Creating a Future Family as the Fabric of Society

Creating a Future  Family as the Fabric of Society
“The City of God in the Palace of Nations”
Creating a Future
Family as the Fabric of Society
With a selection of recent texts from the Church’s engagement
regarding the role of the family in today’s society
Published by Mathias Nebel and Mary G. Burns FCIV
16 chemin du Vengeron, CH-1292 Chambésy
© 2014 The Caritas in Veritate Foundation
SECTION ONE: Family as the Fabric of Society
Family and Migration: An Ethical Challenge
Laura Zanfrini, Univerisità Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milan)
The Cost of Family Breakdown
John Ashcroft, Relationships Foundation (Cambridge)
Reconnecting Family and Faith in Business
Michael Naughton, Ken Goodpaster, Ritch Sorenson; University of St. Thomas
SECTION TWO: Recent Church Texts on the Family
Review and Introduction to the Texts
Mathias Nebel, Director, FCIV
Address to the Members of the Centesimus Annus—Pro Pontifice
Foundation, Benedict XVI, 2009
Address at the International Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man
Papal Address
and Woman Pope Francis, 2014
Holy See
Charter on the Family
The Family as the Resource of Society: 20th Anniversary of the UN Year for
UN Speech
the Family, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, 2014
Statement at the International Dialogue on Migration, Archbishop Silvano
UN Intervention
Tomasi, 2014
Pontifical Council for Serving the Family and Life; Serving the Human Person, Carlos Simon
the Family
Vazquez, 2014
Papal Address
We are all of one mind…
obody seriously denies the importance of family relationships
to human development. It is well known that the family space
is crucial to the transmission and acquisition of the elements
inherent to human dignity: responsibility, rationality, love, language,
freedom, justice, etc. The work of Piaget and his many successors only
confirmed something which was always widely recognized: human beings are born into family relationships; children accede to language, reason, freedom through their parents; and parents introduce their children
to social life and the institutions organizing our common world.
But this does not seem to be enough to make it a priority in the UN
Agenda, as the Secretary General timely remarks: “At the international
level, the family is appreciated but not prioritized in development efforts. The very contribution of families to the achievement of development goals continues to be largely overlooked (…).”1
But then not that much…
he «why» question is unavoidable: why has the family’s important role in peace, human rights and development policies been
overshadowed? Why is the UN system reluctant to adopt and
further advance family based policies regarding development?
It is certainly not out of a lack of UN declarations recognizing its
importance! Although there is no explicit family framework at the international level numerous UN documents have shown a very consistent
recognition of the role and importance of family. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that the family is the “natural and fundamental group unit of society” and is therefore “entitled to protection
by society and the State” (1948, Art. 16 §3); Elsewhere “that [family]
plays a key role in social development and is a strong force of social cohesion and integration” (Social Summit+5 2000, III §56). Or that “for
the full and harmonious development of the children’s personality, they
should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” (Children Summit, 1990, §18).
Creating the Future
The root causes of the problem…
o understand the lack of interest at the UN for a family approach to development, we have to look for other reasons than a
lack of legislation. The present practical mistrust over the notion
of family directly results from two trends: the first has been the push
for sexual and reproductive rights; the second is the evolution of practice and law in western countries over marriage and family. Both have
brought a sort of stigmatization of family that makes it a non-starter for
development policies.
The debate on sexual and reproductive rights has been divisive around
contraception methods and sexuality, hence also on marriage and family
conceptions. Typically, to quote family in this context is regarded positioning oneself on the conservative side, opposing the new reproductive
rights. Moreover, the ongoing battle for legal recognitions of free and
same sex unions in UN texts has had the result of making the use of the
word family a conflicting term that parties are keen to avoid in policy
Taking a new look on a family perspective for development…
et a family perspective should not be reduced and restricted to
the two previous debates. The present Working Paper is keen to
highlight how much an approach to development issues may
gain from adopting a family perspective. Three topics will be covered
by the present issue: Migration and Family, Business and Family, And
the Social Cost of Family Breakdown. Indeed, family relationships are
decisive in order to understand the dynamic of migration and some of
its most peculiar problems, whereas the solidarity and security of family
relationship are crucial features on which many small and medium enterprises have thrived. In turn, it appears that the fight against poverty is
deeply intertwined with family issues, not only in developing countries
but also in developed one.
Indeed, in most developing countries the solidarity and security provided by extended family network is the only one that mitigates poverty.
Help in time of need, solace in time of grief, shelter in time of war or
deterrence; family ties prove to be the backbone of the incredible resilience of the poor. Is this of no importance to International development
At the same time, developed countries see the social cost of family
breakup rising steadily and social security systems facing difficulties to
fill the void left by the demise of this form of natural solidarity. Is this
not something on which we should reflect?
The Family as the Fabric of Society
For the option for the poor to be more than just a slogan, we should
address the question of family related poverty. In Pope Francis words:
“We now live in a culture of the temporary, in which more and more
people are simply giving up on marriage as a public commitment. This
revolution in manners and morals has often flown the flag of freedom,
but in fact it has brought spiritual and material devastation to countless
human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. Evidence is
mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated with
increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the
most in this crisis.”2
1. Report of the Secretary-General on the Follow-up to the tenth anniversary of the
International Year of the Family and beyond (2011), §9 . (A/66/62-E/2011/4, §9).
2. Pope Francis, The Complementarity of Man and Woman in Marriage, November 17
Executive Summary
he family is both self-evident and complex. Everyone is born, lives
and dies in the context of family relationships. That is a given. Yet
this truly universal human experience has taken different forms
throughout cultures and history. That is the complexity. The Catholic
Church’s position is that these particular forms, however complex, do not
impede our ability to recognize a certain number of permanent features
that hold true to all forms of family life. This similarly applies to the idea
that human dignity is always equal however different each individual may
be from the others.
The Working Paper investigates how adopting a family perspective can
add precious information to the way migration, poverty, and business are
approached by the international community. The present approach at the
UN usually focuses on individuals, overlooking the facts that migration
flows mostly occur along family relationships, that family is the most important network for mitigating poverty worldwide and that good business
practices owe a great deal to family values.
This Working Paper is issued by the Caritas in Veritate Foundation as its
contribution to the 20th Anniversary of the Year of the Family. By proposing a reflection on topics not usually associated with the family, we hope to
open up a dialogue in international affairs that would help break the highly
ideological power play over the definition of the family. We are convinced
that a family approach to many of the current developmental challenges
would indeed help us understand far better what occurs on the ground and
what ultimately helps the poor and marginalized.
The first part of this Working Paper shows how a family approach to
migration, poverty, and business actually adds valuable and original insights to these questions. The second part proposes some recent texts of the
Catholic Church on the relationships between family and migration, poverty, and business. It also features a text written for this issue by the Pontifical Council of the Family presenting the overall development of Catholic
thought about the family.
Migration and Family
Laura Zanfrini summarizes the results of the recent studies on migration
from a family perspective. She starts by recognizing that family still tends to
be seen as one of the hurdles of migration: a problem – family reunification,
lone children migrants - that migration policies have to address properly.
But actually this is an undue, ideological reduction, as recent studies
show. Families play a crucial role in the dynamics of migration. It is along
family relationship that most people move; the distribution pattern of the
flow of capital sent home by migrants also goes along family lines, and it
is family ties that provide the main sources of human security to migrants
(mitigate risk; increase resilience). At five times the amount of international direct public help, the migrant’s remittances are the main source of capital transfer to developing countries. The third and fourth part of Zanfrini’s
article raises issues from the right to family reunification to the many challenges faced by children in migration cases (in countries of origin and host
countries). A fifth part tries to take a Catholic perspective on the issue. It
looks at how the Church experience and structure may help improve family
oriented migration policies. It lists six points: 1. Countries of origin should
revise how migrants are perceived and protected on their own territory; 2.
Principles informing migration policies should be consistent with human
rights and democratic values; 3. Security systems of host countries should
be less tied to work and individuals; 4. The Catholic Church can help grasp
the limits and aporias of a State-centric system response to poor and vulnerable migrants; 5. Local Churches can offer a special support to families
involved in migration processes; 6. Migrants should be seen by Christians
as prophetic signs of the grace of Christ to our time.
The social cost of family breakup
Beyond ideological disputes, the increasing fragility of legal unions and
marriage in western countries has a cost to society. In the first part, John
Ashcroft exposes the measure done for the United Kingdom of what family
break-up means to the State budget: 46 billion GBP in 2014. Based on
the index created by the Relationship Foundation, the paper shows that
poverty and family break-up are closely linked, and that any fight against
poverty should include a family friendly strategy. Actually the cost of addressing poverty after family failure amounts to 5 to 7 time more than what
prevention actions could cost. The second part of the paper reviews the way
in which the calculations were done in order to assess the cost of the changing structures of family relationships in the UK. It addresses the costs upon
health, social services and social care, welfare taxes and benefits, housing,
education and civil and criminal justice. The conclusions highlight why
supporting greater stability in family relationships is economically consistent and how fighting poverty is successful within a family approach to
social justice.
Business and family
The thesis of Professors Naughton, Goodpaster and Sorenson’s paper is
that we will not get business right if we do not get the family right. The
family serves as the fundamental cell of the culture. This fundamental cell
is the place from which business receives its moral and spiritual resources to
promote and develop just practices within the business. In the first part of
their paper the authors investigate three important dis-connects currently
affecting the relationship between business and family: 1. A disconnected
self, meaning the contrasting or even contradictory set of standard behaviours required from individuals between the spheres of economics and family; 2. Disconnected business and family institutions, where the economy
is no longer informed by the prior norms and has lost the meaning of the
family and the common good. 3. Disconnect between poverty and family,
where recent studies and evidence show that family break-up are positively
correlated to a higher poverty rate.
In the second part the authors consider the reasons of these dis-connections, crucially stating that the moral guidance of business not only comes
from the market and from the law, but primarily from the larger culture
and, in particular, from the family and from religion. Family and faith-based
institutions provide the cultural soil out of which businesses grows: firstly,
they limit economic activity thus situating it within the wider human activities; secondly, family and religion order economic activity and remind it of
its purpose by connecting business to the common good. What the family
and religion do for business is to identify the comprehensive set of goods
that business must produce and to help it resist the temptation to reduce
itself to mere material accumulation in the form of profits, salaries, or price.
Finally the third part reflects how a family perspective on business activity
actually transforms the business world. Three core principles are put forward: 1. Providing good goods (providing goods which are truly good and
services which truly serve and go beyond market value); 2. Offering good
work (organizing work where employees develop their gifts and talents not
only for themselves, but for others); 3. Creating good wealth (Creating
sustainable wealth that can be distributed justly to stakeholders and not
only to shareholders).
A Caritas in Veritate Foundation Report1 by
Univerisità Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (Milan)
n recent decades, family has gained a very important role in both the
expansion of the field of research in migration studies and the rethinking of integration models within the receiving society.1 The challenge
is to adopt a new analytical perspective, represented by the family and its
strategies, in order to survive and develop as a fundamental determining
unit in the domain of migration choices, strategies, and behaviours.
According to various contemporary theoretical perspectives, family is the
natural decision-making unit, or, at any rate, the institution on the behalf
of which the choice to emigrate is made and which “utilizes” its members
for its needs of survival and development. Family is also the agency that receives and manages the precious flow of remittances from family members
working abroad, thus determining its impact on the economies of the sending communities. In this sense, family is a strategic actor for the economic
and social development of the source countries and can activate forms of
co-operation and support. Due to the revenues produced by their parents
and other family members working abroad, new generations can achieve
high levels of education while having a positive impact on the process of
human capital accumulation and development. On the other hand, family
can also be the source of processes of coercion and conflicting dynamics
that may become causes, or consequences, of migration. Moreover, left-behind families, most especially children, represent a dramatic phenomenon
that is challenging both the public and the religious institutions due to
the social, educative, psychological, and moral costs it can produce. Finally, obeying to family economic wellbeing, contemporary migration could
generate deep human and social costs, particularly manifesting possible
tensions among the different components –economic, social, cultural, and
spiritual– of development [Caritas in Veritate, n. 31].
On the other end of the migration process, family is a factor that strongly
influences the evolution of migratory projects and supports the process of
¶ Summary
“In all of these situations,
we run the risk of forgetting
that each person must always
be considered as an end in
and of himself–as it is unambiguously stressed by the
Catholic Social Thought–,
rather than as a means of
family security.”
Creating a Future
migrants’ integration, even if it sometimes necessitates a “generational sacrifice” in order to assure the (presumed) best chances to the members of the
other generations. The lack of family relations and support makes dysfunctional behaviours more likely, such as alcoholism, deviance and drug addiction. On the other hand, family reunion, particularly after long periods
of separation, can reveal itself a difficult or even traumatic experience for
the individuals involved, thus suggesting the need for special support to be
given to the families by both the origin and the receiving societies. Migrant
offspring, particularly those belonging to low status families, are especially
exposed to the risk of school failure and professional underachievement.
Moreover, from the standpoint of the hosting society, the presence of migrant families is a phenomenon that transforms the impact and significance
of migration, translating an economic issue into a political one. Particularly in countries that have institutionalized the “guest worker” model, the
presence of families completely redefines the assessment of the cost/benefit
trade-off generated by migration, obliging educational and welfare institutions to face new needs and new challenges. At the same time, this same
presence could enrich school offer –due to the opportunity to develop intercultural awareness and intercultural dialogue– and even stimulate adaptation among welfare regimes toward the novel structure of social risks and
social needs as it has been emerging in a global and “mobile” society. Lastly,
as far as Christian communities are concerned, the presence of families
coming from abroad can be seen as an authentic prophetic opportunity to
assess their catholicity and search for their true, universal standing.
Despite the fact that family constitutes a crucial piece in the process of
human mobility, receiving societies’ expectations concerning migration
continue to be predominantly founded on an atomistic conception. The
same is true as far sending countries are concerned, considering that the
vast presence of left-behind families constitutes the best guarantee of continuing to receive remittances from abroad. As an emblematic consequence
of this gap, researchers denounce that family reunification is not always
the best solution, claiming that it could involve a deterioration of opportunities of migrants’ children and even of the relationship between various
family members. This does not include the fact that most single migrants
are induced to renounce their own family aspirations (as it is dramatically
revealed by the high rate of voluntary abortions among migrant women) or
even to “sacrifice” themselves for the wellbeing of left-behind family members. Moreover, the fact of having a member working abroad sometimes
transforms the family into a voracious consumer of remittances, discouraging the search for employment opportunities and various other types of activity within society. In all of these situations, we run the risk of forgetting
that each person must always be considered as an end in and of himself–as
it is unambiguously stressed by the Catholic Social Thought–, rather than
as a means of family security.
Family as the Fabric of Society
Family is also generally underrated in legislation concerning immigration, which is often founded on an individualistic perspective. As we will
see, the European experience is particularly emblematic, because of its
“schizophrenic” attempt to maintain the logic of the “gastarbeiter” (that is,
the migrant admitted with a temporary permit strictly linked to the working condition) and that of the denizenship (a status right now accorded to
the vast majority of migrants that guarantees the access to a rich range of
rights and opportunities, together with a permanent authorization to stay
and, of course, the right to reunite their family members). However, these
kinds of problems are obviously not exclusive to the European landscape;
it is sufficient to consider the phenomenon of so-called “mixed status families” emerging in the US context, not to mention the situation of some
Asian immigration countries where migrants are treated as atomistic workers with neither present nor potential family ties.
In this regard, family is an emblematic example of the gap between social
processes and their regulation, calling into question the human and social
costs of globalization, particularly as regards the experience of migrants’ children. Bridging this gap would require commitment of both the receiving and
sending countries as well as public authorities, civil society’s organizations,
and local churches joining together in attempts to construct new migration
policies and practices based on the dignity of the human person. Finally, our
local churches face the challenging opportunities surrounding the hosting of
migrant families as well as they encounter tests of their faith and teaching.
“Bridging this gap would
require commitment of both
the receiving and sending
countries as well as public
authorities, civil society’s
organizations, and local
churches joining together in
attempts to construct new
migration policies and practices based on the dignity of
the human person.”
1. The Emerging Role of Family in Migration Studies
n recent decades, family has gained a progressively more important role
in contemporary migration studies. In this section we will briefly recall
some of the main theoretical perspectives in the field of socio-economic
studies while focusing attention on family strategies in relation to migratory choices.
The new economics of migration2, moving from a critique of the neo-classical paradigm and its individualistic assumptions, redefines migration as
a family strategy aiming at allocating human resources in order to face
market collapse and inadequacy of welfare systems. As noted in a comprehensive review of theories of international migration3, a key insight of this
new approach is that migration decisions are not made by isolated individual actors, but rather by larger units of related people –typically families or
households– in which people act collectively not only to maximise expected income, but also to minimize risks and to loosen constraints associated
with a variety of market failures (crop insurance markets, futures markets,
capital markets) apart from those in the labour market. In fact, unlike individuals, households are in a position to control risks to their economic
wellbeing by diversifying the allocation of household’s resources, such as
“Migration decisions are not
made by isolated individual
actors, but rather by larger
units of related people –
typically families or households– in which people act
Creating a Future
family labour. Moreover, in developing countries, the institutional mechanisms (private insurances and governmental programs) for managing risks
to household income are imperfect, absent, or inaccessible to poor families,
giving them incentives to diversify risks through migration. Finally, the
new migration economic theorists argue that families send workers abroad
not only to increase income in absolute terms, but also to increase income
relative to other households in order to reduce their relative deprivation
compared with the local reference group (often constituted by families
which have already sent some of their members abroad).
In contemporary times, a very popular approach is network theory4,
which underlines the relational nature of migration and the various functions played by migrant networks, in particular in selecting which family
member is the most suitable to migrate, and in supporting the process of
adaptation to the new social context. Migrant networks are sets of interpersonal ties connecting migrants, former migrants, and non-migrants in
origin and destination areas through ties of kinship, friendship, and shared
community origin; therefore, they constitute a crucial form of social capital. Since migratory movements are at the same time a network-creating
and a net-dependent process, they acquire a self-propulsive dynamic. This
means that, in a certain sense, they are more influenced by the system of
family obligations and expectations than by economic or demographic variables, as supposed by the theories most popular until very recently. Furthermore, each additional migrant that contributes to the expansion of
the network reduces the risks of movement for all of his or her relations,
eventually making it virtually risk-free and costless to diversify household
labour allocations through emigration. Consequently, as networks expand
and the costs and risks of migration fall, the flow becomes less selective in
socioeconomic terms and more representative of the sending community
–for example, registering the presence of individuals of different age and
gender–. Lastly, once they have begun, flows can become very difficult to
fall under governmental supervision because the process of network formation lies largely outside their control; certain immigration policies, however, such as those intended to promote family reunification or family sponsorship, work at cross-purposes with the monitoring of migration flows,
since they reinforce migrant networks by giving members of kin networks
special rights of entry.
A rich array of contributions come from gender studies, whose main
merit is that of having recognized the gendered nature of migratory models, behaviours, and institutions, as can be brought to light by focusing
attention on family and its system of labour division.5 For example, some
scholars have studied how, following the migration of one, some, or all
family members, the relationship between men and women changes and
evolves according to specific “cultures of migration” that assign different
tasks and responsibilities to the various components of the family which
Family as the Fabric of Society
are not necessarily in coherence with the traditional role’s patterns. Others
have emphasised the special significance of women’s experience,6 the possibility of emancipation connected with migration, but also the subjection
of individual projects to the need of the nuclear or of the extended family.
Furthermore, a chief outcome of the research about female migration concerns the close relationship that links them to the various welfare regimes
and the problems that accompany those regimes,7 as well as with the scant
development of welfare policies in many sending countries8. Finally, a special accent has been placed on the “care-drain” process caused by the migration of wives and mothers,9 and on the various forms of “transnational
motherhood” initiated in order to continue taking on the responsibility of
caregiving despite the physical distance10. In this context, a main concern
regards the phenomena of left-behind children, “or orphans of migration”,
an expression which has been significantly coined to allude to mothers’
migration, rather than that of the fathers’ migration11.
Another idea worth mentioning is that of the welfare magnet effect12
which emphasises the role of welfare’s benefits in the genesis, directionality,
and evolution of migratory movements. The magnet hypothesis has several
facets. Welfare programs can attract immigrants who otherwise would not
have migrated to a certain destination, but they can also discourage immigrants who “fail” from returning to their sending country. Actually, being
a self-selective population who have chosen to incur in the costs of migration, migrant families are more sensitive to the offer of welfare benefits than
the native population; they are more inclined to geographical mobility with
the consequence that inter-territorial differences in welfare benefits generate magnetic effects on the immigrant population. Besides the potential
policy significance of these considerations, it is important to note that what
guides the decisions about mobility and settlement is the family wellbeing,
whose importance could even overcome, in many circumstances, that of
working opportunities for the family breadwinner.
Other important insights have been coming from the concept of transnationalism, a label that has become very popular among migrations’ scholars. As a matter of fact, international migration is commonly considered
as one of the major social processes through which globalisation breaks
into the various social institutions and structures, unhinging old approaches soaked in “methodological nationalism”. In this frame, the idea of the
“transnational family”14 not only overcomes methodological nationalism13
in the analysis of the processes of integration, but also offers a good example of the persistence of transnational belonging and practices along with
the passing of generations15. At the same time, it reveals the salience of the
feedback effects that migration produces in the source community, even
after various cohorts, deeply influencing life prospects and life choices of
the younger generations.
Last, but not least, the philosophy of co-development16 enhances the roles
“Migrant families are more
sensitive tothe offer of welfare benefits than the native
Creating a Future
of migrants, Diasporas and transnational families for the economic and
social development of the communities of origin.
2. Family Immigration between “Pros” and “Cons” and
Ideological Traps
“...favoring the process of
permanent immigration
impedes the possibility to
regulate migration influx and
presence in accord with the
labor demand...”
s for the relationship between family and migration, a central issue
is represented by the “pros” and “cons” of family’s migration and
reunification for both the sending and the receiving countries.
Starting from the latter –i.e., the receiving countries– we can observe that
the presence of families is usually considered as a factor of “normalisation”
and social acceptance of migrants. The same conditions required by the law
to obtain reunification with their family members press migrants to emerge
from the informal economy and, if it is the case, from irregular conditions,
and to achieve better living conditions. In some legislation, the possibility
to migrate with one’s spouse and children is conceived of as a means to
attract “desired” migrants, such as high-qualified workers or potential investors, and encourage their settling. For the receiving nations, especially
in the case of societies confronted with a serious aging process –as is the
norm in contemporary Europe, but the same is true in the case of Japan–,
the arrival of migrant families could be considered as a way to sustain the
population growth and renew the active-age population and labour forces.
At the same time, this reinforces cultural pluralism, a trait that enjoys a
positive consideration by significant stakeholders in contemporary societies. Lastly, family immigration favours –and legitimizes– the development
of social research and social work applied to the (real or socially constructed) “problems” of migrants and their descendants, and fuels the survival
strategies of certain organizations facing the loss of autochthonous clients
(for example vocational schools).
Obviously, from the point of view of the host countries, family immigration also has various harmful consequences. In general, favouring the
process of permanent immigration impedes the possibility to regulate migration influx and presence in accord with the labour demand, a possibility particularly stressed in the European context. In fact, it was exactly
the growing presence of migrants’ family members that, in the Seventies,
turned immigration from an economic issue into a political one with the
emergence of questions related to intercultural and inter-religious cohabitation. In the eyes of the local population, family immigration increases the
strain on the welfare apparatus (public schools, health, assistance, etc.), thus
encouraging competition with the weaker sectors of the autochthonous
population over access to social services and benefits (crèches, subsidized
housing, etc.). This is especially true where immigration is “poor”, as in the
case of the contemporary European landscape: it is sufficient to note that
one out of ten people at risk of exclusion have a migrant background in the
Family as the Fabric of Society
European Union. This problem becomes even more complex in the case
of countries that have relied on importing migrants in order to fill manual
and low-qualified jobs: in Italy, for example, almost half of the migrant
families are at risk of poverty17. After all, family immigration irreversibly
changes the hereditary characters of native people, bringing into question
the idea of a nation founded on the principle of descendants –again, an
idea particularly rooted in the European legacy–. If, as observed, family
immigration enriches a society bringing with it other cultural traditions,
then at the same time it forces the native population to come to terms with
cultural and religious pluralism, including the sensitive topics involving
family life. See, for instance, arranged, forced, and polygamous marriage,
crimes of passion, genital mutilation and so on.
On the sending countries’ side, researchers’ attention has been predominantly given to the “cons” of family migration. This is due to a largely pragmatic reason: the departure of a migrant worker’s family members
produces the immediate effect of slowing or even stopping the flow of
remittances. At the same time, it discourages investments and returning
migration. Considering the dramatic importance of migrants’ remittances
and investments for many source countries, we can understand how these
countries may try to discourage family reunification in an open manner.
According to some researchers’ results, family immigration could also have
the effect of weakening the accumulation of human capital, as it “worsens”
the school performance of migrant children. For example, a transnational
research project focused on Filipino migrant children18 –one of the main
countries of emigration in the contemporary landscape– who were registered on different schools’ career paths. Left behind children experienced
a distortion in their educational and professional aspirations due to the
hegemony exerted by a strong “culture of migration”; but at the same time,
they could benefit from the opportunity to attend high quality schools
and universities thanks to the remittances coming from their parents who
were working abroad. Aware of the enormous sacrifices and efforts of their
parents, they tried to work hard and had educational and career ambitions
that were, in fact, higher than their peers were. On the contrary, those who
had re-joined their parents during childhood were subject to a high risk of
dropout and lack of success in school both due to linguistic barriers and
the need to work and earn money. Finally, migrants’ children that arrived
in Italy at a mature age, even if well educated, often experienced a decline
in skills (the so called brain wasting process).
Although all of these results could lead us to think that family reunification abroad produces only negative results for the sending societies, we can
and should identify some of the “pros” of family emigration. Family emigration slows population growth and putting pressure on the school system,
an impact that can be wished by the countries that experience dramatic
demographic increases while lacking the resources to guarantee education,
Creating a Future
health and social assistance to the younger generations (as it is particularly
true for example in the case of African countries). In this perspective, child
and youth emigration can constitute a “safety valve” for unemployment, in
the face of a decidedly considerable growth rate that outpaces the capacity
to generate new jobs. Again, family emigration increases the number of
citizens who reside abroad, an outcome that could be envisaged by those
States interested in the prospect of Diaspora’s mobilisation as a strategy to
support the economic and social development of the sending communities19. Indeed if, traditionally, the idea of migrants as agents of development
of their origin countries referred mainly to temporary migrants oriented to
return home, then attention has now shifted to a more complex picture of
the Diasporas to include permanent expatriates as subjects well integrated
in host countries and second-generation immigrants20. Last but not least,
even if, as we shall see, it is not always the best solution, family reunification is expected to contain the social costs associated with human mobility –particularly in containing the phenomenon of left-behind children–.
