which correspond to an erroneous
conception of human sexuality and of the man-woman relationship. From this
comes the transcendental importance of the life of grace in Christ of Christian
marriages: “The Christian family too is part of this priestly people which is
the Church. By means of the sacrament of marriage, in which it is rooted
and from which it draws its nourishment, the Christian family is continuously
vivified by the Lord Jesus and called and engaged by him in a dialogue with God
through the sacraments, through the offering of one’s life, and through prayer.
This is the priestly role which the Christian family can and ought to exercise
in intimate communion with the whole Church, through the daily realities of
married and family life. In this way the Christian family is called to be
sanctified and to sanctify the ecclesial community and the world”.
(41) The very presence of Christian married couples in many milieus
in society is a privileged way of showing contemporary people (whose
subjectivity is destroyed to a good extent, who are exhausted in a vain search
for “free” love, opposed to real conjugal love, through a multitude of
fragmented experiences) that it is really possible for human beings to find
themselves again and to help them to understand the reality of a fully realized
subjectivity in marriage in Christ the Lord. Only in this kind of “clash”
with reality can the nostalgia emerge for a homeland of which every person has
an indelible memory. To the disillusioned men and women who ask themselves
cynically, “Can anything good come from the human heart?”, it is necessary to be
able to answer them: “Come and see our marriage, our family”. This can be
a decisive departure point, a real witness whereby the Christian community, with
God’s grace, will manifest God’s mercy toward men. It can be seen that the
substantial influence exercised by faithful Christians in many milieus is very
positive. By reason of a conscious choice of faith and life, in the midst
of their contemporaries, they appear to be the ferment in the mass, the light in
the midst of the darkness. Pastoral attention to their preparation for
marriage and the family and follow-up in their married and family life is of
fundamental importance for the life of the Church and the world.
Adequate marriage preparation
(42) The Magisterium of the Church, especially since the Second
Vatican Council, has referred repeatedly to the importance and the
irreplaceability of marriage preparation in ordinary pastoral care.
This preparation cannot be reduced to simple information about what marriage is
for the Church; it has to be a real path of personal formation based on
education in the faith and education in the virtues. The Pontifical
Council for the Family has dealt with this important aspect of the Church’s
pastoral care in the documents: Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality
(December 8, 1995), and Preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage (May
(43) “Preparation for marriage, for married and family life, is of
great importance for the good of the Church. In fact, the sacrament of
Marriage has great value for the whole Christian community and, in the first
place, for the spouses whose decision is such that it cannot be improvised or
made hastily. In the past, this preparation could count on the support of
society which recognized the values and benefits of marriage. Without any
difficulties or doubts, the Church protected the sanctity of marriage with the
awareness that this sacrament represented an ecclesial guarantee as the living
cell of the People of God. At least in the communities that were truly
evangelized, the Church’s support was solid, unitary and compact. In
general, separations and marriage failures were rare, and divorce was considered
a social ‘plague’ (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 47). Today, on the
contrary, in many cases, we are witnessing an accentuated deterioration of the
family and a certain corrosion of the values of marriage. In many nations,
especially economically developed ones, the number of marriages has decreased.
Marriage is usually contracted at a later age and the number of divorces and
separations is increasing, even during the first years of married life.
All this inevitably leads to a pastoral concern that comes up repeatedly: Are
the persons contracting marriage really prepared for it? The problem of
preparation for the sacrament of Marriage and the life that follows emerges as a
great pastoral need, first for the sake of the spouses, for the whole Christian
community and for society. Therefore, interest in, and initiatives for
providing adequate and timely answers to preparation for the sacrament of
Marriage are growing everywhere”.
(44) At present, the problem is not limited, as in other eras, to
young people being unprepared for marriage. Due in part to a pessimistic
anthropological vision that de-structures and breaks down subjectivity, many
young people even doubt that it is possible to achieve real self-giving in
marriage that will give rise to a faithful, fruitful and indissoluble bond.
In some cases, this view results in the rejection of the institution of marriage
as an illusory reality to which only persons with very special preparation can
aspire. Hence the importance of Christian formation in a correct and
realistic idea of freedom in relation to marriage as the ability to choose and
direct oneself toward the good of self-giving in marriage.
