The Holy See
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Friday, 6 February 2004  


Mr President,

This year when the United Nations Organization is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family, my Delegation would like first of all to stress once again the importance the Holy See attaches to the family institution.

My Delegation believes that the family should play an essential and central role in establishing a healthy society. In fact, the family is the first place for social integration since it constitutes the basic cell of society and its foundation.

For the Holy See, the family is a natural institution founded on marriage - the intimate and complementary union of a man and a woman - which, as such, possesses inalienable rights of its own. Far more than a mere legal, sociological or financial union, the family constitutes a community of love and solidarity.

This is why it is particularly suited to fulfilling the integration of all of its members, whether young, elderly or disabled. It is then easy to say that a family conceived in this way will be able to serve as a model for social integration on a broader scale.

However, it is also true that the contemporary world certainly challenges the family, as moreover the 2003 Report on the social situation in the world rightly recognizes.

In particular, we read in this Report that "young people living in families classified as dysfunctional, marked by conflicts, inadequate parental control, relations maintained with other members of the enlarged family and of the community, and premature independence, are closely associated with crime. As in the cases of drug abuse, the majority of juvenile delinquents are children and young people from disadvantaged families, possessing reduced opportunities for legitimate employment and confronted by the risk or reality of social marginalization".

All these reasons bring my Delegation to insist on the urgent need to adopt family policies equal to meeting today's requirements. Indeed, my Delegation is convinced that these policies are the ethical and concrete means of settling social crises and guaranteeing democracy a possible future.

The fostering and strengthening of the family in society can and will certainly contribute to improving the efficiency of the public sector and thereby to assuring the progress of social development.

It is certain that to draw up policies of this kind is no easy task. In fact, they must maintain a correct balance with the principle of subsidiarity, by virtue of which "the State cannot and must not take from families the functions they can just as well perform on their own or in free associations; instead, it must positively favour and encourage as far as possible responsible initiative by families" (Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio, n. 45).

On the other hand, family policies and the legislation that governs these policies must respond to the demands of justice, drawing inspiration from the principle of solidarity in the various sectors of society and between the generations.

The need for solidarity, which already inspires policies for unemployment, health care and retirement, must also be respected at the level of family policies, which cannot be reduced to fiscal policies for the redistribution of income nor to social-assistance policies.

It is by taking inspiration from these two principles that political leaders can successfully face the challenges posed by the social integration of the weakest categories of society that include the young, the elderly and the disabled people.

It is also in the light of these two principles that pro-family legislation can respect the right of families to benefit from social provisions that take their needs into account, especially when families have to bear the burden of extra expenses for their members incurred by old age, physical or psychological disabilities or the education of children.

Today more than ever, families need the special protection of the public authorities. States are responsible for defending the "sovereignty" of the family, for the family is the fundamental cell of society's structure.

By way of summary, defending the sovereignty of the family means contributing to the sovereignty of nations. Thus, recognition of the rights of the family constitutes a fundamental aspect of the promotion of human rights.

Thank you, Mr President.


*L'Osservatore Romano. Weekly Edition in English n.11 p.4, 5.