From this standpoint, it should be welcomed, despite the computation of
its burdens and benefits.
In any case, the discourse about the relationship between family and migration is often victim of what we can call “ideological traps”21: filters across
which we look at reality and we estimate the outcomes of various phenomena and behaviours. As we shall see, a consequence stemming from this can
be the legitimization of migration policies and practices producing high
human and social costs for individuals and families involved, influencing
the same choices about family reunification.
The first trap is that of economic liberalism, which is expressed by the
tendency to construct, socially and institutionally, migrants as pure workers –labour force or, according to the current migration policies, high-qualified workers, or “brains”, useful in enforcing economic competitiveness–,
atomistic actors without familial ties and links. Emblematically embedded
in the figure of the “guest worker”, this conception is witnessed by the various schemes through which the receiving States try to prevent migrants’
settlement and reunification with their family members; i.e., schemes for
seasonal migration, rotation schemes, circular migration, and so on. In any
case, this conception is paradoxically –and maybe unconsciously– supported also by those political and civil actors who are more sympathetic with
migrants whenever they attempt to legitimise migrants’ presence by stressing their economic role and the “need” of their work (“who can come are
all those who have a job, and, more exactly, a job we do not want to carry
out”). In such a way, the idea promoted is one that states that the governance of human mobility must obey economic considerations and the
arrival of the family members risk to be seen as an unwelcome and useless
consequence of the importation of labour. Especially during a phase of economic recession, as the present one, it becomes more and more difficult to
Family as the Fabric of Society
justify the presence of migrants and their families, and in particular to justify their costs in terms of public welfare. At any rate, some non-democratic
countries do not hesitate to adopt this doctrine in a resolute way, inhibiting
family reunification and recurring to the expulsion of pregnant women.
A second trap can be defined in terms of functionalistic familism: here
the emphasis is put on the idea of migration as a family mandate, which
can justify the sacrifice of the individual projects and aspirations, whenever
the cultural codes and traditions expect their subjugation for the collective
(familial) wellbeing. This approach is oriented to defend the traditional division of labour based on gender, assigning the father the role of the main
breadwinner, even if this implies the father’s emigration. In this prospect,
the problem lies exactly in what does not appear to be a problem: as denounced by a study promoted by the Filipino Episcopal Commission for
the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the tendency is to consider, as “normal”, the
father’s absence and the experience to grow up in families with only one
parent (the mother), thus undervaluing its consequences concerning the
process of intergenerational transmission of marital and parental roles22.
This conception involves an asymmetric evaluation of separated families: if
the departure of the father is accepted or even socially appreciated because
it is coherent with traditional role expectations, the mother’s emigration is
considered as inconvenient and in opposition to the wellbeing of children
and other family members. Here we see that families where the mother is
working abroad instead of being supported risk facing isolation and social
stigmatisation. Moreover, even in the eventuality of family reunification,
children may continue to accuse their mothers of having “abandoned”
them, thus further feeding the mother’s sense of guilty. On the other hand,
the situation of considering the father’s absence as “normal” is somehow a
mirror of a cultural tendency in which the father figure is considered as less
relevant –or only marginally better– than the way in which it used to take
place in the past.
An opposite risk involved is the adoption of the filter of feminism. In this
case, migration is primarily considered as an opportunity to emancipate
women –especially when this entails the leaving of a patriarchal society– or
as a source of exploitation for female migrants. In this vein, a “degenderization” of society is desirable23 in order to promote the advent of more
balanced models of division of labour, thus permitting both mothers and
fathers not only to be active in the labour market but also to have a part
in their children’s education and care, due to a practice of interchangeable
roles. Even when this perspective is shared and understood–as it stresses the
opportunity to design a society where the gender will “matter less”24–, we
cannot ignore that, with the aim to surmount the conventional conception
of the family and especially of motherhood, it run the risk of treating the
costs of separation as traditionalistic constructs. Consequently, we must assist in inhibiting any initiatives aimed at limiting the migration of mothers.
Creating a Future
The last ideological trap is cultural differentialism, by which we mean
the legitimization of special rights (e.g. the so-called “ethnic rights”) and
behaviours even if they conflict with the cultural codes of the receiving
society. Immigrant societies fall in this kind of trap to the extent in which
they permit practices incompatible with their legal culture –or also with
their common sense of what is proper– presuming that these practices are
based on different cultural traditions that must be accepted and recognized.
In the past, the evocation of presumed cultural specificities was used to justify deplorable measures which aimed, for example, at selecting potential
migrants (as in the cases of Indian girlfriends subjected to virginity testing
before obtaining the permit to rejoin their future husbands). However, beyond these extreme examples, a differentialistic approach can induce public
authorities to be “tolerant” towards certain kinds of conduct, as in the case
of men who use violence against their wives and children, or of parents who
do not comply with the duty of their children compulsory education. Finally, differentialism is a danger lurking that, as stressed by the contemporary debate about multiculturalism, is particularly detrimental to the most
vulnerable members of the family whenever the respect of the minorities’
cultures overcomes the safeguard of individual rights and dignity. There
are particularly sensitive issues in question here, such as genital mutilation,
arranged marriages, or the imposition of anachronistic norms of behavior
to sons and daughters.
3. About the Right to Family Reunification: looking at the
European Experience
“Despite the attempts to
avoid the permanent settlement of migrants and their
communities, family reunification is now considered
as a fundamental right but
is dependent upon a certain
level of income and integration.”
n the European experience, as opposed to what happens in the socalled “settlement countries” (Australia, Canada, New Zeeland, United
States), family migration was an unexpected –and “undesired”– phenomenon, which was, to a certain extent, induced by the policies of immigration control in force since the Seventies, which closed the door of labour
migration. In any case, in many European countries this has become the
main channel of entry. As a matter of fact, despite the attempts to avoid the
permanent settlement of migrants and their communities, family reunification is now considered as a fundamental right but is dependent upon a
certain level of income and integration.
In the Member States of the European Union, according to the Council
Directive 2003/86, the absolute right to residence must be recognized to: a)
the sponsor’s25 spouse; b) the minor children of the sponsor and of his/her
spouse, including adopted children; c) the minor children including adopted children of the sponsor where the sponsor has custody and the children
are dependent on him or her27; d) the minor children including adopted
children of the spouse where the spouse has custody and the children are
dependent on him or her. In accordance with the same Directive, the fol-
Family as the Fabric of Society
lowing subjects may have the right to residence: a) first degree relatives in
the direct ascending line of the sponsor or his/her spouse, where they are
dependent on them and do not enjoy proper family support in the country
of origin; b) the adult unmarried children of the sponsor or his/her spouse,
where they are objectively unable to provide for their own needs on account
of their state of health; c) the unmarried partner with whom the sponsor
is in a duly attested stable long-term relationship and his/her children. Finally, further spouses apart from the one already residing in the country in
the event of a polygamous marriage do not have the right to residence: in
this specific case, the EU legislation put a strict fence to the possibility of
accepting an institution contrary to the European legal culture.
Above and beyond the variety of the national rules –which must be coherent with the previous statements– we can observe that the right to family reunification is based, first of all, on the relationship of dependency
between the applicant and the family member s/he is joining. This provision has the consequence of ignoring –or sometimes, as in the past, even
impeding– the participation of the reunited family members in the labour
market. More crucially, it compromises the fate of the children when they
become of age: if they lack the prerequisites for obtaining the renewal of
their residence permit (for example a job contract or attendance of the educational system), they risk, according to some legislations, being forcibly
deported (considering that they cannot formally obtain a permit for family
reasons once become of age). In any case, these provisions reflect a “legal”
concept of the family, resulting in the disregard of different definitions of
kinship shared in some cultures of origin, but also those arisen from the
new confines of the family resulting from the migration itself (e.g., the care
giver of the children left behind), or even those shared by the host country
(e.g., children of age that, in most European societies, continue to be dependent on their parents and live with them)28.
Aside from the relationship of dependency, two other criteria contribute to the selectivity of the right for family reunification. The first one
is the status of the applicant: temporary migrants, permanent migrants,
EU citizens, citizens allowed to free circulation in the EU, and naturalized
citizens enjoy different opportunities and rights, all the way up to total
exclusion from this possibility (as it usually happens to seasonal migrants
and to other categories of migrants defined as “temporary”29). The second
criterion concerns the level of inclusion. All national legislations define
requisites that the migrant must possess in order to apply for the entry of
their family members (accommodation, income, sickness insurance, etc.).
Nevertheless, in recent times, we observe the tendency to require a certain
level of integration for the family member who is joining (this requisite is
generally assessed by language tests or reached by the attendance of mandatory courses). All things considered, the combination of these criteria gives
rise to selective access to the right to join one’s family, introducing discrimi-
“Policies for family immigration can be seen as an
emblematic example of a
persistent tension, strongly
embedded in the European
history, between the logic
of the guest worker –the
illusion to select entrants
and residents according to
the labour market needs and
to the economic gain of the
host society– and the logic
of denizenship –the progressive extension of migrants’
prerogatives, claimed by the
European tradition of respect
of human rights.”
“Reunification is thus not
necessarily permanent, since
migratory movements must
adapt to work commitments,
to family strategies and
sometimes to the desire of
preserving the attachment to
the country of origin.”
Creating a Future
nations on the basis of citizenship, legal status, socio-cultural condition and
gender. The more a migrant is poor and vulnerable, the less s/he can benefit
of this right30. We are alluding to a fundamental human right.
Actually, policies for family immigration can be seen as an emblematic
example of a persistent tension, strongly embedded in the European history, between the logic of the guest worker –the illusion to select entrants and
residents according to the labour market needs and to the economic gain
of the host society– and the logic of denizenship –the progressive extension
of migrants’ prerogatives, claimed by the European tradition of respect of
human rights–. Here we come to what can be defined the unresolved paradox
of the European experience31; that is the paradox of a population of (temporary) workers transformed into denizens, without any significant change in
the expectations of Europeans concerning immigration. In fact, those that
on one hand are recognised as universalistic rights, to which migrants are
eligible in conditions of equality with citizens (for example, the right to a job
or to housing) are, at the same time, necessary requisites for obtaining the
status of regular migrant –exactly the same status that confers the possession
of rights–, and in particular for acceding to the right to family reunification.
But, besides all these considerations, one question arises: is family reunification always the best solution when the wellbeing of all family’s members
and the life chances of migrants’ offspring are taken into account? Or, on
the contrary, does the gap among the crucial role that is played by the
family in the process of human mobility and the migration’s conception on
which both the legislation and the receiving (and sending) societies’ expectations are based make the reunification an unsatisfactory solution? Empirical evidence provides us contradictory findings, which, in any case, can be
cause for reflection. Reunification with family members –particularly with
children– is especially envisaged by those migrants who possess a “weak”
status, which prevents them from maintaining the links with the country
of origin (for example because of the geographical distance, or of the lack
of proper documents). Paradoxically, a “strong” status (e.g., to be a EU citizen living in another European country) may discourage reunification or
favour a sort of physical and symbolic commute with the sending State that
could be detrimental to young children and their school careers (Italians
living in Germany are a case in point32, but the same is true for Romanian
living in Italy or in Spain who perceives their migration as temporary and
reversible, and sometimes even delay the enrolment of their reunited children in school33). Migrant parents often reunite with their children even if
they lack the proper conditions and the time to care for them, to the point
that difficulties encountered can lead them to send the children back home
to be raised by relatives (the same sometimes happens even to children
born in the host country). Reunification is thus not necessarily permanent,
since migratory movements must adapt to work commitments, to family
strategies and sometimes to the desire of preserving the attachment to the
Family as the Fabric of Society
country of origin. More often, reunification involves children who are on
the verge of reaching the age of majority (that is the limit age to rejoin
parents through the legal procedure), giving life to the so-called “spurious”
second generations34 who frequently encounter difficulties of integration
in the new society. When they lack one or more of the prerequisites prescribed by the law, migrants can resolve to realise a “de facto” reunification,
sponsoring the arrival of the spouse and/or the children who will not have
a permit of stay, staking a claim on their life chances. In this latter case, a
possible outcome is the formation of a “mixed status family”, whose members enjoy different legal conditions and diverse life opportunities. After all,
as we have noted in describing the pros and cons of family immigration,
family reunification does not seem to be the best solution when we consider, for example, the school’s career of migrants’ children. Migrant families
often strengthen the idea of the family as an inseparable unit with mutually
dependent interests and needs: this way of thinking has to face the reality of many children who are gradually undermined rather than enhanced
by migration. Actually, migrant parents’ interests are not always matching
with those of their children, even in cases where immigration is apparently
steered by the best interest of the children35.
At any rate, legislation merits special attention. Not only because, as we
have seen, even in the democratic and progressive Europe, the right to family reunification is accessible only to certain immigrants, with the tendency
to exclude the poorest and the weakest. But also because the relationship
between family strategies and legislative restrictions often generates “perverse” outcomes, augmenting the vulnerability of the individuals involved.
As one can imagine, all of these aspects contribute to the establishment of
systems of civic stratification –real, although not necessarily legal– of the
accessibility of the right to family cohesion, based on characteristics which
have to do with the nationality of the immigrants, with their socio-economic status, with the individual’s status within the family, and with their
individual immigration experience. In an attempt to maintain diverse and
often divergent interests (for example, facilitating the integration of immigrants, but at the same time containing immigration and preventing it
from taking roots in the territory), the norms in place produce imperfect
solutions that raise important moral questions. Without taking into account the fact that the countries of origin have their own political agendas
and strategies regarding the issue, an aspect which is frequently overlooked
by political analysts, we see that for the nations which are interested in increasing the precious flow of the remittances of their emigrants in foreign
countries, the reunification of families represents a worthless solution, so
much so as to induce authorities to discourage and obstruct it.
Those who study the family have been analyzing the repercussions that
reunification has on the psychological and emotional equilibrium of those
involved for years36, especially when it involves people who are going
“Beyond the question of
family reunification, it is
important to note how
the whole relationship between family and migration laws is characterized
by tensions and contradictions.”
Creating a Future
through particularly delicate phases of the cycle of personal or family life,
or when it gives rise to situations of cohabitation among people who were
previously not acquainted (i.e., the mother’s new companion, or brothers
or sisters born after the parents’ emigration). Parents can continue to put
off reunification with their children, concentrating instead on economic
objectives which allow them to create better conditions with which to accommodate them, only to then be obliged to accelerate the process before
the children become of age, thus uprooting them at a particularly delicate
time and risking the damage of their scholastic pursuits. Finally, as we have
already remarked, if we consider the process of accumulation of human
capital, it can be observed that the children who are left-behind may find
advantages in all of the opportunities their parents’ emigration allows them
to enjoy (above all the chance to attend quality schools and Universities);
those who do join their parents often encounter difficulties resulting from
the interruption in the education process, and in many cases cannot count
on the support of the parents, who are often overwhelmed by work responsibilities and do not possess the linguistic skills necessary to help them with
homework or to interact with teachers.
Actually, beyond the question of family reunification, it is important to
note how the whole relationship between family and migration laws is characterized by tensions and contradictions. On the one side, is the outcome
of a building up of many and varied interests –among which the slowing
down of immigration and its settlement, the containment of its costs, the
defence of the nation’s identity, the need to facilitate migrants’ integration–
the regulation in force inevitably produces “imperfect” solutions. On the
other side, as stressed by a set of contemporary theoretical streams, the
structure of networks, needs and obligations organized around the family
constitutes a real challenge to the systems of migration control and management of both the receiving and the sending countries. Notwithstanding
the fact that family constitutes a crucial actor in the process of human mobility, the legislation concerning migration (but the same could be demonstrated as regards the domain of citizenship) continues to be founded on
an individualistic conception. If we wish to contain the costs of migration
and at the same time amplify their benefits for individuals, families, and
countries involved, fulfilling this gap is a real need.
4. Children and Migration
ne of the most sensitive issues connected with family migration is
the involvement of children. On the one hand, children are often
the “reason” pushing parents to emigrate, in order to guarantee
them a better future. On the other, migration usually implies difficulties
and suffering for children involved.
Most of the literature has been concentrated, as we have seen, on the
Family as the Fabric of Society
condition of left-behind children, and on the difficulties that children can
face immediately after the reunification with their parents. What frequently emerges is the tendency to underestimate how children, even if of young
age, have their own understanding of what constitutes their wellbeing.
Here, again, we can observe how it is important to base any evaluations of
migration phenomena on the principle of human dignity, whatever the age,
the gender or the specific condition of people concerned.
As stressed by some recent studies37, migrant parents are often unaware
of the challenges that family migration and family reunification imply for
their children from a psychological and social standpoint. They lack important information that would help them in envisaging migration plans
which take into account some factors of protection for their children, and
which are able to favour their chance of wellbeing. During the most critical
stages of the migration process, it is hard for families to cope with all the
difficulties, on emotional, relational, social, cultural and spiritual levels. In
particular, a great need emerges for services able to support family communication, especially during the time of separation between parents and
children when communication, if not adequately supported, may hinder a
functional development of the parental relationship and produce a relevant
distance between family members.
The educational careers of migrants’ offspring is another issue largely
inquired, starting from the awareness that neither choices nor scholastic
achievement are independent from the ascribed status of people, from the
education provided by the family to the social environment one grows up
in: the conclusions regarding migrant’s children are easily drawn. To clear
the field of misunderstandings, it should be stated that scholastic attainments are different for different national groups (and different within the
same group), but are also different for descendants of immigrants of the
same origin residing in different foreign countries. In some cases, the scholastic results of the children of immigrants are above average, and contribute to the creation of a positive stereotype regarding their propensity to
study and to the abnegation that their parents applied to maintain their
own achievements. All the same, reports and analyses produced by the
principal systems of monitoring on international level agree in concluding
that, with a few exceptions, students with an immigrant background suffer,
in general, from systematic educational disadvantages. These disadvantages
concern the type of course study (their more marked presence in the less
“noble” courses of study and in those for underachievers), the number of
years of study and the level of instruction reached, scholastic performance,
and dropout rates. These phenomena are certainly neither new nor unexpected, but are perceived and interpreted through different lenses with respect to the past. At one time, the weak scholastic performance of children
of immigrants was seen as the consequence of the scarce investment that
immigrant families had made in the instruction of their children. Today, on
“All the same, reports
and analyses produced
by the principal systems
of monitoring on an international level agree in
concluding that, with a
few exceptions, students
with an immigration
background suffer, in
general, from systematic
educational disadvantages.”
Creating a Future
the contrary, this same weakness is interpreted as a sort of denunciation of
the discrimination the children of immigrants are subjected to during the
journey towards the fruition of educational opportunities.
To synthesize the factors explaining this systematic disadvantage38 we can
distinguish those pertaining to national scholastic policies, as well as to immigration policies (macro factors); meso factors pertaining to schools and
the relationship between students and teachers, and micro factors pertaining
to the family and community backgrounds of the students. With reference
to the first level, it has been observed that the educational disadvantage,
which children of immigrant backgrounds suffer from, varies according to
nationality and the organization of the educational systems. In general, the
scholastic achievement of immigrant children is better where the differences
in economic levels among students are more contained, and above all where
investments in childhood education policies favor pre-school education.
Early schooling is a strategic move that breaks the cycle of disadvantage and
creates the bases for the learning process. Again, scholastic performances
among foreign students are better in school systems based on general education, and where the selection process takes place at an advanced age; this
gives the children time to recuperate from their initial disadvantages (i.e.
insufficient command of the language of the new country).
Regarding the “meso” level, the absence of or the distortion of the image
of immigrants and their culture in textbooks and in didactic materials negatively influences the level of self-esteem of foreign students, and the same
can be said regarding the scarcity of teachers belonging to ethnic minorities
or immigrant communities. Often schools are not equipped to meet the
needs of multi-linguistic and multi-cultural student bodies. Anglo-Saxon
literature has discussed for many years, for example, how the main reason
for underachievement in black youths is the abyss that separates their cultural backgrounds from those that shape teachers and scholastic institutions.
Germany, notwithstanding the conspicuous presence of immigrants and
their descendants, has for many years continued to reason as a homogenous
society; thus, the specific competences of young foreigners (bilingualism,
biculturalism) have rarely been appreciated. Diverse, but equally illustrative, is the French experience, as it illustrates the counter-intuitive effects
of decisions taken with precisely the intention of sustaining the young issus
de l’immigration. The concentration of foreign students in the same classes
or the same institutions influences their scholastic performance negatively, as it does the performance of their indigenous classmates; favoring the
dispersion of immigrant or foreign students in different classes and schools
may produce decidedly advantageous effects for the entire scholastic community. In general, the performances of the students with immigrant backgrounds are superior in higher quality schools. The presence of high performance classmates, the presence of teachers with immigrant backgrounds,
and assistance and tutorship opportunities which meet the specific needs
Family as the Fabric of Society
of foreign students and incentivize the participation of parents in scholastic life all provide positive influences. Lastly, the attitudes of teachers and
their expectations regarding performance by the students with immigrant
backgrounds have an extraordinary importance; low expectations almost
inevitably produce low results and induce apathy towards the objectives
of learning, and growing disaffection towards school. On the other hand,
good educational credentials on the part of descendants of immigrant families and of members of certain minorities reduces, but absolutely does not
annul, the risk of being victims of discriminatory behavior by employers
or of remaining confined to a sort of underclass phenomena which produce a strongly demoralizing effect on the youngest generations. Awareness
of discrimination against one’s co-nationals may even lead to the forming
of an “anti-school” culture, as occurred among young Mexicans raised in
American barrios, where one of the key elements in the Chicano and Cholo
subcultures lied in the negation of the usefulness of education and in the
resulting de-emphasis of scholastic objectives and of achievement; a syndrome efficaciously synthesized by the expression “learning not to learn”39.
Finally, on a micro level, it should be observed how, although they share
the desire for a better future for their children, not all immigrant families attribute the same importance to the investment in instruction or are
able to tap into resources which are sufficient to support a scholastic career. Not all immigrant communities appear equally able to produce “successful models” to be emulated and which can interface adequately with
educational institutions. A particularly problematic phenomenon regards
the admission to high schools of “spurious” second generations, i.e. those
students who came to the new country in a pre-adolescent or adolescent
age: in virtue of their specific conditions –which are the outcome of an
unfortunate tangle between family strategies and legal requirements–, these
youths frequently encounter a series of problematic events. With respect to
their pre-immigration status, they are often victims of a retrocession, both
in terms of the classes attended and in terms of the quality and prestige of
the study programs. The inadequacy of family resources –especially regarding educational backgrounds, level of mastery of the language, the capacity
to support children in their learning processes– is glaringly obvious. In any
case, difficulties connected with a migratory background may be amply
counterbalanced by initiatives of pre-school education, linguistic support
(for children and their parents), and other “soft” forms of affirmative action
and appreciation of the talents of minority groups.
To conclude, if these questions are analyzed with an unprejudiced eye,
they take on a significance that provides fertile ground for a total reorganization of educational systems according to directives that have been
clearly defined, yet are still to be put into place. The challenge represented
by the vast presence of foreign minors in disadvantaged socio-economic
conditions constitutes, therefore, a fundamental opportunity for formal
“Lastly, the attitudes of
teachers and their expectations regarding performance by the students
with immigrant backgrounds have an extraordinary importance.”
“The challenge represented by the vast presence of
foreign minors in disadvantaged socio-economic
conditions constitutes,
therefore, a fundamental
opportunity for formal
national educational systems to give proof of their
Creating a Future
national educational systems to give proof of their equity, not to mention the fact that the family immigration experience may also represent a
point of strength for foreign students and a support of the elaboration of
motivations and expectations which contribute to the positive outcome of
individual educational projects. Finally, immigrants’ children can also take
advantage of certain characteristics that distinguish them, from bilingualism, to their belonging to a transnational network of material and symbolic
exchange, to the solidarity that reinforces minority groups, to the double
citizenship that opens them to further possibilities in a world which is becoming more and more globalized.
5. Enhancing the Family Role within the Migration Dynamic: a Catholic Perspective
n this last section, let us focus the attention on how the above posited
questions can be considered from a Catholic perspective and how they
can confront national and local Churches, challenging their responsibilities but also offering them new opportunities of advancement and
“It is the same principle
of the dignity of every
person, which should consider the wellbeing of the
single migrant as an aim
that cannot be subordinated to the improvement
of the family’s condition.”
1. Considering the reasons which determine contemporary international
migration, national and local Churches, in both the sending and the receiving countries, must encourage and feed a critical reflection about the affirmation of a certain “culture of migration”, which not only makes the latter
the only solution strategy with respect to various critical situations, but also
contributes to institutionalize reprehensible behaviours and practices, often
involving the most vulnerable (such as women, teen and children). This
kind of consideration must, first of all, be addressed to the authorities of the
countries of origin, who not only often close their eyes on the phenomena
of smuggling and trafficking, but often, through the rhetoric of the figure of
the expatriated worker –described like a national hero who sacrifices himself/
herself for the wellbeing of the family and the community of origin– disregard the mandate of ensuring a government attentive to reproducibility of
growth and development. Moreover, this reflection must address also the individuals and families involved in migration processes, who are often slaves
of patterns of behaviour and yearnings of emulation which make migration
a desirable solution regardless of its price and its consequences for the dignity of persons. It is the same principle of the dignity of every person, which
should consider the wellbeing of the single migrant as an aim that cannot
be subordinated to the improvement of the family’s condition. In a similar
way, we have to ask ourselves if the phenomena of divided families that has
become a norm in many sending communities is really the only solution to
guarantee the survival and the development of the family. Besides claiming
less restrictions to the possibility of legal migration, we have to ask ourselves
Family as the Fabric of Society
if migration is always the best solution, or if, on the contrary, the widespread diffusion of the culture of migration may end up being detrimental
to the future of the sending countries and of their new generations, who are
often subjugated to the same culture since their early years, and are often
forced to make their school choices based upon the migration opportunities
as opposed to their individual aptitudes and vocations.