(45) In this sense, preventive action through family catechesis
is very important. The witness of Christian families is irreplaceable both
with regard to their own children and the society in which they live. Not
only pastors must defend the family; the families themselves must demand respect
for their rights and for their identity. The important place of family
catecheses today in pastoral care of the family must be emphasized. In such
catecheses, the family realities are tackled in an organic, complete and
systematic way, subjected to the criterion of faith, and clarified by the Word
of God interpreted in an ecclesial way, in fidelity to the Magisterium of the
Church, by legitimate and competent pastors who will truly contribute, in a
catechetical process, to deepening the saving truth about man. Efforts
must be made to show the rationality and the credibility of the Gospel on
marriage and the family by re-structuring the Church’s educational system.
In this way, the explanation of marriage and the family based on a correct
anthropological vision will not fail to surprise Christians themselves. They
will discover that it is not only a question of faith and will find reasons for
confirming this to themselves, acting through personal life witness, and
developing a specifically lay apostolic mission.
Means of communication
(46) In our times, the crisis of family values and the concept of
the family in State systems and in the means of transmitting culture—press,
television, Internet, film, etc.—require a special effort to make family
values present in the communications media. Consider, for example, the
great influence of these media in the loss of social sensitivity with regard to
situations such as adultery, divorce or even de facto unions, as well as the
pernicious deformation in many cases of the “values” (or rather the
“non-values”) that the media sometimes present as normal possibilities in life.
Moreover, it should be kept in mind that on some occasions, and despite the
praiseworthy contribution of committed Christians who collaborate in these
media, some programs and television series contribute to misinformation and the
growth of religious ignorance rather than to religious formation. Even if
these factors are not found among the fundamental elements that shape a culture,
their influence is not negligible among the sociological factors to be kept in
mind in pastoral care inspired by realistic criteria.
(47) For many of our contemporaries whose subjectivity has been
ideologically “demolished”, so to speak, marriage appears to be more or less
unthinkable. For these persons, the reality of marriage has no meaning.
In what way can the Church’s pastoral care be an event of salvation for them
too? In this sense, the political and legislative commitment of
Catholics who have responsibilities in this area is decisive. Laws
constitute to a great extent the “ethos” of a people. With regard to this
point, it seems very useful to make an appeal to overcome the temptation to be
indifferent in the political-legislative area, and to stress the need for public
witness to the dignity of the person. As we said earlier, making de facto unions
equivalent to the family implies an alteration in the system for the common good
of society, and this is detrimental to the institution of the family based on
marriage. Therefore, it is an evil for persons, families and societies.
What is “politically possible” and its evolution over time cannot be detached
from the ultimate principles of truth about the human person which must inspire
attitudes, concrete initiatives and future programs.
It also seems useful to criticize the “dogma” of the inseparable connection
between democracy and ethical relativism that is at the basis of many
legislative attempts to make de facto unions equivalent to the family.
(48) The problem of de facto unions constitutes a real
challenge for Christians in their ability to demonstrate the rational aspect
of the faith, the profound rationality of the Gospel of marriage and the
family. A proclamation of the Gospel without this challenge to rationality
(in the sense of an intimate correspondence between man’s desiderium naturale
and the Gospel proclaimed by the Church) would be ineffective. For this
reason, today more than in other eras, it is necessary to make known in
believable terms the inner credibility of the truth about man which is at the
basis of the institution of conjugal love. Different from what occurs with
the other sacraments, marriage also pertains to the economy of Creation and is
inscribed in the natural dynamics of humankind. Secondly, a renewed
reflection is also necessary on the fundamental bases, the essential principles
that inspire educational activities in the different milieus and institutions.
What is the philosophy today of the educational institutions in the Church, and
what is the way in which these principles flow into an appropriate education to
marriage and the family as both fundamental and necessary nuclear structures for
Pastoral care and closeness
(49) Understanding the existential problems and the choices of
persons living in de facto unions is legitimate and, in some cases, a duty.
Some of these situations should even arouse real and proper compassion.
Respect for the dignity of persons is not subject to discussion. However,
understanding circumstances and respect for persons are not equivalent to a
justification. On the contrary, in these circumstances, it is a matter of
emphasizing that truth is an essential good of persons and a factor of authentic
freedom, and that from the affirmation of truth an offense will not result, for
“it is an outstanding manifestation of charity towards souls to omit nothing
from the saving doctrine of Christ”.
On the other hand, “this must always be joined with tolerance and charity. Of
this, the Lord himself in his conversation and dealings with men has left an
Christians must try to understand the personal, social, cultural and ideological
reasons for the spread of de facto unions. It must be remembered that
intelligent and discreet pastoral care can, on certain occasions, favor the
“institutional” recovery of some of these unions. The persons who find
themselves in these situations must be kept in mind in a detailed and prudent
way in the ordinary pastoral care of the ecclesial community. This care
implies nearness, attention to the related problems and difficulties, patient
dialogue, and concrete assistance, especially with regard to the children.