2. Policies regulating human mobility, especially those concerning family
and humanitarian migration, represent a way to affirm basic principles and
values. In welcoming –and rejecting– requests of entries and protection
based, for example, on the denial of the freedom to practice one’s own
religion, on the fear of being subject to genital mutilation, or forced into
an arranged marriage, on the need to evade the punishment inflicted on
those who have a different sexual orientation, on the request of medical
treatment for sick or disabled, or, more simply, on the desire to reunite
their family (intending it in a more or less extended way), the authorities
(and the societies of which these authorities are expression) state the idea of
democracy and civil coexistence reiterating the values and principles that
do not tolerate violations. In other words, the policies towards migrations
–today often subject to security and budgetary pressures– should be an
occasion for self-reflection through which a society decides which values
it is based upon are and which values deserve to be handed down as a
legacy to the younger generations. In this context, the Catholic Church
must solicit the adoption of policies and practices coherent with the aim
of an integral human development, encouraging new forms of cooperation
between sending and receiving countries, and between public authorities
and civil society’s organisations with the aim of making the interaction of
conscience and intelligence more coherent with the contemporary system
of interdependences [see Caritas in Veritate, n. 9].
3. By virtue of its constitutional universalistic character, the Catholic
Church can, better than anyone else, grasp the limits and aporias of a
State-centric system in response to the demands of inclusion and protection coming from the poor and vulnerable. The migrants and their family members witness the unresolved tension between the inclusive logic of
universal human rights –which, in its turn, has its roots in the Christian
principle of the primacy of the person and its dignity– and the State, exclusive, prerogative to exclude the “undesirable” (the actual selective nature of
the fundamental right to family reunification is a case in point). Moreover,
their experiences indicate the challenges to meet in order to rethink theories of belonging and justice, going toward the “fiction” of national societies delimited by state fences40. This is particularly true whenever children
are involved: international law grants them a rich set of rights, not only the
rights to be protected and cared, but also the right to maintain a regular
“The Catholic Church
must solicit the adoption
of policies and practices
coherent with the aim of
an integral human development, encouraging
new forms of cooperation
between sending and
receiving countries, and
between public authorities
and civil society’s organisations.”
Creating a Future
personal and direct relationship with their parents; however, these formal
assertions often have to face nationalistic incrustations.
Another crucial point concerns the regulation not only of the right to
emigrate, but also of the right to move: it is sufficient to mention the difficulties that divided families often have to face in order to obtain a visa on
the occasion of important events in the life of their family members living
abroad (a marriage, a diploma…). This is a crude testimony of a global
regulation of human mobility based on the “natural” division between rich
and poor nations.
4. Thanks to their transnational links, national and local Churches can
offer a special support to families involved in migration processes, starting
from the awareness that their lives are inscribed in a transnational space.
For example, local Churches on both shores of the migratory process can
sustain the implementation of programs and interventions supporting
family transnational communication and parental relationship during the
migration route, involving not only migrant families, but also the sending
and receiving communities. This kind of support would be particularly
important for parents and children to promote shared plans for the future,
mostly concerning migration, family reunification and family re-emigration in the sending community. As far as family reunification is concerned,
it is important to make parents more aware of the difficulties their children
have to face once reunited with them in a new context, so as to render them
more attentive and supportive with respect to the challenges implied by
the process of migration and family reunification. Another crucial mission
is the sensitization of national and local authorities in order to make them
more supportive towards the needs of reuniting families, for example, encouraging the acknowledgement of a parental leave which would permit
mothers and fathers to spend more time with their children after their arrival. Finally, it is important to contrast those contractual solutions –more
and more widespread– that, as they imply the migrant worker’s cohabitation with his/her employer (as in the case of home-based elderly care), are
constitutionally incoherent with the characters of the “decent work” [as it
is defined, for example, by Caritas in Veritate, n. 63].
It is also important to promote opportunities of contact and dialogue between migrant and autochthonous parents, and newly arrived children and
autochthonous children, together with opportunities for reinforcing the
linguistic competences in both the host country and the mother tongue.
Finally, it is of crucial importance to assist migrants and their children who
decide to return home (or to send their children back) after having experienced a failure in the process of integration within the host society.
5. “Bringing the poor into our house”; international migration, especially when it produces the sorrowful reality of divided families, forces us to
Family as the Fabric of Society
question the axiom on which the welfare systems are based, constituted by
individual and family biographies that develop within the boundaries of
the State-nation. The Church, which always “advocates for the poorest”,
must solicit our societies to see in the migrant families (and of migrants
with left-behind families) a fruitful occasion to re-think welfare regimes
according to a project based on the principle of the centrality of the person
and aimed at uniting equity ideals with the respect of individual differences. Migrants’ treatment, even in the most advanced democracies, highlights
the limitations and flaws of the current regimes of citizenship, as well as
the contradictions and the consequences of the principle of conditionality
in accessing rights. In this manner, we see the possible evolution (or better
involution) of a society that thinks it possible to get along without some of
its inhabitants and that risks a return to the past, when the attribution of
rights occurred on a census basis.
In the contemporary context of reform of the traditional welfare regimes,
citizenship and citizens’ rights are based more and more on the individual
working situation, with deep consequences on the process of family formation and fecundity. Migrants, especially those who have experienced the
hard costs of adaptation to a new society and have faced various forms of
discrimination, risk being transformed into a systematically disadvantaged
group. The same is true as far as their children are concerned, especially in the case of those who have migrated during their adolescence and
are particularly exposed to the risk of scholastic and professional underachievement. Therefore, they ask for new answers and pose new challenges
to the measures to support employability often in need to recover aspects
such as self-esteem, physical and mental health, trust and social skills. In
other words, migrants and their reunited family members can be seen as a
kind of archetype of contemporary man/woman who, living in a “society
of uncertainty”, is the involuntary protagonist of biographical and working
paths that are reversible and versatile, surrounded by critical moments in
which it highlights his vulnerability, but, at the same time, he/she bears a
desire for redemption and self-realization in the name of freedom. Moreover, they solicit major attention to the process of socialisation of new generations, starting from the awareness that migrant families, especially if
reunited after long periods of separation, often face difficulties in exercising
their educative mission and a normative control over their children’s behaviour, thus emphasising the difficulties experienced by other families as
well. A particularly crucial step would be supporting families in the more
and more tricky “transmission of an ethic of work and of life”, one of most
problematic consequences of the advent of the “flexible capitalism”41. Actually, within the contemporary society, where the influence of the ascribed
status on the professional destinies of new generations is even stronger than
before, migrant offspring risk becoming a metaphor of the difficulty of
trans-generational transmission of the sense of work as a vocation. Besides
“Migrants, especially those
who have experienced the
hard costs of adaptation
to a new society and have
faced various forms of
discrimination, risk being
transformed into a systematically disadvantaged
“In the context of the
“trans-nationalisation” of
the practices of inclusion
and social protection,
the Church, due to her
widespread presence across
the territories, can play a
leading role in the wake of
some consolidated experiences of collaboration
between the Churches of
departure and arrival.”
“When asking to welcome
refugees for religious motives, our Churches have
an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary
responsibility to play.”
Creating a Future
this, if in some cases, circular migration can represent an added chance for
high status migrant children, then in other cases it can have a very negative influence on school careers. For this reason, it is advisable to promote
transnational collaboration between educational institutions to facilitate
children’s integration or re-integration in the different school systems. Finally, the basic aim would be to empower migrant families, valuing their
autonomy and their potential contributing capacity.
Moreover, immigration represents an opportunity to overcome the limitations of a strictly nationalistic conception of citizenship: some experiences conceived and implemented at a local level –provoked especially by the
presence of migrants worried about the condition of their left-behind families– prefigure ways to expand the circle of the included people, in order
to ensure the effective enforceability of the rights and practices of solidarity
beyond transnational limits. In recent years, attention has been paid in particular to the initiatives of “transnational welfare”, created due to the activism of civil society and immigrant associations, which, free from regulatory
and organizational constraints that block the initiative of public administrations, promote projects capable of going beyond the borders of nations
by responding to the needs of international migrants and their families;
the focal point is the concept of global solidarity, which has become the
essential principle of strategies and actions whose benefits are not always
immediately visible in the context of planning42. In this context, bilateral
cooperation, which so far has been seen primarily as a tool used to contrast
migratory pressure and to redistribute the burden of protection, now takes
on a more promising and virtuous aspect. In addition, in the context of the
“trans-nationalisation” of the practices of inclusion and social protection,
the Church, due to her widespread presence across the territories, can play
a leading role in the wake of some consolidated experiences of collaboration between the Churches of departure and arrival.
6. Finally, for our national and local Churches, the presence of migrant
families represents a prophetic opportunity to see Christ who “pitches His
tent among us” and who “knocks at our door”, offering new comers the
possibility «to know of Christ and the transforming power of his grace in
these situations which, in themselves, are very frequently desperate»43.
Moreover, the presence of Christian migrant families calls faith and ecclesial experience to be reconsidered and provides local Churches the opportunity to assess their catholicity and search for their true face (i.e. her
universal character), to experience that ethnic and cultural pluralism which
should become a structural dimension of the Church, «to embed herself
into the immense variety of the human condition in all its legitimate manifestations»44, to not just welcome but to be in communion with the various
ethnic groups, to be brought to the deepening of their faith, and to acquire
a mentality more universal and less locally bound45.
Family as the Fabric of Society
Finally, when asking to welcome refugees for religious motives, our
Churches have an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary responsibility to play. First, they have to demonstrate a special effort, for example
by requiring programs and protection devices specifically reserved to their
care, and by sensitizing local, national and supranational authorities to
these issues. At the same time, the arrival of these Christian families brings
an unexpected liveliness to the Western Churches – that have, over time,
seen a reduction in their ability to attract faithful–, urges us to share the
same faith with Christians who come from other countries and other continents, raises the hidden evangelical possibilities, and opens spaces for the
creation of a new humanity announced in the paschal mystery: a humanity
for which every foreign land is home and every home is a foreign land46; a
humanity which forms only one family.
“When asking to welcome
refugees for religious motives, our Churches have
an extraordinary opportunity and an extraordinary
responsibility to play.”
Creating a Future
Zanfrini L., Dai “lavoratori ospiti” alle famiglie transnazionali. Com’è cambiato
il “posto” della famiglia nei migration studies. In La migrazione come evento familiare;
Scabini E. and Rossi G., Eds., Vita & Pensiero, Milano, 2009, pp. 167-192.
4. Stark O. and Bloom D., The new economics of labor migration. American Economic
Review, 1985, 173-178.
5. Massey D.S., Arango J., Hugo G., Kouaouci A., Pellegrino A. and Taylor E., Theories
of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal. Population and Development
Review, 1993, 3, 431-466.
Boyd M., Family and Personal Networks in International Migration: Recent
Developments and New Agendas. International Migration Review, 1989, 3, 638-670;
Fawcett J.T., Networks, Linkages and Migration Systems. International Migration Review,
1989, 3, 671-680.
7. Pessar P.R., The Role of Gender, Households, and Social Networks in the Migration
Process: A Review and Appraisal. In The Handbook of International Migration: The
American Experience; Hirschman C., Kasinitz P. and DeWind J., Eds., Russell Sage
Foundation, New York, NY, 1999.
Kofman E., Female “Birds of Passage” a Decade Later: Gender and Immigration
in European Union. International Migration Review, 1999, 2, 269-299; Morokvasic M.,
Women in Migration: Beyond the Reductionist Outlook. In One-Way Ticket: Migration
and Female Labour; Phizacklea A., Ed., Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1983, pp.
Esping-Andersen G., Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies, Oxford
University Press, Oxford, 1999.
10. Ehrenreich B. and Russel Hochschild A., Global Women. Nannies, Maids, and
Sex Workers in the New Economy, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2003; Zanfrini L.,
Braccia, menti e cuori migranti. La nuova divisione internazionale del lavoro riproduttivo.
In La rivoluzione incompiuta Il lavoro delle donne tra retorica della femminilità e nuove
disuguaglianze; Zanfrini L., Ed., Edizioni Lavoro, Roma, 2005; pp. 239-283.
11. Ehrenreich B and Russel Hochschild A., Global Woman. Nannies, Maids, and Sex
Workers in the New Economy, Metropolitan Books, New York, 2003.
12. Hondagneu-Sotelo P. and Avila E., “I am Here, but I am There”: The meanings of
Transnational Motherhoo. Gender and Society, Vol.11 (1997), No. 5, pp 548-571.
13. SCM (Scalabrini Migration Center), Hearts Apart. Migration in the Eyes of Filipino
Children, Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants – Overseas Workers
Welfare Administration, Manila, 2004.
14. Borjas G.J., Immigration and Welfare Magnets. Journal of Labor Economic, 1999,
4, Part 1, 607-637.
15. Wimmer A. and Glick Schiller N., Methodological Nationalism, the Social Sciences,
and the Study of Migration: An Essay in Historical Epistemology. International Migration
Review, 2003, 3, 576-610.
16. Bryceson D. and Vuorela U., Eds., The Transnational Family. New European
Frontiers and Global Networks, Berg, Oxford, 2002.
17. Foner N, The Immigrant Family: Cultural Legacies and Cultural Changes.
International Migration Review, 1997, 2, 961-975; Zanfrini L., Sociologia delle
migrazioni, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2007.
18. European Parliament resolution on development and migration [2005/2244 (INI)].
19. Caritas e Migrantes, XXIII Rapporto Immigrazione 2013. Tra crisi e diritti umani,
Tau Editrice, Todi, 2014.
Family as the Fabric of Society
20. Zanfrini L. and Asis M., Eds., Orgoglio e pregiudizio. Una ricerca tra Filippine e Italia
sulla transizione all’età attiva dei figli di emigrati e dei figli di immigrati, FrancoAngeli,
Milano, 2006.
21. A good example of this perspective, with a special focus on the families and
children’s needs, is represented by the transnational Mapid project; please refer to the final
report: Baggio F., Ed., Brick by Brick. Building Cooperation between the Philippines and
Migrants’ Associations in Italy and Spain, Scalabrini Migration Center, Manila, 2010.
22. In fact, thanks in particular to their knowledge of the opportunities, the distribution
channels and the market prospects, to their bilingualism, and to the information at their
disposal about the customs and the laws of the countries involved, members of the
Diasporas can give great impetus to commercial flows, investments and the creation of
businesses, the transfer of new technologies, the circulation of expertise and cultural cross
23. Zanfrini L., La migrazione come processo familiare. Studi Emigrazione. Migration
Studies, 2011, 184, 769-782.
24. SCM (Scalabrini Migration Center), Hearts Apart. Migration in the Eyes of Filipino
Children; Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Migrants – Overseas Workers
Welfare Administration, Manila, 2004.
25. Parrenas R.S., Servants of Globalization. Women, Migration and Domestic Work,
Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2001.
26. Wharton A.S., The Sociology of Gender. An Introduction to Theory and Research,
Blackwell, Malden, MA, 2005.
27. For the purposes of this Directive “sponsor” means a third country national residing
lawfully in a Member State and applying or whose family members apply for family
reunification to be joined with him/her.
28. Member States may authorize the reunification of children of whom custody is
shared, provided the other party sharing custody has given his or her agreement.
29. See previous note.
30. Valtolina G.G., Ed., Una scuola aperta al mondo. Genitori italiani e stranieri nelle
scuole dell’infanzia a Milano, FrancoAngeli, Milano, 2009; Valtolina, G.G., Il parenting:
modelli e tradizioni culturali a confronto. Studi Emigrazione. Migration Studies, 2011,
184, 805-823.
31. According to the EU Directive, Member States may require the sponsor to have
stayed lawfully in their territory for a period not exceeding two years, before having his/
her family members join him/her.
32. Ambrosini M., Bonizzoni P. and Caneva E., Ritrovarsi altrove. Famiglie ricongiunte
e adolescenti di origine immigrata. Rapporto 2009. Fondazione ISMU, Milano, 2010.
33. Zanfrini L., Cittadinanze. Appartenenza e diritti nella società dell’immigrazione,
Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2007; Zanfrini L., I “confini” della cittadinanza. Perché l’immigrazione
disturba. Sociologia del Lavoro, 2010, 117, 40-56.
Colasanto M. and Zanfrini L., Eds., Famiglie sotto esame. Una ricerca
sull’immigrazione italiana in Germania e l’esperienza scolastica delle nuove generazioni,
Vita & Pensiero, Milano, 2009.
35. Valtolina G.G., Ed., Migrant Children in Europe. The Romanian Case, IOS Press,
Amsterdam, 2013.
36. Tassello G., Ed., Lessico migratorio, Centro Studi Emigrazione, Roma, 1987.
37. Kofman E., Family-related migration: A crucial review f European studies, Journal
of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 21 (2004), pp. 243-259; Valtolina G.G., Ed., Migrant
Children in Europe. The Romanian Case, IOS Press, Amsterdam, 2013.
Beyond the Financial Crisis
38. Valtolina G. and Colombo C., La ricerca sui ricongiungimenti familiari: una
rassegna, Studi Emigrazione/Migration Studies, XLIX (2012), n. 185, pp. 129-144.
39. Valtolina G.G., Ed., Migrant Children in Europe. The Romanian Case, IOS Press,
Amsterdam, 2013.
40. Heckmann F., Education and Migration. Strategies for integration migrant children
in European school and societies, D.G. Education and Culture, Brussels, April 2008.
From here on, we will refer principally to the results of this study, herewith integrated with
indications coming from others.
41. Suarez-Orozco M.M, Towards a Psychosocial Understanding of Hispanic Adaptation
to American Schooling. In, Success or Failure? Learning and the Languages of Minority
Students, H.T. Trueba, Ed., Newbury House Publishers, New York, 1987, pp. 156-168.
42. Zanfrini L., Cittadinanze. Appartenenza e diritti nella società dell’immigrazione,
Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2007.
43. Sennet R., The Corrosion of Character, The Personal Consequences Of Work In the
New Capitalism, Norton & Company, London/New York, 1998.
44. Piperno F. and Tognetti Bordogna M., Eds., Welfare transnazionale. La frontiera
esterna alle politiche sociali, Ediesse, Roma, 2012.
45. Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Welcoming
Christ in Refugees and Forcibly Displaced Persons, Pastoral guidelines, Vatican City,
2013, Quotation at N. 3.
46. Goyret P., La dimensione escatologica degli Orientamenti, People on the Move,
XXXIX (2007), 103; quoted at pag. 46.
47. De Ponti L., Religione e migrazioni, Sulle strade dell’esodo, March-Aprile 2012;
De Ponti L., Emigrazione. Uno strano tipo di chance, Sulle strade dell’esodo, May-July
2011; Martinelli M., Riace: la rinascita viene da lontano, in Sulle strade dell’esodo, 2,
marzo-aprile 2012.
48. Luise M.G., Missionarie Secolari Scalabriniane. In Migrazioni. Dizionario SocioPastorale, Battistella G., Ed., ed. San Paolo, Milano, 2010, pp. 657-660.
A Caritas in Veritate Foundation Report1 by
Research Director; Relationship Foundation
amily relationships are changing in both structure and stability, although with significant variation between countries. The implications of this in terms of outcomes for both children and adults, as
well as the wider costs to society, are the subject of considerable debate.
The costs of breakdown - both emotional and financial - are, of course,
most immediately and acutely felt by those directly affected, but also spread
more widely. The positive contribution of families is essential if policy goals
in many areas are to be achieved, whilst the costs of weaknesses in family
relationships add to the pressures on public finances. Any government facing both public expectations of improved outcomes and challenging fiscal
constraints cannot afford to disregard the implications of changing family
This paper draws on the experience of the Relationships Foundation1, a
UK registered charity, which looks at how to create an environment that
sustains the relationships that are essential for both individual and community wellbeing. Since 2009 it has run a programme on family policy
including assessments of the cost of family breakdown2, a comparison of
pressures on families across European countries3, and methodologies for
family proofing policy4. In reflecting on the costs of family breakdown this
paper considers:
What is meant by family breakdown and its extent
Why assessing the costs of breakdown is important
How the costs might be assessed.
The paper draws only on the experience of the UK but we hope that this
will offer valuable lessons to other jurisdictions.
¶ Introduction
“Any government facing
both public expectations
of improved outcomes and
challenging fiscal constraints
cannot afford to disregard
the implications of changing
family relationships..”
Creating a Future
1. What do we mean by relationship breakdown and how
extensive is it?
o assess the impact or consequences of a change requires some definition of that change. With regard to family relationships, changes
in the experienced quality of the relationship, the stability of relationships, their legal structure, or changes in household composition may
all be of interest. Policymakers may be concerned with couple relationships, parenting relationships, or the health and strength of wider family
networks and the social support they provide. The continuity and quality
of parental relationships, including those after the breakdown of a couple
relationship may also be of interest, as may the breakdown of parenting
relationships which result in a child being taken into care or support to
the family being required. For those single parents where no stable couple
relationship has ever formed, relationship break down may be interpreted
as the non-formation of the relationship.
For some of these changes there is good data. Marriages and divorces,
for example, are both legally registered and annual official data released.
Where levels of cohabitation have increased, however, the start and end
of couple relationships may not be clearly determined (nor legally registered) and it can be harder to track the consequences of the break-up of
those relationships. Within legally registered relationships such as marriage
or civil partnerships the timing of the ‘breakdown of the relationship’ in
terms of its relationship quality, physical separation or legal dissolution will
be different. Relationships may remain legally intact, but display both the
symptoms and costs of a broken relationship. So, for example, domestic
violence could be regarded as an aspect of a ‘broken’ relationship even if the
relationship remains legally intact.
The definition of ‘family’ may also influence the ways in which breakdown is understood. The UK Office for National Statistics, for example,
define family for census purposes as:
“a group of people who are either: a married, same-sex civil partnership, or
cohabiting couple, with or without child(ren); a lone parent with child(ren);
a married, same-sex civil partnership, or cohabiting couple with grandchild(ren) but with no children present from the intervening generation; or
a single grandparent with grandchild(ren) but no children present from the
intervening generation.”5
The Vanier Institute of the Family in Canada is an example of a more
functional (rather than structural) definition:
“...any combination of two or more persons who are bound together over
time by ties of mutual consent, birth and/or adoption or placement and
Family as the Fabric of Society
who, together, assume responsibilities for variant combinations of some of
the following: physical maintenance and care of group members; addition
of new members through procreation or adoption; socialisation of children;
social control of members; production, consumption, distribution of goods
and services; and affective nurturance – love.”6
A definition that focuses on functions then allows relationships breakdown to be considered in terms of impaired capacity to fulfil those functions, rather than in terms of changes in household composition or legal status of relationship. Thus, for example, poor parenting relationships
might be considered as an aspect of broken relationships as opposed to a
narrower focus on couple relationships.
We suggest that it is helpful to understand the benefits of healthy relationships and the costs of broken relationships in the broadest sense. Doing
so should not be taken as assuming any particular causal mechanisms for
those consequences (for example poverty or the legal status of the relationship). Within this broader narrative it is then possible, at least in some
cases, to assess the costs of specific changes in more detail in the context of
developing policy responses to those changes.
Changing family relationships in the UK
Family relationships have always been subject to change including, for
example, cultural changes in the relationships between men and women,
or adults and children; socio-economic changes in patterns of employment
or welfare policies; legal changes with regard to marriage and divorce; or
technological changes affecting life expectancy, birth control or household
tasks. Their relevance to this debate depends on the ways in which these
changes affect the relationship between individuals, households and the
state, and the outcomes of family functioning including, for example, mutual care and support or the healthy maturation of children.
Changes in family structure and household composition are easier to
track than changes in the nature or quality of relationships such as the
attachment of early years children, parenting styles or the nature of cohabiting couple relationships. The most notable structural changes are rises in
cohabitation, lone parenthood, children born outside marriage, and single
person households. There are 26.4 million households in the UK, 29%
of which consist of only one person. Of the 18.2 million families, 12.2
million consist of a married couple with or without children. Lone parent
families have increased by 22% since 1996 with the 1.9 million lone parents representing 24.5% of all families with children. In 2013, there were
2.8 million cohabiting couple families in the UK, representing 15.7% of
all families and 18.9% of families headed by a couple. The proportion of
cohabiting couples has doubled since 1996.7
“Changes in family struc-
ture and household composition are easier to track
than changes in the nature or
quality of relationships such
as the attachment of early
years children, parenting
styles or the nature of cohabiting couple relationships.”
Creating a Future
Marriage and divorce 8
The marriage rate (and the annual number of marriages) has declined
significantly from its 1970 peak despite a small uptick in the last year. The
average age at first marriage is now 30.9 for men and 29.1 for women, eight
years older than it was in 1970 when marriage peaked and couples married
at 23.2 and 21.8 respectively. Two in five marriages are now likely to end
in divorce. Divorce rates have fallen from their 1993 peak with almost all
the change taking place in the early years of marriage. The greatest risk of
divorce continues to be in years 3-6 of marriage.
One of the most notable changes has been the decline in divorce rates
during the early years of marriage. Couples who married in the late 1980s
and early 1990s had the highest rates of divorce during their first five years
of marriage: amongst these couples, 10.6% of couples divorced in the first
five year. For couples who married in 2007, only 6.9% of couples divorced
in these early years.
The best current longitudinal survey of what happens to parents and
children comes from the Millennium Cohort Study, a survey of 18,000
mothers (initially) with children born in the years 2000 and 2001. This
survey shows how married parents are far less likely to split up than ‘cohabiting’ or ‘closely involved’ parents during the early years. Over the first seven years, for example, 13% of married parents split up compared to 30%
of ‘cohabiting’ parents and 37% of all parents who are unmarried couples.
The Understanding Society survey (a large national panel survey) shows
that in 2010-11, the proportion of children not living with both natural
parents rose from 15% amongst newborns to 45% amongst teenagers aged
Family as the Fabric of Society
13-15. Since relatively little family breakdown occurs after couples have
been together for 15-20 years, the total figure for family breakdown in the
UK today is therefore somewhere slightly above 45%.
2. Why costs are (or should be) measured
he costs of the breakdown of relationships may be seen in terms of
opportunity, emotional or psychological costs, as well as financial
costs to both the individuals directly involved and to wider society.
Future opportunities may be restricted through the impact on the development of children and their life chances or through changes in employment
(for example having to restrict working hours on becoming a sole carer for
children). The pain associated with the breakdown of a relationship can
have long-term scars, affecting both happiness and the future formation
and success of relationships. Individuals may end up worse off financially,
due to the additional costs of creating two households, and reduced income
for at least one partner. This paper looks only at the wider financial costs
to society, but this is not an indication that other costs are not believed to
be significant.
There are a number of reasons for attempting to assess the costs of family
breakdown. Perhaps most importantly, it is a vital element in any case for
investing in prevention, in prioritising one policy option over another, or
in highlighting the consequences of cultural changes and informing debate
about wellbeing might best be promoted. More broadly, in a context of significant pressures on public spending and tight fiscal constraints, awareness
of the financial costs of breakdown informs debate about the social and
economic sustainability of current policy.
Measures to support families, or avoid undermining them, will often have
costs. Providing access to relationships education and counselling, support
“The costs of the breakdown
of relationships may be seen
in terms of opportunity,
emotional or psychological
costs, as well as financial
costs to both the individuals directly involved and to
wider society”.
Creating a Future
“Understanding the costs
of relationships breakdown,
and the potential for government action to influence
the rate of breakdown, is
essential in demonstrating
the benefits of investing in
that support. ”
for family finances through the tax or welfare system, help with care responsibilities, family support workers to work with troubled families, maternity and paternity leave provisions, or restrictions on working long or
unsocial hours may all have some costs – directly on government, or on
business through greater regulatory demands. Understanding the costs of
relationships breakdown, and the potential for government action to influence the rate of breakdown, is therefore essential in demonstrating the
benefits of investing in that support9. This becomes even more important
when those providing services are paid by results, often linked to social investment funds, where the payment for achieving specific outcomes needs
to be linked to the costs to government if that outcome is not achieved. So,
for example, funding for action to reduce the numbers of children being
taken into care, such as Multi Systemic Therapy with families, is informed
by assessments of the future costs of that care10.
Another UK example is the evaluation of the cost effectiveness of government funding for relationships support to couples.11 The UK government
had committed £30m of funding over four years to a number of organisations providing support to couple relationships.12 The Department for
Education (which was responsible for this funding stream) commissioned
an evaluation of the effectiveness of the interventions. Using our assessment of the cost of breakdown converted into a per-couple per-year cost,
they calculated an average benefit of £11.50 for every pound invested in
relationships support.
History of measurement
Despite considerable rhetoric about family friendly policy the UK government does not have any official figures on the cost of relationship breakdown, they do not inform budget projections, and with no clear responsibility for any over-arching family policy there is no effective mechanism to
ensure coherence of family policy across government.
A government minister noted in a House of Lords debate when asked
about the costs of breakdown:
“My Lords, I am unable to give an official figure. A number of organisations have produced estimates—for example, the Relationships Foundation,
at £45 billion-odd—but there is no consensus. The social security spend on
lone parents and collecting child maintenance is just under £9 billion, but
we must acknowledge that there are wider societal costs.”13
In 1999 Sir Graham Hart published his report Funding for Marriage
Support for the Lord Chancellor’s Department.14 The report noted that:
“Marital breakdown inflicts enormous damage on many of the people involved – not only the couples, but their children, and others - and on society.
In 1994 the costs of family breakdown to the public purse were estimated at
between £3.7bn and £4.4bn a year … It is likely that today public spending
Family as the Fabric of Society
caused by family breakdown is running at £5bn a year. There are also indirect costs, such as those arising from damage to children’s education, from
subsequent criminal behaviour and from the impact of breakdown on the use
of the housing stock. Nor is it simply a question of financial costs. The human
misery resulting from marital conflict and breakdown is immense.”15
Any reworking of such a calculation today would need to take into account the fact that the majority of relationships breakdown no longer takes
place in the context of married relationships.
The charity Family Matters produced a report for the Lords and Commons Family and Child Protection Group in 2000 which estimated the direct costs of family breakdown at £15 billion. This informed the Fractured
Families report by the Centre for Social Justice which updated these figures
to £22 billion.16
In 2009 OnePlusOne produced a report When Couples Part which examined the consequences of relationship breakdown, based on an extensive
literature review.17 This did not attempt to calculate the costs of breakdown, but proposed the template on the following page.
In the same year Relationships Foundation produced its first assessment
of the costs of relationship breakdown, suggesting a total costs of £37 billion (now updated to £46 billion).18 This was set out in a two part document, setting out both the benefits of strong, healthy family relationships
and the costs of their failure. This was part of a series of reports that argued
for a broader account of national progress that included greater recognition
of the contribution of relationships to wellbeing,19 a more detailed examination of the ways in which policy in many areas both depends on and
influences family relationships,20 and then the need to put the assessment
of and support for relationships right at the heart of the policy making
process.21 Given that policy debate remains heavily skewed towards economic concerns, setting out the fiscal implications of failing to support
family relationships effectively was a necessary and important element of
this debate.
3. An approach to measurement
he costs and consequences of the breakdown of relationships, however defined, are both social and economic, and are experienced by
those directly involved in the relationship, as well as family, friends,
employers and society as a whole. Our approach focused on the economic
costs to society and built on the approaches adopted in previous attempts
at measurement. This should not be seen as implying that the personal pain
and costs are less significant, but simply a more narrowly focused attempt
to inform an aspect of policymaking. The first step was to identify the major areas of potential impact: tax and benefits, housing, health and social
care, criminal and civil justice, and education.
“Any reworking of such a
calculation today would need
to take into account the fact
that the majority of relationships breakdown no longer
takes place in the context of
married relationships.”
Creating a Future
Woman’s cost 17
Man’s costs
Other family
members’ costs
Costs to public purse Costs to wider
• Loss of income
• Additional ex• Additional
penditure due to
expenditure due
separate houseto separatehousehold
• Reduction in opportunityto take
paid employment
• Cost of formal
• Providing financial and in‐kind
• Social security and
housing benefits costs for new
• Cost of additional
use of
• health services by
the partners
• Cost of providing
additional social
housing units
• Lower tax receipts
costs (up
to 10‐15
• Continued loss of • Additional exincome, reinpenditure due to
forced by impact
separate houseof worklessness
• Poorer health
on future earn• Higher mortality
• Higher household expenditure
(mitigated by
some repartnering)
• Poorer health
• Higher mortality
• Cost of formal
• Less access to
financial and
other support as
parents age
• Social security and • Higher rents and
housing benefit
house prices due
costs for extra
to extra pressure
on housing
• Incapacity benefit
costs for differential
• Cost of additional use of health
services by the
• Cost of substance
misuse services
• Lower tax receipts
than 15
• Continued loss of • Additional exincome, reinpenditure due to
forced by impact
separate houseof worklessness
on future earn• Poorer health
• Higher mortality
• Higher household expenditure
(mitigated by
some repartnering)
• Poorer health
• Higher mortality
• Cost of formal
• Less access to
financial and
other support as
parents age
• Social security and • Higher rents and
housing benefit
house prices due
costs for extra
to extra pressure
on housing
• Incapacity benefit
costs for differential
• Cost of additional use of health
services by the
• Cost of substance
misuse services
• Lower tax receipts
• Higher rents and
house prices due
to extra pressure
on housing
Family as the Fabric of Society
The tax and benefits system is significant because, after the breakup of a
relationship, at least one party ends up financially worse off and more likely
to need support. Forming two households increases the costs,22 whilst it
is hard for one person to take on all the responsibilities of work and care.
The amounts paid in benefits are easily identified from official figures and
thus provide a starting point for calculation, but adjustments are needed
to reflect the fact that some people whose relationships break down would
have been on very low incomes and in need of financial assistance anyway.
Many of the issues relating to financial assistance for housing costs are
similar to tax and benefits – those whose relationships break down are more
likely to need assistance. Just as the tax and benefit costs of relationship
breakdown will vary according to different countries’ welfare policies (if
they are less generous, the cost of breakdown may appear lower), so too the
housing costs will be influenced by national housing markets and levels of
assistance provided. For countries such as the UK whose housing costs are
relatively high, the cost of breakdown will appear greater.
With regard to health, the evidence on the way in relationships contribute
to improved health outcomes is very strong, but costing this contribution
is more problematic (as, indeed, are attempts to calculate the health costs
of smoking or alcohol). Where the resources to make such calculations are
limited, it may not be possible or practical to do much more than suggest
a plausible estimate of the proportion of total expenditure that may be a
consequence of relationship breakdown. The publication of such estimates
can then invite comment, debate or refinement, with the plausibility of any
estimates justified by reference to such data as may be available on, for example, differential usage of services or morbidity rates, or the quoted costs
of other factors impacting on health.
Similar issues apply in estimating the costs of relationship breakdown
to the justice system or education. While different outcomes for children
of intact and broken relationships are readily identified, there is significant debate over the extent to which such differences can be linked to
family relationships, or are better seen as consequences of underlying factors which may affect both the parental relationship and child outcomes.
People whose relationships breakdown are more likely to have few educational qualifications, to form couple relationships at a young age and to
be on low incomes. Here again, the practical requirements of simplicity
may require estimates of the percentage of total costs, the plausibility of
which are justified by evidence on different outcomes and research on
causal mechanisms.
Each of these areas represent significant debates in their own right.
What follows is not a review of all the available research and literature.
Rather it sets out as a case study the approach we adopted as a small organisation with limited resources to stimulate more serious public debate
on the implications and significance of broken relationships. It covers
“Our approach focused on
the economic costs to society
and built on the approaches
adopted in previous attempts
at measurement.”
“While different outcomes
for children of intact and
broken relationships are
readily identified, there
is significant debate over
the extent to which such
differences can be linked to
family relationships, or are
better seen as consequences
of underlying factors which
may affect both the parental relationship and child
Creating a Future
the main areas of costs identified in our original assessment, but does not
discuss all of the smaller elements.
The evidence on the impact of relationships on health is well established.
For example, a meta-analytic review carried out in 2010 of 148 research
studies – many of which statistically adjusted for standard risk factors such
as alcohol misuse and cardio-vascular disease – found that people with
stronger social relationships are 50 per cent more likely to survive than
those whose social relationships are weaker.23 Indeed, the analysis concluded the influence of social relationships on the risk of death is greater
than that of physical inactivity and obesity and comparable with well-established risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol.
In discussing the implications of these findings for public health, the
Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships note that:
“These findings, the authors stress, are likely to be an underestimate of the
true impact of stronger social relationships on longevity, in part due to the
fact that most measures of social relations did not take into account the quality of the social relationships, thereby assuming that all relationships are positive. However, research suggests this is not the case, with negative social
relationships linked to greater risk of mortality.” 24
This immediately gives a benchmark comparator for costs. The House of
Commons Health Select Committee estimated that the total annual cost
of obesity and overweight for England in 2002 was nearly £7 billion.25 This
total includes direct costs of treatment, the cost of dependence on state
benefits (arising from the impact of obesity on employment), and indirect
costs such as loss of earnings and reduced productivity. The Committee
estimated that the direct healthcare costs for the treatment of obesity alone
and its consequences were between £991 million and £1,124 million in
2002, equating to 2.3–2.6% of NHS expenditure (2001/2002). The costs
to society were estimated to have increased to £16 billion by 2007, and
the potential costs of a predicted growth in obesity were estimated by a
government Foresight report to increase dramatically to nearly £50 billion
by 2050.26
The mechanisms by which relationships affect health are increasingly
well understood. One route is through the way in which relationships either buffer or increase the effects of stress on the immune system. Studies
have indicated that relationship distress and depression are linked – in fact
it is estimated that 60% of those with depression attribute relationship
problems as the main cause for their illness.27 Relationships also influence
healthy or unhealthy behaviour including willingness to seek medical help,
alcohol (and other drug) abuse, or sexual health. One study, for example,
demonstrated a greater likelihood of people abusing alcohol one year after
Family as the Fabric of Society
scoring highly on a rating of marital dissatisfaction, leading the authors of
the study to observe that “if marital dissatisfaction is related to the course of
alcohol use disorders, then reducing marital dissatisfaction should reduce
the likelihood of onset or recurrence of alcohol use disorders”.28
Whilst health economists could seek to calculate accurate assessments
of the health costs of broken relationships (and we believe that any government Health Department should have an informed assessment of how
changes in family relationships might influence demand for services and
costs of provision), we took a simple approach to offering plausible indicative estimate as a basis for debate. A starting point was standardised patient
consulting ratios by legal marital status and sex.29 This, alongside a number
of other (now rather dated) studies indicated higher uses of health services
by divorced men and women.30 In the light of changes in family relationships, including the rise of cohabitation, marital status is now a less useful
indicator. We took a conservative estimate of 10-15% of visits to general
practitioners being related to family breakdown, but further and more recent research might allow more accurate assessment. While visits to the
doctor in the UK are free, prescriptions are charged for with exemptions
for certain groups including those on low income. The cost of prescriptions
is a significant component in overall NHS costs and we, again, attributed
15% of this to relationship breakdown in the light of the propensity for
greater used of health services and because lone parents were less likely to
pay for prescriptions.
Other costs to the NHS including hospital treatment, mental health services and Accident and Emergency were again based on rough allocations,
as well as looking at the reported costs of different pressures on services
such as alcohol misuse or sexually transmitted infections. Disentangling
the complex inter-related web of factors is, of course, not straightforward.
Taking mental health as an example, there are again a range of studies
indicating disproportionate demand for these services. Yet the experience
of lone parenthood, for example, can vary: where there is greater financial
support, access to childcare and employment, housing and other forms
of support the incidence of health-related problems may be reduced. The
breakdown of a relationship may increase the demand for support in some
areas, but the effective provision of that support may reduce other costs
where the negative impacts of breakdown are being effectively ameliorated.
For some issues, such as the costs of domestic violence to the NHS, more
precise estimates were available. A 2001 report for the Government Women and Equality Unit estimated the cost to the NHS of physical injuries
from domestic violence as £1.2 billion. There are, of course, non-physical
impacts of domestic violence which bring other costs. Walby estimated
the total cost to society (not just health) as £22.9 billion (three quarters
of which is a monetary value placed on human and emotional costs).31 A
200932 update suggested that these costs had fallen due to lower prevalence
“In the light of changes in
family relationships, including the rise of cohabitation,
marital status is now a less
useful indicator. ”
“Based on existing estimates
of prevalence, the overall
costs to the public purse of
domestic violence remain
substantial. If one adds to
this the wider long-term
impact on mental health
and intergenerational effects
on child development, not
captured in these estimates,
there is an overwhelming
argument for a preventative
Creating a Future
of domestic violence. Nevertheless the Early Intervention Foundation still
concluded that:
“Based on existing estimates of prevalence, the overall costs to the public purse
of domestic violence remain substantial. If one adds to this the wider longterm impact on mental health and intergenerational effects on child development, not captured in these estimates, there is an overwhelming argument
for a preventative approach.”33
Social services and social care
Social services and care in the UK have different institutional mechanisms of funding and provision in the UK and remain poorly integrated
with health care. The principal areas of cost that we considered were the
costs of taking children into care as a result of the breakdown of relationships, the costs of social workers supporting families, and the provision of
social care to older people or those with disabilities.
In the year ending 31 March 2013, a total of 68,110 children were looked
after by local authorities in England, a rate of 60 per 10,000 children under 18 years. The absolute number of children looked after has increased
by 12% since 2009 (60,900) and the rate per 10,000 children under 18
has increased from 54 in 2009 to 60 in 2013.34 The average annual cost of
this is £36,524 per looked after child. The main reason for a child being
taken into care is abuse or neglect, or other aspects of family dysfunction.
Poverty, drug abuse, homelessness and mental health problems can all be
part of the dangerous cocktail of circumstances that lie behind ‘troubled
families’. Many of these factors may have inter-generational roots, with
parents’ childhood experience of abuse or neglect disfiguring their adult
It can be debated how much of this cost of care should be attributed to
family breakdown. Our initial assessment of a £2.04 billion cost included
98% of children in care, picking up on a figure quoted in a House of Lords
debate.35 This fits with a broad definition of relationship breakdown, but
clearly cannot be regarded as the only factor behind children being taken
into care.
Social services work with families who need support, as well as in providing social care to older people (social care still being mostly institutionally
separate from health care in the UK). The total social services budget for
children and families when we made our initial assessment was £6 billion.
Leaving aside the amount spent on children in care (counted above) we
took two thirds of the remainder as the cost of breakdown (giving a cost of
£2.95 billion).
The value of care for older people provided by families is estimated to
be £119 billion a year. The current generation of ‘baby-boomers’ will enter
into old age with a much greater history of relationship breakdown than
previous generations and it is not yet clear to what extent that will affect
Family as the Fabric of Society
the willingness or ability of family members to provide care. Earlier studies
have suggested that children of divorced parents are less willing to let a
sick or aging father live with them.36 We took 10% of the £10 billion for
services for older people to give a £1 billion cost of breakdown. As with
other areas, more detailed research might allow a more nuanced estimate.
The changing contribution of family carers may not, for example, lead to
higher state spending but rather to more loneliness and lower wellbeing.
The Campaign to End Loneliness, for example have found that over one
million older people in the UK describe themselves as ‘always’ or ‘often’
feeling lonely.37
Welfare, tax and benefits
When relationships break down and families separate demands for welfare support tend to increase. Few of those involved in divorce or separation
become financially better off as a result. Even if the total income remains
the same it will normally be more expensive to run two households than
one. Women are still more likely to have custody of children, meaning they
bear most of the former household costs, whilst their ability to earn is reduced by their care responsibilities. This is particularly the case in countries
such as the UK with high child care costs.
Calculation of this aspect of the costs of family breakdown is complicated
by a number of factors including changes in welfare policy, employment
trends (and, in this context, particularly female employment rates), and the
impact of wider policy measures on employment and incomes. The ‘cost’
of breakdown in this context is thus partly an indication of how much a
society is willing to pay. Recent welfare reforms in the UK, for example,
such as a cap on the total amount of benefits payable to a family, could
reduce the total cost without any change in the numbers of relationships
breaking down or the wider consequences of this. Support that is available for all families, such as free or subsidised childcare that aids maternal
employment, could reduce welfare spending if it succeeds in increasing the
employment rate, and would not show up as a cost of breakdown.
One illustration of this problem is the analysis by Jill Kirby of the changes that occur when a couple on average pay separate.38 She provided an
example where an intact couple’s net contribution (the extent to which the
tax they pay is greater than the benefits they receive) is £5,156 but on separation the net cost (the amount that benefits exceed tax paid) is £7,451.
Such calculations inevitably depend on a range of assumptions, with the
employment rate of lone parents being one of the most significant. Between 1996 and 2013 this increased by 16%.39
Different countries have very different welfare systems, as well as different
ways of reporting data, so approaches to assessing this aspect of the cost of
breakdown will necessarily vary. We therefore set out our initial approach
(developed prior to the major welfare reforms currently underway in the
“The current generation of
‘baby-boomers’ will enter
into old age with a much
greater history of relationship breakdown than previous generations and it is not
yet clear to what extent that
will affect the willingness or
ability of family members to
provide care. ”
“Few of those involved in
divorce or separation become
financially better off as a
“Support that is available
for all families, such as free
or subsidised childcare that
aids maternal employment,
could reduce welfare spending if it succeeds in increasing the employment rate, and
would not show up as a cost
of breakdown.”
“Three times as many
lone parents were found to
receive the maximum outof-work award as couples
even though there were three
times as many couples on tax
credits as lone parents.”
Creating a Future
UK) as an illustration of how it might be done.
Tax credits were introduced in the UK as a form of means tested social
security benefit. It included a Child Tax Credit for those responsible for
at least one child, and a Working Tax Credit for those in work but on low
incomes. A commitment by the then Labour government to tackle child
poverty (defined as living in households with income less than 60% of median income) led to a significant increase in the payment of such benefits.
Government figures disclose the total amount paid in tax credits (B) and
the cost of administering these payments (A). It is also possible to identify
the total number of families (F), and the number of families comprising
a single adult with children (L) who receive these benefits. Given that a
quarter of couple families were on benefits, we assumed that a quarter of
lone parent families would be on benefits even if they were in a couple
relationship. This, then, allows a basic cost calculation which in our initial
report was £5.05 billion:
Tax credit cost = (A + B) x 0.75L/6
Lone parents, however, receive more child contingent support than couple families, and are more likely to be out of work or in need of in-work
financial assistance. Three times as many lone parents were found to receive
the maximum out-of-work award as couples even though there were three
times as many couples on tax credits as lone parents. The childcare element
of tax credits was paid to 161,700 couple families and 287,000 lone parents. We therefore made what we believe to be a conservative estimates that
lone parents received 25% more than their basic pro-rata share so adjusted
the cost to £6.31 billion. There are specific benefits available to lone parents
with young children totalling £4.34 billion. This took the total tax and
benefit costs in our initial calculation to £10.65 billion.
The cost of housing in the UK is amongst the most expensive in Europe.
Housing benefit provides assistance with paying rent, whilst Council Tax
benefit provided assistance with this property related tax paid to local government. The Department for Work and Pensions published Income–related Benefits Estimates of Take-up40 provides figures for both the total cost of
these benefits and the numbers of lone parents claiming them. The total
claimed by lone parents was £4.14 billion. However, as with other benefits
it is reasonable to assume that some people whose relationships breakdown
would need financial assistance anyway. An earlier research report for DWP
had shown that 44% of lone parents received Housing Benefit compared to
5% of couples41, whilst 55% of lone parents received Council Tax Benefit
compared to 7% of couples. We reduced the total amount of housing related benefits to lone parents by 10% to reflect the amount that would still be
claimed if they were in a couple relationship to give a cost of £3.68 billion.
Family as the Fabric of Society
The impact of families on the healthy maturation of children affects
schools and the costs of education in many ways. In the UK concerns have
been raised about the numbers of children failing to learn basic skills before starting school (eg language, toilet training, use of cutlery), disruptive
behaviour in school, poor educational outcomes, dropping out of tertiary
education, or the rise in the numbers of young people ‘not in education,
employment or training’.
The costs incurred may include the additional time demands placed on
teachers, the need for additional support to those with identified Special
Educational Needs, the costs of managing exclusions from school, vandalism to school property, stress related leave of absence (which can also be
due to the teachers’ own family relationships), the demands for free school
meals for low income parents, or the provision of maintenance allowances
for students.
Individual costings for each of these areas were not readily available so
we simply estimated a cost of 4% of the education budget, which meant
these consequences of breakdown contributed £3.12 billion to our original
estimate. Given our aim of raising awareness about the costs of breakdown,
and stimulating debate, we felt that such estimates, provided they are transparently made, are reasonable if they invite others to contribute to the development of more robust estimates.
Civil and Criminal Justice
The Centre for Social Justice’s Fractured Families report found that that
70% of young offenders are from single parent families. Half the under 18s
in prison have a history of being in care or involvement in their families
by social services. A quarter of all prisoners were taken into care as a child.
Offending and anti-social behaviour have many causal roots, and disentangling the role of family is far from straightforward. Recent years have seen
growing awareness of the importance of early years development on affect
regulation, cognitive development and subsequent offending behaviour.
We took the simple approach of attributing a quarter of all police, prison
and court costs to family breakdown, making a total of £5.64 billion. Given
that the costs of domestic violence alone to the criminal justice system were
estimated at around £1 billion in 2001, this does not seem an unreasonable
his working paper has looked at how the financial costs of breakdown in family relationships might be calculated without reference
to the values or social teaching that guide responses to this issue.
Creating a Future
“Given the scale of the
consequences for both the
families affected and for
society as a whole, however,
it is important to link the
narrower issue of costs back
to a wider debate.”
“The breakdown of relation-
ships inescapably involves
pain and costs, not least for
those most directly affected.”
“Relationships are more
stable where people make a
clear decision about being a
couple with a future, rather
than sliding into a relationship.”
Given the scale of the consequences for both the families affected and for
society as a whole, however, it is important to link the narrower issue of
costs back to a wider debate.
Political debate is, properly, infused with values shaping views about desired goals and how they may most appropriately be pursued. Yet the application of any value can be hotly contested. Fairness, for example, may
mean that children should not be left to bear the consequences of their
parents’ relationship choices or mistakes, or indeed the factors that may
have put their parents’ relationships under unsustainable pressure. For others, fairness may mean not picking up the tab for the consequences of other
peoples choices and actions. Individual liberties and responsibilities may
be balanced in different ways. The quality of relationships may be judged
by reference to the satisfaction of the participants, the outcomes (such as
the development and life chances of children), or with reference to ethical
norms (for example commitment and faithfulness).
While there will always be points at which people disagree about the
values that should inform the conduct of relationships and public policy,
the scope for consensus should not be underestimated. The breakdown of
relationships inescapably involves pain and costs, not least for those most
directly affected. In some cases the ending of a relationship is unavoidable,
or the best available option. One party may have little or no choice in
the matter. Yet the total amount of relationships breakdown is changeable.
Relationships education works. Relationships are more stable where people make a clear decision about being a couple with a future, rather than
sliding into a relationship.42 Relationships can be supported, or put under
unsustainable pressure – for example through debt, unemployment, long
working hours, housing pressures or caring responsibilities.
Given the impact of the breakdown of relationships on children, parents and society as a whole it makes sense to start with a commitment
to build a more supportive environment for relationships, and to enable
access to high quality relationships education and support, particularly in
the most vulnerable early years of relationships. In 2012, three out of four
debt advice clients in a relationship said their debt had negatively affected
the relationship, causing it to end entirely for one quarter of them.43 Many
young people admit to having moved in with their partner sooner than
they would otherwise have done due to high housing costs, and, conversely,
couples delay marriage (to afford the expensive wedding they dream of )
and delay having children due to the lack of a suitable home in which to
raise them. In a survey of family carers, 75% said that it was hard to maintain relationships and social networks because of the impact of caring.45
These examples illustrate the potential for policy in many areas to influence
family relationships.
Nor need supporting greater stability in relationships be construed as
an ethical judgement – it can also be simply about championing people’s
Family as the Fabric of Society
dreams. Surveys consistently show that most young people in the UK want
to get married at some point. People hope that their relationships last; that
their children will not experience the break up of their parents’ relationship.
Policy action to support relationships, and reduce the cost of breakdown,
will thus often be about helping people to achieve their goals.
Yet the economic case is also strong. With governments in many countries facing fiscal constraints, and thus demands to reduce spending, reducing the costs of breakdown becomes increasingly important. It is no
longer feasible simply to pursue growth, or redistributive approaches to
poverty reduction, and then pick up the pieces of family life. Progress in
many areas – improved educational outcomes, better health, better care for
older people, reduced welfare dependency, or improved community safety
depend upon a strong positive contribution from families. There are many
ways in which families can be supported: through practical assistance and a
more supportive environment. Failure to do so is not sustainable.