Prevention, also in this aspect of pastoral care, is a priority concern.
(50) Over the ages, the wisdom of peoples, albeit with limitations,
has substantially been capable of recognizing the essence and the fundamental
and irreplaceable mission of the family based on marriage. The family is a
necessary and indispensable good for the whole of society, and it has a real and
proper right in justice to be recognized, protected and promoted by the whole of
society. It is this whole of society that is damaged when this precious
and necessary good of humanity is wounded in any way. Before the social
phenomenon of de facto unions, and the postponing of conjugal love which this
implies, society itself cannot remain indifferent. Merely erasing the
problem through the false solution of granting them recognition and placing them
on a public level similar to, or even equivalent to families based on marriage,
is a detrimental comparison to marriage (which further damages this natural
institution, that is so necessary today, rather than providing real family
policies). Moreover, this implies a profound lack of recognition of the
anthropological truth about the human love between a man and a woman, and its
inseparable aspects of stable unity and openness to life. This lack of
recognition is still more grave when the essential and very profound difference
is ignored between conjugal love, that comes from the institution of marriage,
and homosexual relationships. The “indifference” of public administrations
toward this aspect is very similar to a kind of apathy with regard to the life
or death of society, an indifference about its future projection or its
degradation. If suitable remedies are not applied, this “neutrality” would
lead to a serious breakdown of the social fabric and of the pedagogy of the
The under-evaluation of conjugal love and its intrinsic openness to
life, with the instability of family life that this entails, is a social
phenomenon that requires proper discernment by all those who feel committed to
the good of the family, and in a very special way by Christians. This
means first of all recognizing the real causes (ideological and economic) of the
situation, and not giving in to demagogic pressures by lobbies that do not take
the common good of society into consideration. The Catholic Church, in
following Jesus Christ, recognizes in the family and in conjugal love a gift of
communion of the merciful God with humanity, a precious treasure of holiness and
grace that shines in the midst of the world. Therefore, it invites those
who are fighting for the cause of man to unite their efforts in promoting the
family and its intimate source of life which is the conjugal union.
The humanizing and pastoral activity of the Church, in her preferential choice
for the poor, has generally been directed in these countries at “regularizing”
these unions through the celebration of marriage (or through validation or
healing, according to the cases) in the ecclesial position of a commitment to
the sanctification of Christian homes.
Different constructionist theories today hold different conceptions about the
way in which society—in their opinion—ought to change by adapting itself to the
different “genders” (think, for example, of education, health, etc.). Some
support three genders, others five, others seven, others a different number,
according to different considerations.
Both Marxism and structuralism have contributed to a different extent to the
consolidation of this ideology of “gender” which has undergone various
influences, such as the “sexual revolution”, with postulates such as those put
forth by W. Reich (1897-1957) regarding the call to a “liberation” from all
sexual discipline, or Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979) and his invitation to
experience all kinds of sexual situations (in the sense of a sexual polymorphism
or indifferently “heterosexual” orientation – i.e., the natural sexual
orientation—or homosexual), detached from the family and from any natural end of
differentiation between the sexes, as well as from any obstacle derived from
procreational responsibility. A certain radical and extreme feminism,
represented by the contributions of Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) and Simone de
Beauvoir (1908-1986), cannot be put on the margin of this historical process of
consolidation of an ideology. In this way, “heterosexuality” and monogamy
no longer seem to be considered anything but one of the possible cases of sexual
This position has unhappily had a favorable reception in a good number of
important international institutions, with the resulting damage to the very
concept of family whose foundation is and must be marriage. Among these
institutions, some organisms of the United Nations recently seem to support some
of these theories, thereby avoiding the authentic meaning of article 16 of the
1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which indicates the family as
“a natural and fundamental element of society”. Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE
FAMILY, The Family and Human Rights, 1999, No. 16.
Cf. ARISTOTLE, Politica I, 9-10 (Bk 1253a).
“…beyond different schools of thought, there exists a body of knowledge which
may be judged a kind of spiritual heritage of humanity. It is as if we had
come upon an implicit philosophy, as a result of which all feel that they
possess these principles, albeit in a general and unreflective way.
Precisely because it is shared in some measure by all, this knowledge should
serve as a kind of reference-point for the different philosophical schools.