One response to this in the UK has been the introduction in October
2014 of a ‘Family Test’ on all policy decisions.46 The guidance for the test
notes that:
“While families typically mediate how policies impact individuals and
how individual citizens engage with public services, the impact of policy on
families is not always anticipated or well understood in the policy making
process. The focus of policy is for the most part on individuals, users of public services, workers or narrowly defined household units. This means that
the impact of policy, positive and negative on families as a whole, and how
families can impact the effectiveness of policy can often be overlooked.
The Family Test will address this. The objective is to introduce a family perspective to policy making by asking policy makers to anticipate the potential
impact of policy on families at each stage of the policy making process, and
document the potential impacts to raise awareness and support effective
decision making and debate.”47
The Test encourages reflection on five questions:
1. What kinds of impact might the policy have on family formation?
2. What kind of impact will the policy have on families going through key transitions such as becoming parents, getting married,
fostering or adopting, bereavement, redundancy, new caring responsibilities or the onset of a long-term health condition?
3. What impacts will the policy have on all family members’ ability to
play a full role in family life, including with respect to parenting and
other caring responsibilities?
4. How does the policy impact families before, during and after couple
5. How does the policy impact those families most at risk of deterioration of relationship quality and breakdown?
“Policy action to support
relationships, and reduce the
cost of breakdown, will thus
often be about helping people to achieve their goals.”
Creating a Future
Each government department is expected to assess its own policies, with
involvement of stakeholders encouraged to gain better knowledge of the
potential or actual impact of policy. Previous attempts at assessing the
impact of policy, such as the US experience under the Reagan presidency,
foundered when such assessments became a focus for ideological conflict
over policy. In the UK there is now perceived to be the potential for sufficient consensus for the family test to be a constructive contribution to
better policy making. A broad perspective on the many in ways in which
families can be supported, or put under pressure, should over time highlight ways in which the extent of relationship breakdown, and the costs
and consequences that result, can be reduced.
7. Office for National Statistics, Statistical Bulletin: Families and Households,
October 2013
8. The following analysis is drawn from analysis by The Marriage Foundation, a
charity we have helped to launch, and is available at
9. There are also non-economic reasons for providing support, such as the promotion
of wellbeing
10. The cost of taking a child into care can be between £20K and £180k per annum.
12. The main providers in the UK have come together under the umbrella of the
Relationships Alliance
13. House of Lords Debate, 4 March 2014, column 1215
14. The Funding of Marriage Support Review, Lord Chancellor’s Department, 1999
15. Ibid. para 9
16. Fractured Families: Why Stability Matters, Centre for Social Justice, June 2013 p.
Family as the Fabric of Society
22. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that a lone parent with one child
needs to earn £27,073 to meet a Minimum Income Standard, whereas each adult in a
couple household with two children would need to earn £20,287 to meet the standard.
A Minimum Income Standard for the UK in 2014,
23. Holt-Lunstad. J, Smith, T. B., Layton, J. B. (2010). Social Relationships and
Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/
25. House of Commons Health Select Committee. 2004. Obesity: Third Report of
26. Session 2003/04. London: The Stationery Office
28. Teo, A. R., Choi, H., Valenstein, M. (2013). Social Relationships and Depression:
Ten-Year Follow-Up from a Nationally Representative Study. PLOS ONE, 10.1371/
29. Whisman, M.A., Uebelacker, L.A., Bruce, M.L.. (2006). Longitudinal association
between marital dissatisfaction and alcohol use disorders in a community sample.
Journal of Family Psychology,
30. 20(1), 164-167.
31. We referenced Morbidity Table 30, Statistics from General Practice, 4th National
Study 91/92, series MB5, No. 3
32. McAllister, F. Marital Breakdown and the Health of the Nation OnePlusOne,
1995 suggested 35% greater usage
33. Sylvia Walby, Cost of Domestic Violence, DTI Women and Equality Unit, 2004
34. Walby, S. (2009). The cost of domestic violence: up-date 2009. Lancaster:
Lancaster University.
35. p.12
37. Baroness Seccombe, House of Lords, Hansard, 17/3/2004 Column 297
38. e.g. Goldscheider, F and Lawton, L. ‘Family Experience and the Erosion of
Support for Intergenerational Coresidence’, Journal of Marriage and the Family, Vol 60,
No. 3 (1998) pp 623-632
39. TNS Loneliness Omnibus Survey for AgeUK (April 2014)
42. Our initial costs assessment used the 2007 edition
43. More recent figures are 63% of lone parents and 10% of couple parents. DWP
(2014) Quarterly Statistical Summary
Creating a Future
44. For more on this see, for example, the work of Scott Stanley and colleagues at
the University of Denver. Key research papers are available at http://slidingvsdeciding.
45. Maxed Out: Serious Personal Debt in Britain; Centre for Social Justice, November
46. The Human Cost: how the lack of affordable housing impacts on all aspects of
life, Shelter, 2010
47. State of Caring 2014, Carers UK
file/368894/family-test-guidance.pdf page 3
A Caritas in Veritate Foundation Report1 by
University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)
he 20th Anniversary of the International Year of the Family
(2014) is an important moment for us to remind ourselves of
the family’s irreplaceable role in economic life, especially in
relation to business. It is a time to examine the difficult challenges for
families wishing to participate and fulfill their responsibilities in the
permanent whitewater of our global economy, and to propose ways to
foster greater integration rather than compartmentalization between
family and business. We present in this paper a three-fold analysis of
the relationship between family and business life:
• seeing the challenges for family business, especially the modern
problem of disconnection;
• judging with the right principles to provide a proper relationship
between family and business; and
• acting in accord with these principles within business and in particular family business.
Our thesis is simply this: If we are to get business right, we have to
get the family right. The family serves as “the fundamental cell”1 of
culture, and because an economy is embedded in that culture, business
must take its operating cues from the family. If not, business will default to a highly instrumental and ultimately inhuman, albeit efficient,
form of operation. The importance of the family, however, cannot be
discussed without the importance of religion, since the health of one
is fundamentally dependent on the health of the other. When people
turn from religion, they also turn from having families; when people
have families, they turn to religion and religious communities for support. Family and religion serve as a double helix, a spiral arrangement
of the two complementary strands of cultural DNA that makes up
“If we are to get business
right, we have to get the
family right. The family
serves as “the fundamental cell” of culture, and
because an economy is
embedded in that culture,
business must take its
operating cues from the
“It is precisely this embedded
relationship that gives business a healthy cultural DNA
system allowing it to serve
the common good of the
organization and the larger
Creating a Future
the basic human ecology of society.2 When human ecology is in good
order, family and faith both limit the activities of business and remind
business of its important calling.3 It is precisely this embedded relationship that gives business a healthy cultural DNA system allowing it
to serve the common good of the organization and the larger society.
Throughout the paper we will speak about business in general and
then in the last section focus particularly on family businesses as a
unique expression of this relationship.
“This phenomenon is referred to as the divided life,
defined as separating one’s
identity or role into distinct
spheres of values, such that
certain behaviors may be
considered impermissible in
one realm, but permissible in
the other.”
Seeing: The Challenge of Disconnection
isconnected Self: There are of course many problems and
challenges in business and the professions in general. When
we look at business scandals and financial crises (as well as
scandals and crises in other professions such as doctors in Auschwitz,
teachers, social workers and clergy who have abused children, and lawyers who have enriched themselves at the expense of justice), we are
faced with what Gaudium et spes calls one of the more serious errors of
our age: “the split between the faith which many profess and their daily
lives.”4 Many business people, as well as others, will often experience a
sense of unease about how they conduct their work and how they live
outside of their work. This unease stems from a concern about living
two lives and not one. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote that “No man, for
any period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude
without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.”
This phenomenon is referred to as the divided life, defined as separating one’s identity or role into distinct spheres of values, such that
certain behaviors may be considered impermissible in one realm,
but permissible in the other. The divided life can also be understood
through the lens of Alasdair MacIntyre’s “compartmentalization,” defined as follows:
By compartmentalization I mean that division of contemporary social
life into distinct spheres, each with its own highly specific standards of
success and failure, each presenting to those initiated into its particular
activities its own highly specific normative expectations, each requiring
the inculcation of habits designed to make one effective in satisfying
those particular expectations and conforming to those particular standards. So what is accounted effectiveness in the roles of the home is not at
all the same as what is so accounted in the roles of the workplace. What
is accounted effectiveness in the role of a consumer is not so accounted in
the role of a citizen. The detailed specificity in the multiplicity of roles
is matched by the lack of anything remotely like adequate prescriptions
for the self which is required to inhabit each of these roles in turn, but
Family as the Fabric of Society
which is itself to be fully identified with none of them. Yet it is this now
attenuated core self, which in the compartmentalization of the distinctively modern self has become a ghost.5
MacIntyre provides one of the more convincing contemporary explanations of the danger of the divided life. What he makes clear is that
modern culture not only fails to challenge compartmentalization, but
it works particularly hard at avoiding its acknowledgment. What is it
about this age that fosters rather than resists this split? An immediate
response can be seen in the language and categories we use to describe
our lives. We live in an age where our categories are no longer distinctions but separations or walls: public/private, body/soul, church/state,
spirituality/religion, faith/work.6 Yet, another response lies in the way
that we think about our institutions.7
Disconnected Institutions: It is often the case that those things that we
have so long taken for granted, so long ignored, are often those items
that keep the whole together. If we are to confront this problem of
the divided life within business, we must take into consideration the
importance of the family and religion. These are the primary institutions for overcoming compartmentalization and can serve as important
facilitators of the health of business. This is no easy task, for the family
as well as religion are rarely considered when business and its related
problems of purpose, social responsibility and ethics are examined.
The economic historian Karl Polyani articulated the important function of “embeddedness” that helps us to understand the institutional
relationship between family and religion on the one hand, and business on the other.8 The economy (and more specifically business) is
morally embedded in the larger culture and law, namely non-economic
institutions. One of the problems of our modern era (especially in relation to the global economy) is that its moral embeddedness in the culture has been displaced by an economy that claims its own independent logic and values. James Booth explains how the attributes claimed
for it are familiar:
An economy whose actors are considered equals and a system indifferent
to their non-economic attributes, a contractarian, voluntaristic institutional context for exchanges; and the view that the public authority
should not decide among preferences—that one is entitled to live one’s life
‘from the inside,’ selecting and ordering one’s preferences according to the
good as one understands it and seeking to engage the voluntary cooperation of others in one’s pursuit of them.9
This morally thin approach to economic and business life has been
challenged throughout the Christian social tradition. If business is
guided only by the economic values of efficiency, productivity and
profitability, a form of “economism” results which eventually pol-
“Modern culture not only
fails to challenge compartmentalization, but it works
particularly hard at avoiding
its acknowledgment.”
“One of the problems ofour
modern era is that its moral
embeddedness in the culture
has been displaced by an
economy that claims its
own independent logic and
“As the industrial economy
uprooted the household
economy, the organic unity
of households with economic
units was jettisoned.”
Creating a Future
lutes the culture. John Paul II explained that “[o]f itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new
and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs
which hinder the formation of a mature personality.”10 For example,
some “goods and services”—however much there might be a market
for them—do not really add value to the lives of their stakeholders.11
The history of this detachment from the culturally embedded character of the economy is a complex one, but we can begin to see the
importance of the family in relation to business by recognizing the
radical institutional changes presented by the Industrial Revolution.
Prior to the 1800s, the economy was embedded in the household
and in the family, where production, consumption, procreation, love,
faith and education formed community.12 The Greek word for economy, oikonomia, means management or rules of a household (oikos,
“house” and nomos, “custom” or “law”). While they were not without
their own problems, work and family encouraged more natural and
organic (embedded) relationships.
Since the 1800s, this structure has been largely, though not completely (e.g., family businesses, which we will examine in the third
section of this paper) replaced by an economy that removed economic
production from the family. The new, growing and independent institution of the corporation left the family as the principal place in which
consumption, religion and private morality were embedded.
The removal of work from the household created significant benefits: division of labor, which allowed for specialization to increase
productivity and efficiency, and accelerated technological advances for
a growing and dynamic economy. These new forms of commerce and
manufacturing made products affordable to the masses that were once
available only to the most elite. Yet, these modern developments also
created what Wendell Berry describes as “a movement of consciousness
away from home,”13 and what others identified as a cosmopolitan detachment of personal, religious and familial life from business. David
Schindler has also described this detachment as kind of “homelessness.”14 As the industrial economy uprooted the household economy,
the organic unity of households with economic units was jettisoned.
The further removed business became from the family and faith, the
more it was viewed as a mechanical operation of inputs and outputs
needing to be engineered for maximum efficiency. This mechanistic
pattern severs the businessperson from any morally or spiritually created order where “‘[h]e assumes that there is nothing that he can do
that he should not do, nothing that he can use that he should not
use.’”15 As the business economy begins to inhabit its own space within the global economic system, it not only disconnects business from
the larger culture, but also capital from community, employee from
Family as the Fabric of Society
consumer, and production from consumption. It is what Jeff Gates
calls “disconnected capitalism.”16
This division has not only changed our experience of work, but even
more significantly, it has changed how we value the family. If work
has become more mechanical, more calculative, more functional, the
family has become more sentimental, more emotional and more therapeutic.17 With economic reality shifted to productive organizations,
the family comes to be seen as an emotional safe haven in the heartless
world of work, where individuals can retreat from the cold competitive
world of business to the private life of affirmation and consumption
found in the home.18 Increasingly, the family is viewed less as a social
institution and more as a private enclave, where individuals live according to their own individual moral codes. The view of family as a
private domain is thought to have little influence on the public world
of business and politics.19 This view has led us to expect from the
family both too much in the form of emotional elation and too little
in the form of social contribution. Along with religion, the family is
relegated to a private and subjective sphere, thereby undermining its
humanizing influence on the culture.
Disconnection and Poverty: One of the more tragic consequences of
the broken relationship between the family and economic life is persistent poverty. Society’s economic woes are directly related to the declining health of the family and religion.20 Without the social capital
that marriage and intact families provide, workers fail to develop the
habits, skills and character to succeed in work. Pope Francis captured
the significance of this phenomenon when he spoke of it at a recent
marriage conference: “Evidence is mounting that the decline of the
marriage culture is associated with increased poverty and a host of
other social ills, disproportionately affecting women, children and the
elderly. It is always they who suffer the most in this crisis.”21
While the causes of poverty and the lack of social and economic mobility are complicated and varied (inefficient government regulations,
regressive tax policies, poor education, increased globalization of production, lower real wages, increased automation, etc.), their relationship to family and religion are important. In the US, for example, there
is an increasing cultural divide between lower and middle class populations that are withdrawing from marriage and religion and upper
middle class populations that have higher participation rates in such
institutions. Not only is economic inequality growing, but so is cultural inequality. While marriage and religious participation rates declined
for all classes since the 1960s, significant divergence started to occur
in the 80s. For the upper middle class, marriage stabilized during the
mid-1980s, and since then actual divorce rates have started to decline.22
For the lower to middle classes, however, marriage participation rates
“With economic reality shifted to productive organizations, the family comes to be
seen as an emotional safe haven in the heartless world of
work, where individuals can
retreat from the cold competitive world of business to the
private life of affirmation and
consumption found in the
Creating a Future
“Where marriage destabi-
lizes, economic inequality
increases and entrepreneurial activity and mobility
continued to slide to the point where a minority are now married. This
“marriage gap” among the classes has grown from 10% in the 1960s to
35% today. Whereas in the 1960s, poor and rich both participated in
religion and marriage at similar rates, today a majority of upper middle
class people marry, their children are born into two-parent homes and
usually attend religious services. A majority of middle to lower class
people do not marry, their children are born into single parent homes,
and they usually do not attend religious services. 23
To be sure, the cause and effect relationships between economic issues
such as poverty and cultural institutions such as family and religion are
complicated and situational. Where there is increased poverty, family
life suffers. Where marriage destabilizes, economic inequality increases
and entrepreneurial activity and social mobility decrease. While not
every married intact family is healthy, what is clear, is that children and
women, in the aggregate, fare worse economically in unmarried and
divorced circumstances than in intact families. W. Bradford Wilcox reports that the shift in family structure away from marriage accounts for
approximately 40% of the increase in economic inequality since 1975.
Children from lower to middle income married two-parent families
have greater economic mobility than those raised without both parents
or whose parents are unmarried.24
Judging: Rethinking the Connection between Business
and Family through Human Ecology
You cannot build an emerging society . . . if you are simultaneously destroying the cultural foundations that cement your society . . . [W]ithout
a sustainable culture there is no sustainable community and without a
sustainable community there is no sustainable globalization
Thomas Friedman 25
“The Catholic tradition also
emphasizes an even more
significant need for collaboration between business and
cultural institutions such as
family and religion.”
The Catholic social tradition insists that it takes many institutions
in collaborative relationships to foster the common good. It recognizes
the importance of the state and its collaboration with business, but the
Catholic tradition also emphasizes an even more significant need for
collaboration between business and cultural institutions such as the
family and religion. The moral guidance of business not only comes
from the market and from the law, but primarily from the larger culture and, in particular, from the family and religion. As important as
markets and laws are in the economy, companies must also acknowledge the need for collaboration with the family and faith institutions
that provide the cultural soil out of which business grows.
Family and religion serve as a double helix, an iterative symbiotic
relationship that keeps cultures intact. Business needs to respect their
Family as the Fabric of Society
importance and appreciate their influence. This is premised on a view
of institutional life that assumes a human ecology.26 Pope Francis,
along with Popes Benedict and John Paul II, have argued that we are
suffering an ecological crisis “for social environments,” and, like natural environments, these social environments, especially the family,
need protection. Francis has stated that “although the human race has
come to understand the need to address conditions that menace our
natural environments, we have been slower to recognize that our fragile social environments are under threat as well. . . . It is therefore
essential that we foster a new human ecology.”27
One aspect of this human ecological crisis is that business sees itself as an autonomous entity limited only by the law and incentivized
principally by markets. When it sees itself in a separate sphere with
minimal obligations to the larger culture and the political sphere, this
isolation will result in disorder, well-demonstrated in the financial crisis of 2008. This makes for a morally and spiritually bankrupt business
system. Like anything in the environment, if we act as if it has no relationship to anything else, we will often do significant damage.
Within a proper human ecology, business is not some autonomous
reality; rather, it is embedded in a cultural reality which it influences
and by which it is influenced. When grounded in communities of persons such as families, religion, education and a healthy and non-corrupt state, business is more likely to order itself toward the common
good properly understood. When family and religion serve as the
DNA of the culture, they do two very important things for the health
of business.
First, they limit economic activity. Religion, especially monotheistic
religion in the West, does this through the Sabbath and other religious
practices and rituals. As Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, the Sabbath
tells us that production and consumption do not own or completely
define us.28 Not only does the Sabbath limit economic activity, it
provides space for human and religious identity. Jewish essayist Achad
Haam captures the point with a twist: “the Sabbath has preserved the
Jews more than the Jews have preserved the Sabbath.”29 Families also
constrain economic activity when they are committed to the fundamental goods of marriage, goods which have been influenced and supported by religion. The unity of the couple and its covenantal bond
takes time and commitment that cannot be violated by the demands
of work, and the procreative good of children demands time for their
formation and development.
Second, family and religion order economic activity and remind it of
its purpose by connecting business to the common good and its participants to their particular vocations. The family plays a foundational
role in all institutions, since it is the first school of virtue where desires
“Family and religion serve as
a double helix, an iterative
symbiotic relationship that
keeps cultures intact”
“The family plays a foundational role in all institutions,
since it is the first school
of virtue where desires are
matured, reason is formed,
the will is shaped and a
community of persons is
“What the family and
religion do for business is to
identify the comprehensive
set of goods that business
must produce and to help
it resist the temptation to
reduce itself to mere material
accumulation in the form of
profits, salaries, or price.”
Creating a Future
are matured, reason is formed, the will is shaped and a community
of persons is established. Pope Francis explains that as a school, the
family grounded in marriage is “where we begin to acquire the arts of
cooperative living.”30 This familial formation which serves as the basic
cell of culture should influence business not to be another family but
to be human places of production. Religion, when it has a mature
social tradition, will speak of our work life not as a necessary evil, but
as a vocation that fosters the growth of people. Religious institutions
foster social networks that help people to explore meaningful life issues
and to have higher quality, stable relationships that support and complement family life.31
This is why true leadership in business “begins and finds its most
important expression in the leadership of the primary institutions” of
family and faith.32 These institutions are the places where we appreciate
the inherent dignity of others, where we share goods in common, where
we experience the importance of integral human development. And if
we fail to appreciate, share and experience such things in primary institutions such as family and faith, we will find it much more difficult to
develop them in secondary institutions such as business.
What the family and religion do for business is to identify the comprehensive set of goods that business must produce and to help it resist the
temptation to reduce itself to mere material accumulation in the form of
profits, salaries, or price. A recent work from the Pontifical Council for
Justice and Peace on business leadership, The Vocation of the Business
Leader, offers a normative account of business decision making that is
anchored in three institutional goods of business, goods that are influenced and informed by the goods of marriage and religion.33 They are:
• Good Goods: providing goods which are truly good and services
which truly serve, which go beyond “market value.”
• Good Work: organizing work where employees develop their gifts
and talents not only for themselves, but for others.
• Good Wealth: creating sustainable wealth that can be distributed justly to stakeholders and not only to shareholders.
These goods come more naturally to a business when businesspeople have first been formed in a cultural soil of marriage and family
that that connects people to what is deeply human. The unitive good
of self-giving between husband and wife and the procreative good of
openness to life create the context for family members to be givers and
not merely takers. Such marital goods help businesspeople resist an exclusively market logic that reduces the three goods of business to mere
profit maximization—to a company that simply serves itself.
Family as the Fabric of Society
Acting: Family Businesses at the Crossroads of Our Culture and Our Economy
here are many actions that need to be taken to reconnect family
and faith with business. Businesses must allow their employees
to be faithful mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. This entails ensuring living wages, good benefits, decent work, work/family
balance and so forth. 34 The state also has an important obligation to
ensure these conditions and outcomes. In this last part of our reflection, however, we want to look at family businesses as a model for the
kind of integration we have been advocating.
The embedded relationship of business within family and religion
that we discussed above is made more concrete by looking at family
businesses. While family businesses can suffer from the divided life,
there is greater likelihood of integration rather than compartmentalization because they live at the crossroads of the economy and culture.
In their study of family-run businesses, Aronoff and Ward provide a
helpful distinction between functional and fundamental values that
helps us to see the moral collaboration between culture and business.35
They explain that non-family businesses often base themselves upon
functional values such as profits, teamwork, innovation, creativity, industriousness, etc. These values are obviously important to running a
business, but they don’t touch the person in any profound fashion in
relation to community, solidarity, or the common good, nor do they
provide any kind of distinctive vision for the business itself.
Family-run businesses are often informed by more fundamental principles that connect to the deeper meaning of the person and to a wider
notion of social responsibility.36 These values can create stronger cultures since they often have “a more celebrated and preserved history”
to draw upon to make sense of day-to-day practices and actions. Aronoff and Ward point out that family firms emphasize:
• Collectivity more than individuality;
• Past and future orientation to time more than present orientation;
• The natural goodness of the person more than merely self-interested utility maximization.37
The “familiness” of these businesses creates a deeper human reason for
their decision making, which is often the basis for a stronger organizational culture. This bright side has a corresponding dark side, however.
Disordered families and religions make for the most inhumane of businesses. They become cesspools of nepotism and cronyism. Religious
zealots within business use their power to proselytize employees and
suppliers disrespecting the fundamental right of religious liberty. These
problems are as deep as those caused by a preoccupation with profit.
“Family-run businesses are often informed by
more fundaental principles
that connect to the deeper
meaning of the person and
to a wider notion of social
“In general, the more committed people are to faithbased values, the more
hope they have about the
future and the more likely
they will be to have children, which are conditions
for the existence of family
Creating a Future
Thus, while we need to be on guard about the ways in which family
and religion can distort family businesses, we do not want to underestimate their moral and spiritual power for meaningful work and the
common good. We can think of it this way: there are four prerequisites
to having a family business. First, parents must have a family. Second,
they must own a business. Third, the business must be passed to the
next generation. Fourth, the family must agree on what is important
so that they can work together and pass on the enterprise at its best.
What is rarely explored about these basic realities of family business
is the underlying system of meaning that comes from the faith-based
values of a family, which makes meaningful family businesses possible. We will now offer a few observations about the importance of
faith to socially responsible family business.
Our first observation is that dedication to religious faith is related to
getting married and having children (and vice a versa), thus creating
the conditions for a family business.38 There is a strong correlation
between religious observance and commitment, family size and industrious work habits. In general, the more committed people are to
faith-based values, the more hope they have about the future and the
more likely they will be to have children, which are conditions for
the existence of family businesses.39 David Brooks gives the example
of Orthodox Jews. He explains that within the US, “only 21 percent
of non-Orthodox Jews between the ages of 18 and 29 are married.
But an astounding 71 percent of Orthodox Jews are married at that
age. And they are having four and five kids per couple.” Because of
their high marriage rates and fertility they will have vibrant families
capable of successful family businesses. There is increasingly strong
evidence that those, like the Orthodox Jews, who are strongly grounded in family and religion, often, although not always, do better economically. While we do not subscribe to the simplicity of the “gospel
of wealth,” we nonetheless want to argue that strong families and
strong religion reinforce each other and they provide the conditions
for strong family businesses.40
Our second observation is that faith is more likely to be enduring in
a family, and in a family business, if faith-based values and practices
are integrated into daily family life. For example, Orthodox Jewish
religion influences what the faithful eat, what they wear and how they
behave.41 The weekly Jewish Sabbath, which has been passed from
family to family for over 3500 years, is seen as a source of vibrancy
in this faith. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day
Saints, the Mormons, have a health code that dictates restrictions on
coffee and tea consumption as well as bans on tobacco, alcohol and
harmful drugs. Members are expected to participate in the lay clergy,
support church activities and engage in religious worship at home.
Family as the Fabric of Society
Catholics are called to go to Mass weekly and participate regularly
in the sacraments, visible signs of inward and spiritual divine grace.
Muslims are called to pray, fast and give alms.
These rituals and practices serve as reminders that life is about more
than simply “my” choice, that personal choice is embedded in a much
larger moral and spiritual order. One of the ironies of a “personal
choice” ideology, which reflects “the logic of the market,” is that once
it is established, choice strangely becomes less significant. The Jewish
sociologist Philip Rieff argued that “There is no feeling more desperate than that of being free to choose, without the specific compulsion
of being chosen.”42 If life is simply about “personal choice” then our
choices are relegated to taste or opinion, and become as significant as
choosing between vanilla or strawberry yogurt. What we lose when all
we have is our “choice” is that choices don’t connect us to anything
outside of ourselves. They are merely private decisions. It is not the
content of the choice that matters, but the personal preference of
isolated individuals—making choices indifferent to any life project
or plan. D.H. Lawrence, the English novelist and poet, wrote: “The
moment you can do just what you like, there is nothing you care
about doing. Men are only free when they are doing what the deepest
self likes. And there is getting down to the deepest self! It takes some
diving.”43 What religion, and in particular vocation, does for business
is to connect our individual choices to a transcendent discovery that
we ourselves are chosen for something.
Our third observation is that when family and faith inform the practices of a family business, a stronger identity and culture between the
family and business is established. Part of this identity is a strong
sense of “corporate social responsibility.” As St. James tells us, faith
without works is dead (Jas 2:17). While family businesses can conceal
rather than reveal their deep familial and spiritual roots and operate
their businesses solely in terms of profit, faithful family businesses
will often pride themselves on a deep connection to their employees
and communities. The following practices illustrate exemplary family
businesses and the ways in which they exercise their social responsibility.
1. Decent and Good Work: One common characteristic of family
businesses is that the names of the owning families are on the doors of
the business, either literally or figuratively. Unlike investors in public
companies whose only stake in the business may be return on investment, families that own businesses have their reputations at stake,
such as the way they treat employees. In many family businesses, family members work shoulder-to-shoulder with non-family employees.
Owners seek to maintain decent and good work for both family and
employees. Because family members personally experience what it is
“One of the ironies of a
‘personal choice’ ideology,
which reflects ‘the logic of
the market,’ is that once it is
established, choice strangely
becomes less significant.”
“What religion, and in
particular vocation, does
for business is to connect
our individual choices to a
transcendent discovery that
we ourselves are chosen for
“This deeper sense of their
identity moves family
businesses to provide a wide
variety of services to their
employees, especially those
in relation to their families
such as employment for
other members of employee
families, education for their
children, mortgages for their
homes, etc.”
“A living wage, then, is the
minimum amount due to
every independent wage
earner by the mere fact that
he or she is a human being
with a life to maintain and a
family to support.”
Creating a Future
like to be an employee, they seek to provide employees developmental
opportunities. Employees have a voice in their work, because owners
work with them. Because they are in this business for the long-term,
for generations, they seek entrepreneurial growth through collaboration and creative input from employees, creating a sense of shared
responsibility. These businesses employ the principle of subsidiarity
by 1) promoting autonomy, providing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities, 2) equipping employees with the right tools,
training, and experience to carry out their tasks and 3) giving employees freedom to fulfil their responsibilities and receive recognition for
their performance.44
2. Personal Concern: Exemplary family businesses, precisely because they have their origins in families, tend to be sensitive to the
needs of not only their own family life, but the lives of their employees’ families. They will often have a deep sense that their employees
are not merely employees, but coworkers who are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. This deeper sense of their identity moves
family businesses to provide a wide variety of services to their employees, especially those in relation to their families such as employment
for other members of employee families, education for their children,
mortgages for their homes, etc. Owners of one nationwide trucking
company in the US personally travel to the funerals of employees.
Family businesses take on the family concerns of their coworkers.
3. Just Wage: Family businesses, precisely because they have their
origins in families, often are sensitive to the needs of not only their
own family life, but the lives of their employees’ families. When a
family business employer receives work from an employee, both participate not only in an economic exchange, but also in a personal relationship. For this relationship to flourish, an employer must recognize
that in their labor, employees “surrender” their time and energy and
cannot use them for another purpose. A living wage, then, is the minimum amount due to every independent wage earner by the mere fact
that he or she is a human being with a life to maintain and a family to
support. But precisely because the family business is a business, pay is
not only income for the worker; it is also a cost to the employer and
has a significant impact on the economic health of the organization.45
4. Secure Employment: Exemplary family businesses would support Pope Francis’s outspoken criticisms of companies who lay off
employees. He is concerned that a “logic of profit” rather than relationships has taken over the decision making of certain companies.
He stated that “[w]ith work, it’s not a game! And whoever - for the
sake of money, or business, or to earn even more - takes away work,
[should] know he takes away the dignity of the person.” The exem-
Family as the Fabric of Society
plary family businesses prides itself on being a community of persons
rather than merely a collection of individuals.46 Realizing its culture
is based on family values, it seeks to hire employees with values that
fit the culture. These businesses invest in their employees. Because of
this relationship, exemplary family businesses are reluctant to lay off
loyal employees during challenging economic times.47 For example,
during the great recession, a large window manufacturer asked everyone, managers and employees, to take a cut in wages so that no one
would lose his job. Another second-generation manufacturing company refused to outsource manufacturing to other countries so that it
could retain employment for local employees. In general, these family
businesses seek lifetime employment for their employees and they go
to great lengths to avoid layoffs.
5. Concern for the Larger Community: A core characteristic of a
family business is transfer of business ownership to the next generation. Studies suggest that a strong positive relationship exists between
the intention to pass business ownership to the next generation and
contributions to the community. The motivation seems to be one
of building a better local community for the next generation and for
employees. Among other things, they build churches, schools, medical clinics, and recreation facilities, as well as provide generous contributions to many causes, especially those causes that affect the poor.
Business families use their capabilities and resources to lift up those
around them.
These practices, along with others, not only make the businesses
stronger, but they make families and communities stronger. When
family businesses have decent work, personal concern, living wages,
secure employment and community benefit, conditions are created
for them to flourish and succeed. If employees suffer from sub-living
wages, layoffs and debilitating work, the family suffers and is more
likely to break down making prosperity for all more difficult within
If family businesses can truly be both families and businesses at the
same time, they are worth our time and energy to celebrate and hold
up on a hill during this 20th Anniversary of the Year of the Family.
They provide a concrete institutional expression that makes the world
more human. The family as an enduring moral and spiritual force is
irreplaceable for good companies. The thesis of this paper is that we
will not get business right, if we don’t get the family right. The family
and the underlying goods of marriage serve as the fundamental cell
Creating a Future
of the culture. This fundamental cell is the place from which business receives its moral and spiritual resources to promote and develop just practices within the business. Family businesses, however, are
intimately situated at the crossroads of the culture and the economy,
and while they do not have a monopoly on such practices, their family-centeredness should make clearer to the world the possibilities of
living an integrated rather than a compartmentalized life.
1. Pope Francis (address to the European Parliament, Strasbourg, France, November 25,
2. See Mary Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God (West Conshohoken: Templeton
Press, 2013).
See Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader,
Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, 43.
Alasdair MacIntyre, “Moral Philosophy and Contemporary Social Practice: What
Holds Them Apart?” In The Tasks of Philosophy. Selected Essays, (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2006), 117.
6. While many historians may trace the origins of this modern split to different sources,
it would seem that Machiavelli is a significant source for intensification of these divisions in
the modern world. He recognizes this division without lament, andhe accepts it and actually
explains that a unity of life leads to a loss of power. For Machiavelli, “how we live is so far
removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to
be done will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation.” Yet unlike Machiavelli,
whose word to the prince on the price of success—“learn how not to be good”—counsels a
principle of expediency, while maintaining a façade of virtue when advantageous, we tend
to accept a divided life, acquiescing in a pretended necessity to maintain a “split personality”
by maintaining a separation between public and religious life, and seeing any unity between
the two as a certain fanaticism or at best a naïve religiosity failing to confront the necessary
compromises for social peace. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince and the Discourses (New
York: Modern Library, 1940), 56.
7. See Hugh Heclo, On Thinking Institutionally, (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2008).
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: the Political and Economic Origins of our
Time. (Mattituck, N.Y.: Amereon House, 1990).
9. William James Booth, “On the Idea of the Moral Economy,” American Political Science
Review 88, no. 3 (1994): 661.
10. John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 36.
11. See Kenneth E. Goodpaster, “Goods that are Truly Good and Services that Truly Serve:
Reflections on Caritas in Veritate,” Journal of Business Ethics 100 (S1): 9-16.
12. See Wendell Berry, Home Economics: Fourteen Essays (San Francisco: North Point
Press, 1987), 184. For discussions on the pre-modern economic order see Luigino Bruni and
Stefano Zamagni, Civil Economy: Efficiency, Equity, Public Happiness (Bern: Peter Lang,
2007), chapters 2-4, as well as Christopher Dawson, Religion and the Rise of Western
Family as the Fabric of Society
Culture (New York: Image Books, 1957), chapter IX.
13. See David Schindler, “Homelessness and the Modern Condition: The Family,
Evangelization, and the Global Economy,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and
Culture 3, no. 4 (2000): 42, quoting Wendell Berry. See also Caritas in Veritate, 40.
David Schindler, “Homelessness and the Modern Condition: The Family,
Evangelization, and the Global Economy,” Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and
Culture 3, no. 4 (2000): 34-56.
15. Ibid., Wolfgang Grassl explains: “the Industrial Revolution has in¬creasingly
loosened the embeddedness of economic behavior in society and culture by moving it
into a formal and calculative space.” “Hybrid Forms of Business: The Logic of Gift in the
Commercial World,” (2011): 6,
16. See Jeff Gates, The Ownership Solution: Toward a Shared Capitalism for the
Twenty-first Century,(Reading, MA: Perseus Books, 1999).
17. See also Robert Bellah, et al., Habits of the Heart (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1984), see chapter 4 on “Love and Marriage.”
18. See Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame: University of
Notre Dame Press, 1981), chapter 8.
19. This more therapeutic understanding of marriage and family led to less restrictions
on non-marital sex, divorce, contraception, abortion and homosexuality, activities largely
understood as personal private choices rather than in terms of their effects on long-term
health family and faith as institutions. Mary Eberstadt explains that the churches who
advocated these reforms “contributed to an unwanted and unexpected denouement: they
weakened both literally and figuratively the foundations on which those same churches
depended—i.e., natural families. In their efforts to reach out to individuals who wanted a
softening of Christian doctrine, the churches inadvertently appear to have failed to protect
their base: thriving families whose members would then go on to reproduce both literally
and in the figurative sense of handing down their religion. Here again, we see the power
effect of the double helix of family and faith.” Eberstadt, How the West Really Lost God,
20. W. Bradford Wilcox, Andrew J. Cherlin, Jeremy E. Uecker, and Matthew Messel,
“No Money, No Honey, No Church: The Deinstitutionalization of Religious Life Among
the White Working Class,”
Religion_WorkingPaper.pdf. The work of Wilcox and others are disputed by others who
argue that the real problem of increasing inequality and poverty are less cultural and more
economic and political forces of reduced welfare benefits, lack of health care, decline of
unions, automation, globalization, etc. Often labeled as Pluralists, they “are skeptical of
efforts to restore longstanding family forms. They deny that good or bad outcomes are
intrinsic to any family type and believe that observed differences can be eliminated by
providing outside assistance and resources or changing policies to make life easier for
fragmented families” (Amy L. Wax, “Engines of Inequality: Class, Race and Structure,”
Family Law Quarterly 41, no. 3. (2007): 567,
21. Pope Francis, “We Must Foster a New Human Ecology,” (Address, Humanum
Confernece, Vatican City, November, 2014).
22. W. Bradford Wilcox and Elizabeth Marquardt, eds., “When Marriage Disappears:
The New Middle America,” The State of Our Unions: Marriage in America, 2010, http://
23. See Charles Murray, Coming Apart: the State of White America, 1960-2010,” (New
York, N.Y: Crown Forum, 2012).
Creating a Future
24. Data mentioned in “Sociology Expert Says Pro-Marriage Culture Reduces
Inequality,” National Catholic Register, June 19, 2014,;
for further information, see Wilcox’s studies with The National Marriage Project at the
University of Virginia,
25. Thomas Friedman, Lexus and the Olive Tree, New York: Anchor Books, 1999, 302.
26. See John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 38-39; Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritatae, 51
27. Pope Francis, “We Must Foster a New Human Ecology.”
blog/featured/we-must-foster-a-new-human-ecology-pope-francis. See also Benedict
XVI, Caritas in veritate, 51. “The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she
must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only
earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect
mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology,
correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the
culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology” is respected within society,
environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the
weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a
plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature. . . . The
book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life,
sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.
Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person,
considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of
duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and
practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages
28. Abraham Heschel, “The Sabbath,” In Working: Its Meaning and Its Limits, ed.
Gilbert C. Meilaender (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000),
29. Marva Dawn, Keeping Holy the Sabbath, 42.
30. Pope Francis, “We Must Foster a New Human Ecology”
See W. Bradford Wilcox and Andrew J. Cherlin, “The Marginalization of
Marriage in Middle America,”
32. Michael Keating, True Leadership, unpublished.
33. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader: A
Reflection, #80. See also Robert Kennedy, The Good Business Does (Grand Rapids, MI:
Acton Institute, 2006). See also David Specht and Richard Broholm, “Three-fold Model
of Organizational Life,” Seeing Things Whole (2009),
uploads/Watermark-Three-Fold-Individual_439175.pdf. These three institutional goods
correspond to what Alasdair MacIntyre explains as three goods people want out of their
work: “Most productive work is and cannot but be tedious, arduous, and fatiguing much
of the time. What makes it worthwhile to work and to work well is threefold: that the
work that we do has a point and purpose, is productive of genuine goods [good goods];
that the work that we do is and is recognized to be our work, our contribution, in which
we are given and take responsibility for doing it and for doing it well [good work]; and
that we are rewarded for doing it in a way that enables us to achieve the goods of family
and community [good wealth].” Alasdair MacIntyre, “How Aristotelianism Can Become
Revolutionary: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia,” in Virtue and Politics, eds. Paul Blackledge
and Kelvin Knight (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), 323.
Family as the Fabric of Society
34. See ILO’s Decent Work Agenda, International Labour Organization (2013), http:// and
35. Craig E. Aronoff and John L. Ward, Family Business Values (Marietta, GA: Family
Enterprise Publishers, 2001).
Various studies have indicated that family-owned businesses are more socially
responsible than other kinds of business. See
37. See Arnoff and Ward; see also Tapies, Josep & John L. Ward, eds. Family values and
value creation: The fostering of enduring values within family-owned businesses (New
York, NY: Palgrave, Macmillan, 2008), 4.
38. See Mary Eberstadt’s thesis on the importance of strong families influencing religion.
39. Faith-based values are transferred across generations when parents and children have
the same faith. Vern L. Bengtson and his colleagues conducted four decades of research
about families and faith. Mormons (85%) and Jews (82%) had the greatest parent-child
religious similarity followed by no religious tradition (63%), Catholics (43%), and
Mainline Protestant (26%). Mainline Protestants and Catholics had the greatest rate of
decline of religious stability across generations. See Vern Bengtson, Families and Faith:
How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations (New York, NY: Oxford University
Press, 2013).
40. See the first section of this paper.
41. Brooks explains that when, for example, Orthodox Jews shop for food, “the
collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the
primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely
governed by an external moral order. . . . They give structure to everyday life. They infuse
everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires.
They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality. The laws are
gradually internalized through a system of lifelong study, argument and practice. The
external laws may seem, at first, like an imposition, but then they become welcome and
finally seem like a person’s natural way of being.” In other words, faith means something in
their day-to-day decisions. “The Orthodox Surge,” The New York Times, March 7, 2013.
42. Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, (New York: Harper & Row Publishers,
1966), 93
43. D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature. (New York: Penguin Books,
1923), 12-13.
44. Vocation of the Business Leader, 47ff. See Michael Naughton, Ken Goodpaster,
Jeanne Buckeye and Dean Maines, “Subsidiarity: A Guiding Principle for Good Work,”
in progress.
45. See Helen Alford and Michael Naughton, Managing as if Faith Mattered (University
of Notre Dame Press, 2001), chapter 5.
46. The key insight here is that when the Catholic social tradition speaks about business
as a “community of persons,” the nature of this community does not come principally
from the business itself, or from law or from markets. The notion of community must
come from the larger culture and in particular family and religion. The foundation of
community life is family and religion, which is why if business is not connected to this
cultural center or worse violates it (corrupting goods and services, overworked careerists,
etc.), it loses its identity by severing itself from the moral and spiritual resources that
can make it a community of persons. It is also the reason why law and markets, while
necessary to healthy businesses, are insufficient to fully explain the nature as well as
Creating a Future
purpose of business. This is not to say that a business is a family or a religion, nor is it to
underestimate the important conditions of law and markets, but rather that its civilizing
and humanizing character is dependent upon a familial and religious form. People who
come from healthy familial structures and religious upbringing are more relational, more
other-focused and more giving. For example, social capital research shows that people
committed to a faith tradition were more likely “to give money to charity, do volunteer
work, help the homeless, donate blood, help a neighbor with housework, spend time
with someone who was feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger or help someone find
a job” Jonathan Sacks, “The Moral Animal, December 23, 2012, http://www.nytimes.
47. We are grateful to Kyle Smith, CEO of Reell Precision Manufacturing, for this
Director, Caritas in Veritate Foundation
1. Two different emphasis on the family
any texts and interventions of the magisterium have addressed
the family and almost every important text at least mentions it.
A “charter of the rights of the family” has even been proposed
by the Holy See in 1983. This introduction will not, therefore, pretend
to cover all the occurrences of the term in the corpus of Catholic Social
Teaching, but only highlight some of the most recurring issues raised by
the magisterium when speaking on the family. Accordingly, we have chosen to publish in the following section a very small number of interventions that relate to the three themes treated in the previous part of this
volume: migration, poverty and business. To give at least an overview of
the rest, we have asked the Pontifical council for Family to provide us with
a text that would present the Church’s teaching on the family. This text
closes this section.
Two periods clearly divide the way the Catholic Church has addressed
the family. The first encompasses the texts going from Rerum novarum
(1891) up to Populorum progressio (1967), the second embraces the time
frame that spans from Humanae vitae (1968) to Caritas in Veritate (2009).
During the first, family itself is seen as a shared evidence and is approached
mainly through its social and economic dimensions. The second period,
however, is characterized by the debate around the legal evolutions of marriage, the social transformation of sexual behavior and new reproductive
techniques. Here the family is mainly addressed in the perspective of these
questions, usually in order to recall the Christian definition of family (natural law).
The two periods do not so much capture a change of content but rather a
change of emphasis. The social and economic importance of family is never
denied, but instead coexists within another dominant perspective. In his
recent teaching, however, Pope Francis has given strong signals that he does
not desire to see the family reduced to a debate on marriage and sexuality.
The present Synod on the family is precisely investigating this pastoral aggiornamento of the Church discourse on the family.
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
2. The economic importance of the family
he oldest texts composing the corpus of Catholic Social Teaching documents are the most explicit on this issue. The following
paragraph mentions the lasting elements put forward regarding the
economic importance of the family:
1. Family is first mentioned as a production unit; that is, how a whole
family may be seen as producing together some good (typically a farm), or
as the income aggregation of the family members’ work. Rerum novarum
therefore recognizes the family as an economic unit that is important to the
way we analyze production and income distribution (RN 43-46).
2. Wages, poverty and family. Miserable wages nurture extreme poverty,
which brings about the disintegration of the family (RN 5 43-46). Catholic
Social Teaching emphasizes how important just wages (QA 74-76; MM
68), total working hours (RN 39), health conditions at work (RN 42),
dignified working conditions (LE 9), the limitation put to children’s work
and women’s work (RN 42), are to the dignity of family life. The housing
conditions – often in that time attached to the factory – are also mentioned
(QA 135), as well as the need for work to avoid impeding access to basic
education (LE 10). Even if these remainders are not any more pertinent
to industrialized countries, none of this is out of context in most of the
developing world.
3. Famiy, economic security and statibility. “In the task of development
man finds the family to be the first and most basic social structure” (PP 38).
The family brings security and stability to its members. They provide each
other help in times of distress, mutual comfort, and they share, in solidarity, family resources. This is why social encyclicals have stressed access to
private property not in a defense of liberalism, but out of meeting the needs
of poor families (QA 61). The access to private property provides basic security and stability (MM 33. 119); the possession of goods is the first and
most straightforward risk insurance against life hazards (GS 69). The same
reason is behind the support of the magisterium for mutual insurance systems. By mitigating poverty and social risk, they provide the security and
stability needed by families to flourish.
4. Equilibrium between work and family relationships. John Paul II and
then Benedict XVI have both insisted on the need for equilibrium between
work and family relationships (LE 10; CV 51). The increasing engagement
of both parents in formal working activities should leave enough time for
family life. It should, especially, never encroach on the development of the
children’s relationship with their parents (CV 63).
5. Family breakup and poverty. Pope Francis has underlined the fact that
extreme poverty and exclusion grow where family solidarities are lacking:
“Evidence is mounting that the decline of the marriage culture is associated
with increased poverty and a host of other social ills, disproportionately
Review and Introduction to Church Texts
affecting women, children and the elderly. It is always they who suffer the
most in this crisis.”1 The family network is the best prevention to social
exclusion. The instability of families reduces their capacity to prevent the
fall into extreme poverty.
3. The family as source of social life
he second Vatican Council has famously stated that the family is
the “foundation of society” and a “school of humanity” (GS 52).
It is the place where children are introduced to social life; where
language, culture, knowledge, values, and institutions are transmitted and
learned (FC 43). The family is key to introducing the young generation
to the practical functioning of the social world. This has been explicited
trhough the following statements:
1. A logic of love and solidarity. Of utmost importance is the fact that family relationships are built – or should be built – on mutual love and not selfinterest (CA 39; FC 12). The family is a school of humanity in the sense that
our relationships with others are born into a “logic of gift” (GS 52; FC 43;
CV 6.34). The rationality of solidarity and of the common good precedes
the logic of competition and power relationships (FC 43). Therefore the
logic of love is not something estranged from the social reality, but is the
basis of the solidarities on which social life is built (CA 39; CV 2).
2. Necessity of this community of love for children to become part of the society.
A child raised out of this logic is estranged to a crucial part of social life (FC
50). As the first community, family relationships are the cradle where a child
is initiated into the sense of justice, of truth, and to the respect for the common good. (JM 57, CA 39).
3. The State’s protection of the family. As the source of social life, the family precedes the State2; it commands the effective transmission of the social
and political institution of a country to the younger generations (GS 4652; CA 39, Catechism 2224). Hence the family is entailed to receive from
the State a legal recognition that defines and protects it (AA 11). But keep
in mind that marriage – the legal institution, explicated in positive law
by each country – has its root in the anthropological reality of the family (RN 12-13; FC 13). Beside the mere legal recognition of the family,
governments should also enact adequate policies, whenever needed, so as
to further and promote its social function and ensure its stability (FC 44).
4. The responsibility of the spouses. The Church also ties the family’s legal
protection to the recognition of some limits to the State’s legislative power
or to the scope of its policies (RN 14; FC 45-46). The spouses must be
free to choose to marry; as they are the ones who bear the responsibility
to choose how many children they want a have (Charter art. 3), theirs is
also the choice of the faith in which they want their children to be brought
up (Charter art. 5). The insistence of those two aspects by the Church is
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
historically grounded in the conflicts that gave rise to the modern State.
The magisterium frequently refers to subsidiarity regarding procreation and
education of children (RN 11. 35-36). The State should only intervene
where the primary responsibility of families is failling to live up to its duties (FC 45).
4. Sexual revolution and Christian ethics
s said in the introduction, the last five decades have been largely
dominated by questions raised by the sexual revolution of the sixties and the quick transformations of social behavior that followed.
The way in which the magisterium would address the family react to these
changes, up to the point of appearing sometimes as a “Leitmotiv” occulting
other aspects of the previous Church’s teaching on family.
1. A sexual revolution. Over a relatively short period, western countries
first, followed by the globalized elites around the world, have undergone
a sexual revolution. Some of its features, as seen by the magisterium, have
been (FC 4-10): a. the irruption of efficient medical technology in matters of sexual reproduction (birth control, assisted procreation, genetic engineering, etc.); b. the rapid transformation of mass behavior and social
norms regarding sexuality sparked by a change of culture (individualism
and a “right driven” equality); c. the impressive increasing of fragility and
instability in marriage and the correlative succession over time of different forms of unions; d. the steady rise of mono-parental and recomposed
families; e. the legislative work which has given a legal framework to this
2. Diversity and unity. Since Humanae vitae, numerous documents of the
magisterium have addressed these questions. They all share a fundamental
point which is the following: the different historical roles assumed by the
family are indeed plainly normal, arising from the cultural diversity of human societies (FC 10). But this diversity is not such that it can impede the
rational and universal recognition of some normative elements that define
the family (FC 17). In the same way as the difference among individual
does not impede the recognition of the rational and universal recognition
of their dignity, some normative elements are key to the existence of family
whatever they actual cultural diversity may be.
3. Essentiel and universal elements of the family. Among these permanent
and normative features the magisterium maintains the following: a. Families are composed by a man and a woman; it is a community of love and
freedom open to the gift of life through the reception of the children they
may have; b. Children are a gift and their existence cannot be submitted
only to their parent’s will of power or to the birth control policies of the
State. They have rights that apply from their very conception; c. The family plays an essential social function as school of humanity and fabric of
Review and Introduction to Church Texts
social relationships; it must be protected by the State; d. The legal forms
given to family must maintain marriage as between a man and a woman,
freely contracted, one and indissoluble. On the basis on those elements,
the magisterium insists on some well-known moral norms: a. Fidelity; b.
Responsible paternity and maternity; b. No abortion; c. Natural forms of
contraception only, etc.3
4. Rebalancing the Church’s teaching. The Church’s insistence and the media’s infatuation on these issues have dangerously reduced the relevance of
the family in public debate to its mere legal definition and to questions of
sexual ethics. Pope Francis has deplored this narrowing of the perspective
and called for the Church a Synod on the family that will deliver its work
in 2015. The social role of family, especially regarding the prevention of
poverty, has however already been marked by Francis as one key issue.
5. Family perspective on the three topics of migration,
poverty and business.
t came as a surprise in the creation of this Working Paper that few
texts would indeed be dedicated to these more specific issues. Curiously, when addressing migration, the magisterium seldom adopts a
family perspective to understand the dynamic of migration flows. More
surprisingly still is the fact that on business, we could not find a single
recent text that would stress the importance of the family in and upon the
business world. This must be contrasted against the strong engagement of
the Church on the ground. On migration and poverty, many Church affiliated organizations are longstanding pioneers; however, this engagement
has not translated into a more family oriented advocacy by the magisterium
on these questions.