Once reason successfully intuits and formulates the first universal principles
of being and correctly draws from them conclusions which are coherent both
logically and ethically, then it may be called right reason or, as the ancients
called it, orth(o-)s logos, recta ratio”. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical
ratio, No. 4.
“The preaching of Christ crucified and risen is the reef upon which the link
between faith and philosophy can break up, but it is also the reef beyond which
the two can set forth upon the boundless ocean of truth. Here we see not only
the border between reason and faith, but also the space where the two may meet”.
JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Fides et ratio, No. 23. “The Gospel of life is
not for believers alone: it is for everyone. The issue of life and its
defense and promotion is not a concern of Christians alone”. JOHN PAUL II,
Evangelium vitae, No. 101.
JOHN PAUL II, Allocution to the Forum of Catholic Associations of Italy, June
ST. AUGUSTINE, De libero arbitrio, I,5,11.
“Social life and its juridical apparatus require an ultimate foundation.
If there is no other law than civil law, then we must admit that some value,
including those for which men have fought and considered crucial steps in the
slow march toward freedom, can be cancelled by a simple majority vote.
Those who criticize moral law must close their eyes before this possibility, and
when they promote laws—that go against the common good in its fundamental
requirements—they must take all the consequences of their actions into
consideration because they can drive the society in a dangerous direction”.
Card. A. Sodano, Discourse during the Second Meeting of European Politicians and
Lawmakers, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican City,
October 22-24, 1998.
In Europe, for instance, in the Constitution of Germany: “Marriage and the
family have special protection in the State system” (Art. 6); Spain: “The public
authorities assure the social, economic and juridical protection of the family”
(Art. 39); Ireland: “The State recognizes the family as the primary and
fundamental natural group of society and as a moral institution endowed with
inalienable and permanent rights that are prior and superior to all positive
law. For this reason, the State is committed to protect the constitution
and the authority of the family as the necessary foundation of the society and
as indispensable for the well-being of the Nation and the State” (Art. 41);
Italy: “The Republic recognizes the rights of the family as a natural society
based on marriage” (Art. 29); Poland: “Marriage, i.e., the union of a man and a
woman, as well as the family, fatherhood and motherhood, must find protection
and care in the Republic of Poland” (Art. 18); Portugal: “The family, as the
fundamental element of society, is entitled to the protection of society and the
State and the attainment of all the conditions that will permit the personal
realization of its members” (Art. 67).
Also in Constitutions around the world: Argentina: “…the law will
decree…the integral protection of the family” (Art. 14); Brazil: “The family,
the basis of society, is the object of special protection by the State” (Art.
226); Chile: “The family is the fundamental nucleus of society…It is the State’s
duty…to give protection to the people and to the family…” (Art. 1); People’s
Republic of China: “The State protects marriage, the family, motherhood and
children” (Art. 49); Colombia: “The State recognizes, with no discrimination,
the primacy of the inalienable rights of the person and protects the family as
the basic institution of society” (Art. 5); South Korea: “Marriage and family
life are founded on the basis of individual dignity and equality between the
sexes; the State will use all the means at its disposal to attain this end”
(Art. 36); The Philippines: “The State recognizes the Filipino family as the
foundation of the Nation. In accord with this, it must promote intensely
solidarity, its active promotion, and its complete development. Marriage is an
inviolable social institution; it is the foundation of the family and must be
protected by the State” (Art. 15); Mexico: “…The Law…will protect the
organization and the development of the family” (Art. 4); Peru: “The community
and the State…also protect the family and promote marriage. They recognize
them as the natural and fundamental institutions of society” (Art. 4); Rwanda:
“The family, as the natural basis of the Rwandan people, will be protected by
the State” (Art. 24).
“Every law made by men has reason to be law in that it is derived from natural
law. If, on the other hand, something is opposed to natural law, then it
is not law but corruption of the law”. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Teologica,
I-II, q. 95, a.2.
JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the Second Meeting of European Politicians and
Lawmakers, organized by the Pontifical Council for the Family, Vatican City,
October 23, 1998.
“As politicians and legislators faithful to the 1948 Universal Declaration of
Human Rights, we commit ourselves to promote and defend the rights of the
family founded on marriage between a man and a woman. This must be done at
all levels: local, regional, national and international. Only in this way
can we be true servants of the common good, both in the national and
international fields”. Conclusions of the Second Meeting of European
Politicians and Lawmakers, organized by the Pontifical Council for the
Family, Vatican City, October 22-24, 1998.
“The family is the central nucleus of civil society. It certainly has an
important economic role, which cannot be overlooked, because it constitutes the
greatest human capital, but its mission encompasses many other tasks. It
is above all a natural community of life, a community that is based on marriage
and for this reason it has a cohesiveness that surpasses that of any other
social community”. Final Declaration of the Third Meeting of Politicians and
Lawmakers of America, Buenos Aires, August 3-5, 1999.
Cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family, Preamble.
SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL, Constitution Gaudium et spes, No. 49.
Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2332; JOHN PAUL II, Discourse
to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 21, 1999.
JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 21, 1999.
“Marriage creates the juridical framework that fosters the stability of the
family. It makes the renewal of the generations possible. It is not
a simple contract or a private matter but rather it constitutes one of the
fundamental structures of society which it keeps united in coherence”. Statement
of the Permanent Council of the French Bishops’ Conference, regarding the
legislative bill “Civil Pact of Solidarity”, September 17, 1998.
JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris consortio, No. 19.
JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, January 2, 1999
“There is no equivalence between the relationship of two persons of the same sex
and the relationship formed by a man and a woman. Only the latter can be
described as a couple because it implies sexual difference, the conjugal
dimension, the ability to exercise fatherhood and motherhood. Obviously,
homosexuality cannot represent this symbolic whole”. Statement by the Permanent
Council of the French Bishops’ Conference regarding the legislative bill “Civil
Pact of Solidarity”, September 17, 1998.
With regard to the grave, intrinsic moral disorder, contrary to natural law, of
homosexual acts, see: Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2357-2359;
CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction Persona Humana,
December 29, 1975; PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY,
Truth and Meaning of
Human Sexuality, December 8, 1995, No. 104.
JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the Participants in the XIV General Assembly of the
Pontifical Council for the Family, June 4, 1999; Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Angelus, June
Cf. PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY, Statement on the Resolution by the
European Parliament making de facto unions, including same sex unions, equal to
the family, March 17, 2000
“It cannot be overlooked that, as some of its promoters acknowledge, this
legislation constitutes a first step toward, for example, the adoption of
children by persons living in a homosexual relation. We fear for the
future as we deplore what has happened”. Statement by the Chairman of the French
Bishops’ Conference after the promulgation of the “Civil Pact of Solidarity”,
October 13, 1999.
Cf. Note of the Permanent Commission of the Spanish Bishops’ Conference (June
24, 1994) on the occasion of the Resolution of the European Parliament of
February 8, 1994 on equal rights of homosexuals and lesbians.
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Preamble, D.
Ibid., Preamble passim and Art. 6.
Ibid., Preamble B and I.
Ibid., Preamble C and G.
JOHN PAUL II, Allocution, December 26, 1999.
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Preamble, F; Cf. JOHN PAUL II,
Familiaris consortio, No. 21.
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Preamble, E.
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Preamble, H-I.
Cf. Ibid., Nos. 28-35; Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation,
Familiaris consortio, No. 20;
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art. 6.
Cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art 2, b and c; Art. 7.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation,
Familiaris consortio, No. 36-41;
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art. 5; JOHN PAUL II, Letter to
Families Gratissimam sane, No. 16.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Exhortation,
Familiaris consortio, 42-48;
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art. 8-12.
Charter of the Rights of the Family, Art. 1, c.
Cf. COUNCIL OF TRENT, Sessions VII and XXIV.
Code of Canon Law, Canon 1055, §1; Catechism of the Catholic
Church, No. 1601.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Discourse to the Roman Rota, January 21, 2000.
Cf. Code of Canon Law and Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, 1983
and 1990 respectively.
Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Allocution during the General Audience of September 5, 1979.
With this Allocution, the Cycle of catechesis began known as the “Catechesis on
“Christ does not accept the discussion on the level which his speakers try to
introduce it; in a certain sense, he does not approve the dimension they
try to give to the problem. He avoids becoming involved in juridical-legal
controversies and instead makes reference twice to the ‘beginning’”. Ibid.
“It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture,
but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same
culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there
is something in man which transcends those cultures. This ‘something’ is
precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the
condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures,
but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth
of his being”. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical
Veritatis Splendor, No. 53.
Natural law “is none other than the light of the intelligence instilled in us by
God. Thanks to this, we know what must be done and what must be avoided.
God has given this light and this law in Creation”. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS,
Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad 2um. Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical
Veritatis Splendor, No. 35-53.
Through the grace of marriage, the spouses “help one another to attain holiness
in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children”. SECOND
VATICAN COUNCIL, Lumen Gentium, No. 11. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic
Church, Nos. 1641-1642.