On migration, the family’s importance is highlighted by the magisterium
mainly in the context of the vulnerability of migrants and the protection
of their dignity and human rights. As far as family is concerned, a special
emphasis is put on the right to family reunification, on housing and work,
on the needs and rights of child-migrants, on the right to education for
children and on the integration of migrant families in the country of destination (Charter, art. 12).4
Interestingly, the family also frequently emerges in relation to the country
of origin (for example by addressing the fate of the “left behind” family
members). The long separated spouses and the trend of children being educated without the presence of one of their parents are not desirable forms
of family life (FC 77). Another example is the well-known importance of
the monetary savings sent by migrants to their country of origin and the
subsequent impact on development. These very important flows of capital
are family based in the sense that they are invested within and through
family cells (CV 62). It is to be remembered that Mater and magistra saw
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
in the need of the family the foundation of a right to migration (MM 45).
The importance of family solidarity is another point which is stressed by
the magisterium concerning migration. Usually not developed, the importance of family solidarity for security, work, health, integration and spiritual comfort is pervasive (FC 44).
On poverty and family. The family plays a fundamental role in the prevention of poverty. This is the constant view of Rerum novarum and the
early twentieth century Encyclicals (RN 13). Families, by forming the first
network of solidarity, are the most efficient and reliable source of help to
the poor (FC 43; 50). In modern vocabulary, families are the first and main
provider of human security, something that was included in the Charter
of the rights of the Family: “The extended family system, where it exists,
should be held in esteem and helped to carry out better its traditional role
of solidarity and mutual assistance.” Charter, art. 6c).
The preferential option of the Church for the poor and marginalized obviously also extend to the household of poor families (SRS 42). The magisterium frequently reminds us of how poverty undermines a family’s stability
and increases its vulnerability (QA 61; FC 85). Poverty affects the material
basis of the family, its income and its capacity to help each other and show
solidarity for the weakest (QA 135). Relationships within the family then
become competitive about their resources and thus the family link grows
ever more fragile (FC 81). Poverty will also adversely affect the education of
children, their work and their social opportunities (Charter K).
Therefore the promotion of the family through adequate policies by
States or the International community is not only required but should become one of the priorities of governments (GS 52). Housing, education,
social security should concentrate on the family necessities to strengthen
their capacity for the common good of society (FC 85).
On business and family, as said before, we were unable to find any significant documents of the magisterium. One eventually finds brief references to the family as unit of production (MM 85-142), its importance
for development (PP 38), its role as early school for work or the important
values it creates for economic activities (LE 10; 19), but no document really dwells on the relationship between family and business5. It clearly is a
domain of future development.
Church Texts
1. Pope Francis, We Must Foster a New Human Ecology, 24 November, 2014.
2. “The family: the “society” of a man’s house - a society very small, one must admit, but
none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and
duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State” Rerum novarum, 11.
3. See for the whole paragraph the charter of rights of the family, 1983.
4. The Charter of the family has an article on dedicated to migrats:
5. “The families of migrants have the right to the same protection as that accorded other
families. a) The families of immigrants have the right to respect for their own culture and
to receive support and assistance towards their integration into the community to which
they contribute. b) Emigrant workers have the right to see their family united as soon as
possible. c) Refugees have the right to the assistance of public authorities and International
Organizations in facilitating the reunion of their families.” Charter of the Family, 1983,
6. The most obvious mention is probably : “But if we hold to a human and Christian
concept of man and the family, we are bound to consider as an ideal that form of
enterprise which is modelled on the basis of a community of persons working together for
the advancement of their mutual interests in accordance with the principles of justice and
Christian teaching.” (MM 142).
RR. Rerum novarum (1891)
QA. Quadregesimo anno (1931)
MM. Mater et magistra (1961)
PT. Pacem in terris (1963)
GS. Gaudium et spes (1965)
AA. Apostolicam actuositatem (1965)
PP. Populorum progressio (1967)
LE. Laborem exercens (1981)
FC. Familiaris consortio (1981)
CA. Centesimus annus (1991)
CV. Caritas in veritate (2009)
EG. Evangelii gaudium (2013)
18 October 2006
ear Brothers and Sisters!
On the occasion of the
coming World Day of Migrants and Refugees, and looking at
the Holy Family of Nazareth, icon
of all families, I would like to invite
you to reflect on the condition of
the migrant family. The evangelist
Matthew narrates that shortly after
the birth of Jesus, Joseph was forced
to leave for Egypt by night, taking
the child and his mother with him,
in order to flee the persecution of
king Herod (cf. Mt 2:13-15). Making a comment on this page of the
Gospel, my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Pope Pius
XII, wrote in 1952: “The family of
Nazareth in exile, Jesus, Mary and
Joseph, emigrants and taking refuge
in Egypt to escape the fury of an
evil king, are the model, the example and the support of all emigrants
and pilgrims of every age and every
country, of all refugees of any condition who, compelled by persecution and need, are forced to abandon their homeland, their beloved
relatives, their neighbors, their dear
friends, and move to a foreign land”
(Exsul familia, AAS 44, 1952, 649).
In this misfortune experienced by
the Family of Nazareth, obliged to
take refuge in Egypt, we can catch
a glimpse of the painful condition in which all migrants live, especially, refugees, exiles, evacuees,
internally displaced persons, those
who are persecuted. We can take
a quick look at the difficulties that
every migrant family lives through,
the hardships and humiliations, the
deprivation and fragility of millions
and millions of migrants, refugees
and internally displaced people. The
Family of Nazareth reflects the image of God safeguarded in the heart
of every human family, even if disfigured and weakened by emigration.
The theme of the next World Day
of Migrants and Refugees – The migrant family – is in continuity with
those of 1980, 1986 and 1993. It intends to underline further the commitment of the Church not only in
favor of the individual migrant, but
also of his family, which is a place
and resource of the culture of life
and a factor for the integration of
values. The migrant’s family meets
many difficulties. The distance of
its members from one another and
unsuccessful reunification often re-
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
sult in breaking the original ties.
New relationships are formed and
new affections arise. Some migrants
forget the past and their duties, as
they are subjected to the hard trial
of distance and solitude. If the immigrant family is not ensured of a
real possibility of inclusion and participation, it is difficult to expect its
harmonious development. The International Convention for the protection of the rights of all migrant
workers and members of their families, which was enforced on July 1st,
2003, intends to defend men and
women migrant workers and the
members of their respective families. This means that the value of
the family is recognized, also in the
sphere of emigration, which is now
a structural phenomenon of our societies. The Church encourages the
ratification of the international legal
instruments that aim to defend the
rights of migrants, refugees and their
families and, through its various Institutions and Associations, offers
its advocacy that is becoming more
and more necessary. To this end, it
has opened Centres where migrants
are listened to, Houses where they
are welcomed, Offices for services
offered to persons and families, with
other initiatives set up to respond to
the growing needs in this field.
Much is already being done for
the integration of the families of
immigrants, although much still
remains to be done. There are real
difficulties connected with some
“defense mechanisms” on the part
of the first generation immigrants,
which run the risk of becoming an
obstacle to the greater maturity of
the young people of the second generation. This is why it is necessary
to provide for legislative, juridical
and social intervention to facilitate
such an integration. In recent times,
there is an increase in the number of
women who leave their countries of
origin in search of better conditions
of life, in view of more promising
professional prospects. However,
women who end up as victims of
trafficking of human beings and of
prostitution are not few in number.
In family reunification, social workers, especially religious women, can
render an appreciated service of
mediation that merits our gratitude
more and more.
Regarding the integration of the
families of immigrants, I feel it my
duty to call your attention to the
families of refugees, whose conditions seem to have gone worse
in comparison with the past, also
specifically regarding the reunification of family nuclei. In the camps
assigned to them, in addition to
logistic difficulties, and those of
a personal character linked to the
trauma and emotional stress caused
by the tragic experiences they went
through, sometimes there is also the
risk of women and children being
involved in sexual exploitation, as a
survival mechanism. In these cases
an attentive pastoral presence is necessary. Aside from giving assistance
capable of healing the wounds of the
heart, pastoral care should also offer
the support of the Christian community, able to restore the culture
of respect and have the true value of
love found again. It is necessary to
encourage those who are interiorly-
Church Texts
wrecked to recover trust in themselves. Everything must also be done
to guarantee the rights and dignity
of the families and to assure them
housing facilities according to their
needs. Refugees are asked to cultivate an open and positive attitude
towards their receiving society and
maintain an active willingness to accept offers to participate in building
together an integrated community
that would be a “common household” for all.
Among migrants, there is a category that needs to be considered in a special way: the students
from other countries, who are far
from home, without an adequate
knowledge of the language, at times
without friends and often with a
scholarship that is insufficient for
their needs. Their condition is even
worse if they are married. Through
its Institutions, the Church exerts
every effort to render the absence
of family support for these young
students less painful. It helps them
integrate in the cities that receive
them, by putting them in contact
with families that are willing to offer them hospitality and facilitate
knowing one another. As I had the
opportunity to say on another occasion, helping foreign students is “an
important field of pastoral action…
Indeed, young people who leave
their own country in order to study
encounter many problems and especially the risk of an identity crisis”
(L’Osservatore Romano, 15 December 2005).
Dear Brothers and Sisters, may
the World Day of Migrants and
Refugees become a useful occasion
to build awareness, in the ecclesial
community and public opinion, regarding the needs and problems, as
well as the positive potentialities of
migrant families. My thoughts go in
a special way to those who are directly involved in the vast phenomenon of migration, and to those
who expend their pastoral energy
in the service of human mobility.
The words of the apostle Paul, “caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14),
urge us to give ourselves preferentially to our brothers and sisters who
are most in need. With these sentiments, I invoke divine assistance on
each one and I affectionately impart
to all a special Apostolic Blessing.
Rome, 17 Novembre 2014
ear Brothers and Sisters, I
cordially greet you and I
thank Cardinal Müller for
the words with which he introduced
this meeting.
1. I would like to begin by sharing a reflection on the theme of
your colloquium. “Complementarity” is a precious word, with multiple values. It can refer to various
situations in which one component
completes another or compensates
for a lack in the other. However,
complementarity is much more
than this. Christians find its meaning in the First Letter of Paul to the
Corinthians, where the Apostle says
that the Spirit has endowed each
one with different gifts in order
that, as limbs join the human body
for the good of the organism as a
whole, so the talents of each one
contribute to the benefit of all (cf.
1 Cor 12). To reflect upon complementarity is but to ponder the dynamic harmonies which lie at the
heart of all Creation. This is a key
word: harmony. The Creator made
every complementarity, so that the
Holy Spirit, the Author of harmo-
ny, could create this harmony.
It is fitting that you have gathered here in this international colloquium to explore the theme of the
complementarity between man and
woman. In effect, this complementarity lies at the foundation of marriage and the family, which is the
first school where we learn to appreciate our talents and those of others,
and where we begin to acquire the
art of living together. For most of
us, the family is the principal place
in which we begin to “breathe” values and ideals, as we develop our
full capacity for virtue and charity. At the same time, as we know,
in families tensions arise: between
egoism and altruism, between reason and passion, between immediate desires and long-term goals, and
so on. But families also provide the
environment in which these tensions are resolved: this is important.
When we speak of complementarity
between man and woman in this
context, we must not confuse the
term with the simplistic idea that all
the roles and relationships of both
sexes are confined to a single and
Church Texts
static model. Complementarity assumes many forms, since every man
and every woman brings their personal contribution — personal richness, their own charisma — to the
marriage and to the upbringing of
their children. Thus, complementarity becomes a great treasure. It is
not only an asset but is also a thing
of beauty.
2. Marriage and the family are in
crisis today. We now live in a culture
of the temporary, in which more
and more people reject marriage as
a public obligation. This revolution
of customs and morals has often
waved “the flag of freedom”, but it
has, in reality, brought spiritual and
material devastation to countless
human beings, especially the poorest and most vulnerable. It is ever
more evident that the decline of
the culture of marriage is associated
with increased poverty and a host of
other social ills that disproportionately affect women, children and the
elderly. It is always they who suffer
the most in this crisis.
The crisis of the family has produced a human ecological crisis,
for social environments, like natural environments, need protection.
Although humanity has come to
understand the need to address the
conditions that threaten our natural
environment, we have been slow —
we have been slow in our culture,
even in our Catholic culture — we
have been slow to recognize that
even our social environments are
at risk. It is therefore essential that
we foster a new human ecology and
make it move forward.
3. It is necessary to insist on the
fundamental pillars that govern a
nation: its intangible assets. The
family is the foundation of co-existence and a guarantee against social fragmentation. Children have a
right to grow up in a family with a
father and a mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the
child’s growth and emotional development. This is why, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I stressed the “indispensable”
contribution of marriage to society,
a contribution which “transcends
the feelings and momentary needs
of the couple” (n. 66). And this is
why I am grateful to you for the
emphasis that your colloquium has
placed on the benefits that marriage
can provide children, the spouses
themselves, and society.
In these days, as you reflect on the
complementarity between man and
woman, I urge you to emphasize
yet another truth about marriage:
that the permanent commitment to
solidarity, fidelity and fruitful love
responds to the deepest longings
of the human heart. Let us think
especially of the young people who
represent our future: it is important
that they should not let the harmful mentality of the temporary affect them, but rather that they be
revolutionaries with the courage to
seek strong and lasting love, in other
words, to go against the current: this
must be done. I would like to say
one thing about this: we must not
fall into the trap of being limited by
ideological concepts. The family is
an anthropological fact, and consequently a social, cultural fact, etc.
We cannot qualify it with ideologi-
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
cal concepts which are compelling
at only one moment in history, and
then decline. Today there can be no
talk of the conservative family or the
progressive family: family is family!
Do not allow yourselves to be qualified by this, or by other ideological
concepts. The family has a force of
its own.
May this colloquium be a source
of inspiration for all who seek to
support and strengthen the union
of man and woman in marriage as
a unique, natural, fundamental and
beautiful good for people, families,
communities and societies.
In the same context I would like
to confirm that, God willing, I will
go to Philadelphia in September
2015 for the Eighth World Meeting
of Families.
I thank you for the prayers with
which you accompany my service to
the Church. I too pray for you and I
bless you from my heart. Thank you
very much.
October 22, 1983
onsidering that:
A. The rights of the person, even though they are
expressed as rights of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an innate and
vital expression in the family;
B. the family is based on marriage, that intimate union of life in
complementarity between a man
and a woman which is constituted
in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond
of matrimony and is open to the
transmission of life;
C. marriage is the natural institution to which the mission of transmitting life is exclusively entrusted;
D. the family, a natural society,
exists prior to the State or any other
community, and possesses inherent
rights which are inalienable;
E. 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.
F. 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;
G. the family and society, which
are mutually linked by vital and
organic bonds, have a complementary function in the defense and
advancement of the good of every
person and of humanity;
H. the experience of different
cultures throughout history has
shown the need for society to recognize and defend the institution
of the family;
I. 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;
J. the rights, the fundamental
needs, the well-being and the values
of the family, even though they are
progressively safeguarded in some
cases, are often ignored and not
rarely undermined by laws, institutions and socio-economic programs;
¶ Preamble
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
K. many families are forced to
live in situations of poverty which
prevent them from carrying out
their role with dignity;
L. the Catholic Church, aware
that the good of the person, of
society and of the Church herself
passes by way of the family, has
always held it part of her mission
to proclaim to all the plan of God
instilled in human nature concerning marriage and the family, to promote these two institutions and to
defend them against all those who
attack them;
M. the Synod of Bishops celebrated in 1980 explicitly recommended
that a Charter of the Rights of the
Family be drawn up and circulated
to all concerned;
the Holy See, having consulted
the Bishops’ Conferences, now presents this “Charter of the Rights of
the Family” and urges all States, International Organizations, and all
interested Institutions and persons
to promote respect for these rights,
and to secure their effective recognition and observance.
Article 1
All persons have the right to the
free choice of their state of life and
thus to marry and establish a family
or to remain single.
a) Every man and every woman,
having reached marriageable age
and having the necessary capacity,
has the right to marry and establish
a family without any discrimination whatsoever; legal restrictions
to the exercise of this right, whether they be of a permanent or temporary nature, can be introduced
only when they are required by
grave and objective demands of the
institution of marriage itself and its
social and public significance; they
must respect in all cases the dignity
and the fundamental rights of the
b) Those who wish to marry and
establish a family have the right to
expect from society the moral, educational, social and economic conditions which will enable them to
exercise their right to marry in all
maturity and responsibility.
c) The institutional value of marriage should be upheld by the public authorities; the situation of nonmarried couples must not be placed
on the same level as marriage duly
Article 2
Marriage cannot be contracted
except by free and full consent duly
expressed by the spouses.
a) With due respect for the traditional role of the families in certain cultures in guiding the decision of their children, all pressure
which would impede the choice of
a specific person as spouse is to be
b) The future spouses have the
right to their religious liberty.
Therefore to impose as a prior condition for marriage a denial of faith
or a profession of faith which is
contrary to conscience, constitutes
a violation of this right.
c) The spouses, in the natural
complementarity which exists between man and woman, enjoy the
same dignity and equal rights regarding the marriage.
Article 3
The spouses have the inalienable
Church Texts
right to found a family and to decide on the spacing of births and
the number of children to be born,
taking into full consideration their
duties towards themselves, their
children already born, the family
and society, in a just hierarchy of
values and in accordance with the
objective moral order which excludes recourse to contraception,
sterilization and abortion.
a) The activities of public authorities and private organizations
which attempt in any way to limit
the freedom of couples in deciding
about their children constitute a
grave offense against human dignity and justice.
b) In international relations, economic aid for the advancement of
peoples must not be conditioned
on acceptance of programs of contraception, sterilization or abortion.
c) The family has a right to assistance by society in the bearing and
rearing of children. Those married
couples who have a large family
have a right to adequate aid and
should not be subjected to discrimination.
that are not aimed at correcting
anomalies constitute a violation
of the right to bodily integrity and
contradict the good of the family.
d) Children, both before and after birth, have the right to special
protection and assistance, as do
their mothers during pregnancy
and for a reasonable period of time
after childbirth.
e) All children, whether born in
or out of wedlock, enjoy the same
right to social protection, with a
view to their integral personal development.
f ) Orphans or children who are
deprived of the assistance of their
parents or guardians must receive
particular protection on the part
of society. The State, with regard to
foster-care or adoption, must provide legislation which assists suitable families to welcome into their
homes children who are in need of
permanent or temporary care. This
legislation must, at the same time,
respect the natural rights of the
g) Children who are handicapped
have the right to find in the home
and the school an environment
suitable to their human developArticle 4
Human life must be respected ment.
and protected absolutely from the
Article 5
moment of conception.
Since they have conferred life
a) Abortion is a direct violation of on their children, parents have the
the fundamental right to life of the original, primary and inalienable
human being.
right to educate them; hence they
b) Respect of the dignity of the must be acknowledged as the first
human being excludes all experi- and foremost educators of their
mental manipulation or exploita- children.
tion of the human embryo.
a) Parents have the right to educ) All interventions on the ge- cate their children in conformnetic heritage of the human person ity with their moral and religious
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
convictions, taking into account
the cultural traditions of the family
which favor the good and the dignity of the child; they should also
receive from society the necessary
aid and assistance to perform their
educational role properly.
b) Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means
necessary to educate their children
in keeping with their convictions.
Public authorities must ensure that
public subsidies are so allocated
that parents are truly free to exercise this right without incurring
unjust burdens. Parents should not
have to sustain, directly or indirectly, extra charges which would deny
or unjustly limit the exercise of this
c) Parents have the right to ensure
that their children are not compelled to attend classes which are
not in agreement with their own
moral and religious convictions.
In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must
always be carried out under their
close supervision, whether at home
or in educational centers chosen
and controlled by them.
d) The rights of parents are violated when a compulsory system of
education is imposed by the State
from which all religious formation
is excluded.
e) The primary right of parents
to educate their children must be
upheld in all forms of collaboration between parents, teachers and
school authorities, and particularly
in forms of participation designed
to give citizens a voice in the functioning of schools and in the for-
mulation and implementation of
educational policies.
f ) The family has the right to
expect that the means of social
communication will be positive
instruments for the building up of
society, and will reinforce the fundamental values of the family. At
the same time the family has the
right to be adequately protected,
especially with regard to its youngest members, from the negative effects and misuse of the mass media.
Article 6
The family has the right to exist
and to progress as a family.
a) Public authorities must respect
and foster the dignity, lawful independence, privacy, integrity and
stability of every family.
b) Divorce attacks the very institution of marriage and of the family.
c) The extended family system,
where it exists, should be held in
esteem and helped to carry out better its traditional role of solidarity
and mutual assistance, while at the
same time respecting the rights of
the nuclear family and the personal
dignity of each member.
Article 7
Every family has the right to live
freely its own domestic religious life
under the guidance of the parents,
as well as the right to profess publicly and to propagate the faith, to
take part in public worship and in
freely chosen programs of religious
instruction, without suffering discrimination.
Article 8
The family has the right to exercise its social and political function
Church Texts
in the construction of society.
a) Families have the right to form
associations with other families and
institutions, in order to fulfill the
family’s role suitably and effectively, as well as to protect the rights,
foster the good and represent the
interests of the family.
b) On the economic, social, juridical and cultural levels, the rightful role of families and family associations must be recognized in the
planning and development of programs which touch on family life.
physical or mental handicaps or the
education of children.
c) The elderly have the right to
find within their own family or,
when this is not possible, in suitable institutions, an environment
which will enable them to live their
later years of life in serenity while
pursuing those activities which
are compatible with their age and
which enable them to participate in
social life.
d) The rights and necessities of
the family, and especially the value
of family unity, must be taken into
Article 9
Families have the right to be able consideration in penal legislation
to rely on an adequate family policy and policy, in such a way that a deon the part of public authorities in tainee remains in contact with his
the juridical, economic, social and or her family and that the family
fiscal domains, without any dis- is adequately sustained during the
period of detention.
crimination whatsoever.
a) Families have the right to
Article 10
economic conditions which asFamilies have a right to a social
sure them a standard of living ap- and economic order in which the
propriate to their dignity and full organization of work permits the
development. They should not be members to live together, and does
impeded from acquiring and main- not hinder the unity, well-being,
taining private possessions which health and the stability of the famwould favor stable family life; the ily, while offering also the possibillaws concerning inheritance or ity of wholesome recreation.
transmission of property must rea) Remuneration for work must
spect the needs and rights of family be sufficient for establishing and
maintaining a family with dignity,
b) Families have the right to meas- either through a suitable salary,
ures in the social domain which called a “family wage,” or through
take into account their needs, es- other social measures such as fampecially in the event of the prema- ily allowances or the remuneration
ture death of one or both parents, of the work in the home of one of
of the abandonment of one of the the parents; it should be such that
spouses, of accident, or sickness or mothers will not be obliged to work
invalidity, in the case of unemploy- outside the home to the detriment
ment, or whenever the family has of family life and especially of the
to bear extra burdens on behalf of education of the children.
its members for reasons of old age,
b) The work of the mother in the
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
home must be recognized and re- accorded other families.
spected because of its value for the
a) The families of immigrants
family and for society.
have the right to respect for their
own culture and to receive supArticle 11
The family has the right to de- port and assistance towards their
cent housing, fitting for family life integration into the community to
and commensurate to the number which they contribute.
b) Emigrant workers have the
of the members, in a physical environment that provides the basic right to see their family united as
services for the life of the family soon as possible.
c) Refugees have the right to the
and the community.
assistance of public authorities and
Article 12
International Organizations in facilThe families of migrants have the itating the reunion of their families.
right to the same protection as that
15 May 2014
t is an honor and a pleasure to
address you in this Event being
conducted under the auspices
of the Department of Economic
and Social Affairs of the Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC) in
preparation for the Twentieth Anniversary of the International Year
of the Family.I offer my sincere
thanks to His Excellency, the Most
Reverend Francis A. Chullikatt,
Permanent Observer of the Holy
See to the United Nations, for all
he has done to make this Event
As the Department has emphasized, the Anniversary is an “opportunity to refocus on the role of
families in development; take stock
of recent trends in family policy development; share good practices in
family policy making; review challenges faced by families worldwide
and recommend solutions.”
As well, I am in agreement with
Resolution 2012/10 adopted by
ECOSOC that stresses the need
“for undertaking concerted actions
to strengthen family-centered policies and programs as part of an in-
tegrated, comprehensive approach
to development”; and that invites
States, civil society organizations
and academic institutions “to continue providing information on
their activities in support of the objectives of and preparations for the
twentieth anniversary.”
That’s the reason why we are here.
As you all know, this is a particularly important time for the whole
Catholic world. Our Holy Father
Pope Benedict XVI has announced
that on February 28th he will retire
from his ministry as Supreme Pastor
of the Church.This is the first time,
in the more than 2000 years of the
Church, that a pope has done so of
his own free will; and it shows the
great spiritual stature of His Holiness. Realizing that age has weakened him significantly, he is stepping aside to a life of prayer and
preparation for his eternal reward so
that the Church can choose a new
successor of Peter who will guide it
in fulfilling its mission at this crucial
moment in human history.
The Holy See nevertheless considers it very important to speak
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
to the world whenever possible,
particularly about the core issues
of life and human relationships, so
notwithstanding the loss we feel as
a Church, we would not miss this
opportunity for me to address you
as President of the Pontifical Council for the Family.
The family in fact is the fundamental unit of human society. It is
where the generations meet, love,
educate, support each other and
pass on life from age to age.
This understanding of the family
has been embraced by all cultures
throughout history. With good
reason the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights recognizes that:
“(1) Men and women of full age,
without any limitation due to race,
nationality or religion, have the
right to marry and to
found a family. They are entitled
to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into
only with the free and full consent
of the intending spouses. (3) The
family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and
is entitled to protection by society
and the State.”
Likewise, the Holy See, recognizing that attention to the family and
its rights is crucial in the formulation of government policies, thirty
years ago promulgated its Charter
of the Rights of the Family to reaffirm the importance of that institution and to strengthen the family’s
unique role in society.
The Preamble to the Charter
reads: “The rights of the person,
even though … expressed as rights
of the individual, have a fundamental social dimension which finds an
innate and vital expression in the
family.” And therefore, “based on
marriage, that intimate union of
life in complementarity between a
man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted
and publicly expressed indissoluble
bond of matrimony and is open to
the transmission of life,” the family
should be protected and promoted
by society and by the State.
Thus, in the Charter, the common experience of humankind
finds an explicit and forceful documentary affirmation.
For this reason, I would like speak
about the family as the fundamental resource of society, the source of
social capital and the birthright of
all humanity. Indeed the stability
of any society depends pari passu
on the stability of the families from
which it springs.
Today, however, the family is
threatened on many sides, and its
extinction is prophesied time and
again. Nevertheless it continually
exhibits a vigor much greater than
that of the many forces which have
tried to eliminate it as a relic of the
past and as obstacle to the emancipation of the individual and the
creation of a more free, egalitarian
and happy society.
But I can tell you now, without
any hesitation, that in all our research the family--mother, father
the many attacks to which it is
subject—comes first in the hearts
of the world’s peoples; and studies show that the great majority of
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young people look forward happily
to marriage as a lifelong faithful
union with their husband or wife.
And the fact that the family
comes first in the hearts of the people is further proof that it is the
foundation of society itself, and indeed that it is the primary and the
richest of humanity’s resources
Unfortunately, that vision is opposed by cultural currents that for
example consider it impossible to
love someone forever. But when I
hear things like that, I ask myself
how can a young man profess, with
great enthusiasm, undying love for
his favorite sports team but can’t do
the same for his wife! Clearly something is wrong!
To provide what I hope are some
useful guideposts, I would like to
expand my discussion to four separate areas, drawing on certain sociological studies promoted by the
Pontifical Council for the Family.
First, the couple and marriage.
The fact of getting married constitutes an added value for persons
and for society, in that the marriage
contract enhances the quality of the
relationship of the couple and has
important positive consequences
(biological, psychological, economic and social) for children and
adults. Simple cohabitation is not
equal to marriage because it renders
relations unstable and creates major uncertainty in the lives of children. Divorce itself (or the choice
of single parenthood) increases the
risk of school failure for children.
The stability of family relations is a
precious good, and when it is lacking, all members of the family are
at risk. In particular, marriage stability is decisive for the successful
socialization of children. Divorce,
as well as birth outside marriage,
increases the risk of poverty for
children and mothers. Stepfamilies,
reconstituted families and blended
families experience many problems
with respect to relations between
the new parents and the children of
their former unions.
On the other hand, marriage,
between a man and a woman, generates benefits that other forms of
“living together” do not. Those
other forms are just not the same
as marriage.
Second, Intergenerational Concerns. Natural families experience
solidarity between generations
much more frequently and more
deeply than other forms of life in
common. Children who live with
their own biological parents enjoy
better physical and psychological health, and experience more
trust and hope in life, in comparison with those who live in other
contexts. For example, adolescent
children of married couples are at
less risk of developing deviant behaviors (including abuse of alcohol
and drugs) than those living with
single parents, unmarried couples
or separated couples.
The analysis of three different
family structures, intact two-parent
families, blended families and single-parent families, demonstrates
the greater fragility of the latter
two patterns. In blended families
following separation, the parents
have major difficulties in developing their educational role and are
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
more often in disagreement with
each other as regards educational
themes. Single parents or those separated or divorced are characterized
by major distrust of external social
contexts and develop a privatized
vision of the family. Children of
divorced parents exhibit increased
incidence of major psychological
illnesses and states of anxiety.
Even worse, studies show that
children raised without a father
account for a very high percentage of the homeless, of adolescents
who commit homicides, of adolescent suicides and of incarcerated
youth. This last data gives serious
grounds for caution when we speak
of alternative “families.” All too often, decisions, even legislative decisions, seem to be made without
taking into account the tragic consequences that might result.
Third, Family and Work.It is crucial to remember that the family
constitutes an incredibly rich resource for the world of work, much
more than the world of work benefits the family. In other words, the
world of work “exploits” the family-resource and does not take sufficiently into account the demands
of family life. It is enormously difficult for families, especially those
with children, to harmonize family
and professional life. As a consequence, the world of work, recognizing the importance of the family
to human society, should organize
itself in a way that puts the needs
of the family first.
In that context, and particularly
during times of high unemployment, the actions of government as
they affect families must be examined carefully. The welfare state is
characterized by family assistance
programs principally intended to
address situations where the family is broken, unstable or lacking
in internal resources. In these cases
the state attempts in effect to be a
substitute for the family, or at least
for some missing element of the
But by substituting itself for the
family, the welfare state produces
a kind of vicious circle where instead of strengthening family relationships, it weakens them even
further, and thus creates increased
need for government assistance.
Increased need leads to crisis, however, because it gives rise to expectations that the government cannot
hope to meet, firstly because financial resources are never unlimited,
but more importantly because government cannot itself function as
a family, only as an agency. It thus
becomes clear how important it is
for government programs not only
to promote family “mainstreaming” but more importantly for the
government to have a correct understanding of the family when
formulating public policy and to
respect subsidiarity, which should
be a guiding principle in any governmental action.
Fourth, Family and Social Capital.Free and democratic political
and economic processes are possible only where there is a strong
social fabric, where the public and
civil sphere requires and rewards
basic human values, promotes the
common good and ensures the cir-
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cumstances in which families can
be created and thrive.
But when speaking of social fabric, it is important to remember
that, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, “modern democracy needs
a solid and stable family.” This
means that not only does the family benefit from a strong social fabric, but as it builds and strengthens
relationships it is also the creator
of primary social capital. Thus, using Adam Smith’s terminology, the
family, as the creator of the fabric
that it needs, can be regarded as an
important source of “the wealth of
These four considerations bring us
to a very clear, very precise conclusion: the natural family (marriage,
father, mother, children) is and remains a vital resource for society.
Some may say that the family has
changed over the centuries, but we
must also realize that, whatever circumstances families may encounter
on an empirical level, the family’s
constitutional genome does not
cease to be the source and origin
of society. Without this ‘social genome,’ society would lose loses the
quality and power of the family as
a living organism (the fundamental cell) which, rather than being a
burden on society, constitutes the
primary vehicle for the humanization of persons and social life.
Moreover, the fact that the family is a primary school of love and
gratitude is manifested in a particular way in families where weak
and disabled members are present,
because the person in difficulty
requires a special organization of
family life. Families in such circumstances develop specific virtues
that can be called empowerment
and resilience. Such virtues bring
with them social advantages that
the family with disabled or dependent members offers to society. As a
matter of fact, the effort that these
families undertake for the rehabilitation and social inclusion of their
disabled or dependent member in
all spheres of society, from school
to work, reflects a humanizing belief in the possibility of social inclusion and human solidarity, in
particular with regard to the weakest and most marginalized. These
families provide domestic care for
the seriously disabled, thereby activating the virtues that family members practice in being care-givers,
each according to his or her specific
capabilities. Another example of
families that clearly generate benefits for all of society can be found
in those that adopt children or act
as foster parents.
Dear friends, in contemporary
debate there is much discussion
of different types “families” in the
plural, and disagreements are fairly
marked, but on one point I believe
that all are in agreement: the natural family progression–marriage,
mother, father, children–is the one
in which our humanity is best and
most surely realized and the one
which–while no one in other circumstances is to be marginalized or
denied solidarity–society is called
on to regard most highly.
In ECOSOC Resolution 2012/10
Member States are encouraged to
implement effective national poli-
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
cies, strategies and programs to
address family poverty, social exclusion, work-family balance and
intergenerational solidarity. Everyone who cares about the family
should welcome all these goals, but
all efforts undertaken to reach them
should reflect commitment to and
respect for the family as human so-
ciety’s foundation, source and protection.
And I would add that the Holy
See’s Charter of the Rights of the
Family, which I want not only to
commemorate but also to promote
among all nations, can well serve as
a model for the tools to be used as
those goals are pursued.
Geneva, 8 October 2014
r. Chairman,
The migrant family is
a critical component of
the growing phenomenon of migration in our globalized world.
Thus the Delegation of the Holy
See finds it most opportune to have
chosen this topic for reflection at
the 2014 International Dialogue
on Migration (IDM).
1. Migrants very often move out
of concern for the needs of their
families; at times, they even risk
their lives on flimsy boats or in
dangerous deserts in the hope of
ensuring their families a decent life
as the IOM Report documents.
Through their work, the taxes they
pay, the new businesses they start
and a variety of services they provide, most migrants offer a positive
economic and social contribution
to the receiving societies. Women
domestic workers, for example,
leave their children behind in the
home country in order to become
caregivers for children, disabled
and elderly persons abroad. While
migrants are a positive presence in
their host societies, they face the
risk that their own children and
relatives remain in the shadow and
deprived of their affection at home.
The remittances sent home focus
the debate on the financial benefits
generated by migrants. While this
money is important to improve
health and education for the family members left behind, it does not
quite compensate for other needs:
human affection, a necessary presence to educate in values and integrity, a reference model for responsible behaviour, especially for young
people. The human emptiness felt
when a father or mother emigrates
becomes a reminder of the ambivalence of emigration and of the fundamental right to be able to stay at
home in dignity. Especially when
mothers emigrate, other negative
consequences emerge: children’s
school attendance declines, early
marriages of adolescent girls increase, and there is a heightened
risk of drug abuse. As Pope Francis recently stated, “it is necessary
to respond to the globalization of
migration with the globalization of
charity and cooperation, in such a
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
way as to make the conditions of
migrants more humane. At the same
time, greater efforts are needed to
guarantee the easing of conditions,
often brought about by war or famine, which compel whole peoples to
leave their native countries.”
2. Children, therefore, as well as
elderly persons and spouses left behind, must become a high priority
in any migration policy and debate:
they are particularly vulnerable, and
hence should receive special protection. Policy and program development should aim at maximizing the
benefits of remittances, limiting the
negative effects of migration and
emphasizing family ties as a primary concern in the management
of immigration by States. Policy
formulation often treats family
and labor migration as two distinct
realms, “social” and “economic.” In
reality, the two concepts are closely
intertwined. In the planning by
the international community and
in discussions focused on the post2015 Development Agenda, migration must have a proper place, not
only as functional to development
and demography, but as a major
human rights commitment aimed
at safeguarding the dignity of every
human person and the centrality of
the family.
3. Indeed an urgently needed immigration reform involves the formulation of a legal framework that
helps keep families together. The
life and dignity of every human
person is lived within the family.
All children need their parents. Parents have the responsibility to protect and nurture their children, and
yet deported parents are prevented
from living out this fundamental
vocation. Too many families are
now torn apart. By allowing children to emigrate unaccompanied
further problems arise as they are
exposed to lawlessness and despair.
The family structure, however,
should be the place where hope,
compassion, justice and mercy are
taught most effectively. Family is
the basic unit of coexistence, its
foundation, and the ultimate remedy against social fragmentation.
4. Finally, achievable measures
could be implemented in a realistic and sensitive manner. Migrants,
who are restricted or prevented from
traveling home in order to provide
personal care for elderly parents or
affection to their kin, should be
entitled to occasional leaves and
should benefit from special prices
for their trip home. Interest fees
for the transfer of remittances must
be lowered. The process to obtain
a visa for a spouse or close family
members (which in certain countries takes several years) needs to be
speeded up. Ad hoc “family counselors” to serve in regions with a very
high rate of migrants should be engaged in order to provide assistance
and advice to members of the family “left behind” and to facilitate
timely reunification of the family.
In fact, when return migrants revert to day-to-day interaction with
their societies of origin, they experience a “reverse culture shock.” The
changes in family dynamics that
result from migration do not end
when the migrant returns to the
society of origin; in fact, migrants
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generally return to a family situation that is very different from that
before departure. Family members
can become “strangers” since they
have been absent from each others’
lives and since relations between
them are largely based on the sending of money and goods or sporadically maintained by new forms of
Internet communications.
5. In conclusion, it is mandatory
to avoid treating the “left behind”
population merely as passive recipients of the effects of migration. In this context, family migra-
tion, needs to be reconceived using
frameworks of trans-nationalism
that grant more flexibility to the
movement of people, especially in
countries where the presence of the
family of the migrant workers is
legally impeded. Healthy interaction and personal relations among
family members are obstructed by
borders. States and civil society are
prompted by their own future to
give priority to the family and thus
make migrations a more positive
experience for all.
Sotto-Segretario del Pontificio Consiglio per la Famiglia
n his Letter to Families, written
on the occasion of the International Year of Families, Saint
John Paul II spoke of a “heritage of
truth about the family, which from
the beginning has been a treasure
for the Church […], the treasure
of Christian truth about the family.” (n.23) Since then, “this treasure
[that] has been examined in depth
in the documents of the Second
Vatican Council, […] in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope
Paul VI […] and in the Apostolic
Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
”, and the Church’s concern for this
“treasure” has continued to evolve,
as manifested by yet more magisterial declarations such as the Letter
to Families (1994), or additionally,
other very significant documents
such as the Charter of the Rights
of the Family (1984) and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that
latter of which dedicates considerable articles, chapters, sections and
parts to the institutions of marriage
and the family (1992).
Other texts as well, though not
written with the family as such as
their direct object, must be added
to this treasure of truth regarding
the family, as they touch upon questions strictly related to the identity
and mission of the family, such as
human sexuality and the beginning,
developmental processes, and ending of human life.
Among these documents we may
cite the Declaration on Procured
Abortion (1974), the declaration
Persona Humana (1975), the declaration Iura et bona (1980), the letter
Homosexualitatis problema (1986),
the instruction Donum vitae
(1987), the apostolic letter Mulieris
dignitatem (1988), the encyclical
Evangelium vitae (1995) and the instruction Dignitas personae (2008).
All of these latter documents were
published by the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith, excluding
the apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem and the encyclical Evangelium vitae, issued by John Paul II.
The questions and themes coming together in this treasure of truth
are family, marriage, human life and
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
sexuality. At the level of the teaching
of the Magisterium of the Church,
a division into two groups can be
seen in the last 50 years: one regarding the family, which the Magisterium always considers coupled to
marriage, and the other regarding
human life and sexuality. It is important to keep in mind that the
Church has published many other
documents on these issues, and that
it is not always possible to make a
rigid distinction between them, as
is the case of Humanae vitae. Notwithstanding, the number of documents already mentioned reveal
how the Church -which in recent
years has increasingly been expressing itself on the family through its
Magisterium- holds a very high
degree of concern and love for humanity. This is because it is the human person who is fully alive, that
is to say, the concrete person, in his
or her situation and circumstances,
who is always at the center of the
heart of the Church (cf Gaudium
spes, n. 3). This is the motivation
behind the aforementioned documents regarding the family, marriage, human life, and sexuality. It
should also be said, furthermore,
that these issues or themes present
in such documents are intimately
connected to each other and thus
remain inseparable.
The Church opens this treasure,
in the first place, to those who profess the Christian Faith. At the same
time the Church – and not without
any lesser love or desire to assist –
wishes to offer the light of this doctrine to all of humanity. “The Catholic Church, aware that the good
of the person, of society and of the
Church herself passes by way of the
family, has always held it part of her
mission to proclaim to all the plan
of God instilled in human nature
concerning marriage and the family,
to promote these two institutions
and to defend them against all those
who attack them” (Charter for the
Rights of the Family; cf Familiaris
consortio, nn. 3-46). In doing this,
however, the Church does not seek
to impose, but only to share the
truth that it possesses. Also, human
reason can discover without the assistance of the light of the faith, that
which the Church teaches on marriage, family, the inviolable dignity
of the human person, and the value
of life in whatever stage it is found,
etc. Faith thus confirms what is inscribed in human nature itself and
which every person is able to come
to know.
There is a widespread notion that
the Church speaks only to say “no”
to “solutions” presented by and
through other fields of inquiry, such
as for example, as if the Church
stands against issues concerning
experimental sciences, to the problems faced by contemporary culture, or developments which take
place within society. This idea is due
to an inadequate knowledge of what
the Magisterium of the Church actually teaches, as these teachings, in
their particular areas, draw their inspiration from and are applications
of principles that are always affirmations and expressions of love of
humanity. It is clear, moreover, that
correct responses and “solutions” to
concrete cases can be varied and for
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this reason, the Magisterium of the
Church – in the interest of a legitimate plurality – places emphasis on
“denouncing” those actions that are
not coherent with the dignity of the
human person and his or her fundamental rights.
I. The Good of the Family,
our Future and the
Patrimony of Humanity
ll the aforementioned documents from the Magisterium of the Church have the
family as their object, at least indirectly, and some documents among
these should be particularly highlighted: the constitution Gaudium
et spes of the Second Vatican Council (1965), the apostolic exhortation
Familiaris consortio (1981), the
Charter of the Rights of the Family (1984), the Letter to Families
Gratissimam sane (1994), and the
Catechism of the Catholic Church
(1992) – The Sacrament of Matrimony (second part, second section,
chapter three, article seven), The
Sixth Commandment (third part,
second section, second chapter, article six), and its many references
to the families (third part, second
section, article four). All of these
propose the same doctrine, but do
so, however, with different points
of emphasis in terms of content,
modes of presentation, etc. This is
due to the focus given to people
and their situations, problems, issues, etc., present in the ordinary
circumstance in which they find
he Magisterium of the
Church speaks of the family and families, because to
promote and protect the family is to
promote and protect the future of
humanity. It is in the family that the
people who form members of society are born, grow, and formed into
persons. There is interest, therefore,
to correctly ascertain the nature and
mission of the family, both internally
and externally: its “role” in the construction of society (participation in
the education of its members, its responsibilities in public life, politics
surrounding the family, etc.).
As Benedict XVI recalled, proceeding in the way of the documents
previously mentioned, “the family is
a necessary good for peoples, an indispensable foundation for society”,
because it is the first school where
persons are formed and educated, “it
is the setting where men and women
are enabled to be born with dignity,
and to grow and develop in an integral manner” (Aloc., 18.I.2009).
The family is the fundamental place
for the person, where the values that
make a harmonious development
of society possible are safeguarded.
The family is, in the divine plan,
“the primary place of the ‘humanization’ of the person” and thus for
this society as well. This is due to
the family being the place where the
person is born into, grows, and dies.
This function is not realized in the
family by the mere fact of living together. It is necessary that the home
be a place of “heartfelt acceptance,
encounter and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service
and deep solidarity.” It is necessary
¶ Why the Family? The
Family as “School” of
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
that family members share, above
all, time together; but in the main,
family life must be transformed
into an experience of communion
and participation, through formation in the true meaning of liberty,
justice, and love. The true meaning
of liberty is important because only
in this way the human person can
act with the responsibility proper
to his or her personal dignity. The
true meaning of love is important
because one must resolve in his or
her relationship with others - to every person – to love them for themselves. The Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris consortio is particularly
significant here. The reminder of
the social function of the family and
the irreplaceable role of the parents
in the education and formation of
the children is, however, a constant
throughout all the contributions of
the Magisterium.
¶ What family? The
Family Founded in
ot too long ago it was understood, without need
for any further explanation, the meaning conveyed by the
term “family.” It was clear that when
one spoke of family, it was understood as having its origin in marriage. It is from this perspective that
the Church’s message for the family
is to be understood, which in a certain way is summarized in the words
of Familiaris consortio (n. 17):
“Families, become what you are.”
The action of the family – and also
that done in relation to the institution of the family – in facing the diverse problems confronting it, must
always respond to the deepest requirements which have their origin
in its “being” and identity. Cultural
changes as of late, however, render it necessary to delineate clearly
what is meant by using this term.
It is not surprising then that the
Magisterium of the Church in the
past years has referred to the family
with expressions such as “the family
based on marriage” and to marriage
as the “exclusive and indissoluble
union between man and woman.”
Affirmations such as these are very
present in all documents: at times
stated succinctly (for example in the
Charter of the Rights of the Family) and at other times in more developed manner as in the Gaudium
et spes, Familiaris consortio, Gratissimam sane, and the Catechism of
the Catholic Church.
Behind this mode of expression
there is dual finality: to speak of the
“being” or identity of the family,
and also to speak of its mission. This
perspective, ever present in those issues already mentioned and pertaining to the family, has a particular
importance for the Christian family,
due to the sacrament of marriage. As
marriage responds to the most intimate aspects of the human person,
that is, of man and woman, and as
God is the Creator of this humanity
– male and female, with the desires
inscribed within- it follows thus
that God is also the Author of marriage and family. “Marriage and the
family are not in fact a chance sociological construction, the product
of particular historical and financial
situations. On the other hand, the
question of the right relationship
between the man and the woman
is rooted in the essential core of the
human being and it is only by start-
Church Texts
ing from here that its response can
be found.” (Benedict XVI, Aloc., 6.
VI. 2005).
One particularity of theMagisterium in recent years has been considering the family as a responsible
and creative protagonist in its own
sphere of existence and activity,
more than just an “object” that can
and should be given attention (Pontifical Council for the Family, “La
familia, sujeto activo y responsable
de la evangelización”). Fundamental
there is, above all, the necessity for
families to be conscious of their call
and well formed, in order to appropriately take on board the demands
placed upon them. For this reason
the documents of the Magisterium,
when they analyze or denounce
challenging situations that face families, or the risks and dangers that
threaten them, such documents seek
to describe and give account to such
varied situations, as much as they set
forth the necessary perspective to realize the family’s mission. Certainly,
the Church elucidates on what must
be done in the circumstances being
considered, as for example, in terms
of the steps that should be taken.
Yet above all, attention is drawn to
the ultimate root of this mission,
of the proposed action. The plan of
God, Creator and Redeemer of the
family, knowledge of Whom is attainable by reason, but brought to
fullness by the light of faith, is always the reference point and axis of
the explanation.
Marriage and family are realities
that are, in a certain sense, distinct
and cannot be considered as identical (in a certain sense only, as mar-
riage can and should be considered
as the first form of the family). They
are in the design of God, however,
so closely linked that they cannot
be separated. They mutually need
and recall each other, in such a way
that, as history has sufficiently demonstrated, to consider one isolated
from the other is to have an impoverished vision of both. The family
without marriage, namely that socalled “family” that does not have
its origin in marriage, and that arises
from various forms of cohabitating
– such as polygamy, de facto unions,
trial marriages, etc. – cannot compare to the authentic institution of
the family. Furthermore, a marriage
that is not motivated towards the
creation of a family negates one of
its essential properties – indissolubility – and ignores one of its two
fundamental ends: the procreation
and education of children.
This is the reason that, as regards
the Magisterium of the Church, her
deliberations concerning families
are always coupled with her reflections on marriage, including its origin and source. (cf GS 48). It is from
marriage that the family receives its
configuration and dynamism.
The secret of the family’s success
is linked to the fidelity with which
it lives the identity from which it is
derived: marriage. This is because,
firstly, the family is authentic only
when it has its origin in marriage.
Also, the necessary solidity and
vigor to live and be family are given
only through fidelity to the structure received from marriage. In the
sacrament of marriage –wherein the
family is born- the Christian family
¶ What is Marriage?
Marriage is “One and
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
finds the nature of its being and mission. In the measure an form that
marriage endures, so does the family. The consideration of the marriage covenant -and which Christ
raised to the level of a sacrament- is
necessary for the family that wishes
to recognize and realize its interior
truth, not only relating to its being,
but also to its historical realization.
“A man and a woman united in
marriage, together with their children, form a family.” (CCC, 2202).
The family has its foundation in
marriage and the conjugal union.
This truth is presented in the book
of Genesis, and later confirmed by
the Lord: “from the beginning the
Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a
man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the
two shall become one flesh’” (Mt
19, 4-5). “So they are no longer two,
but one flesh. Therefore, what God
has joined together, no human being must separate” (Mt 19, 6). This
is the truth of marriage upon which
the truth of the family is founded
(John Paul II, Aloc. 8.X.1995, 3).
Sacred Scripture refers continually to the family as an institution
founded upon marriage. With the
foundation laid down in the story
of creation (Gen. 1-3), the books of
the Old Testament set forth characteristics of the family, whose ideal
remains constant even through the
different moments of Israel’s history.
In the New Testament, this consideration of the family is continued
along the same line, though at the
same time a new perspective is introduced. The Lord openly defends
the institution of the family founded upon marriage. He does this in
his preaching when he refers to the
family as a model for his disciples
and to explain the meaning of the
Kingdom of God and the actions
of God toward humanity. God is
like a father who earnestly pursues
the welfare of His children (cf Mt
7, 9), who forgives and receives his
child when he returns home (Luke
15, 20-32). The Lord also defends
the stability of marriage (cf Mt 19,
1-12). But above all, his presence at
the wedding feast of Cana is significant (cf Jn 2, 1-11) and most particularly the act of being born into
and passing most of his earthly existence in his home in Nazareth.
The family is not the chance effect of the product of an evolution
of natural forces; nor is it a human
invention or mere cultural creation.
On the contrary, marriage corresponds to the most profound truth
of the humanity of man and woman, to the intrinsic constitution of
the human person. It was willed by
God to realize the vocation of the
person to love. It is said, thus, that
the family is a society instituted by
nature and the first society, which
gives origin to society at large.
t this point there is no
doubt that when the word
marriage is used here, it refers to the exclusive and indissoluble
union of man and woman, which
makes it singular and different in
comparison to other uses of the
word. We find ourselves, in effect,
in a culture in which, a relativism is
promoted, even by legislators themselves. A propensity which gives val-
Church Texts
ue and meaning, not according to
the ontological nature of that which
is being considered, but to the desires of individuals and society. In
numerous legal systems marriage
has been designated and recognized
as any form of union between persons of the same sex.
The sexual difference and the mutual complementarity given by the
Creator is the foundation that lies at
the basis of the marital union. This
is how the Lord interprets it when,
in His dialogue with the Pharisees
regarding the indissolubility of marriage (cf Mt 19, 5), where our Lord
elucidates God’s will for marriage in
relation to Genesis 1, 27 (Man and
woman He created them) and Genesis 2, 24 (For this man leaves…
makes one flesh, etc). Also indicative is God’s blessing upon man and
woman so that they would transmit
human life (Gn 1, 28), showing
that procreation, on the basis of this
sexual difference, is another finality
desired by God and is fundamental
to marriage. Though the transmission of life is possible through sexual relations outside of marriage, it is
undoubtable that the personal dignity of the child necessarily requires
the stable union of marriage. This is
the sense conveyed by the affirmation that marriage is an institution
of natural origin, or put in juridical
terms, of “natural law”.
Two consequences, among others, come from this and are very important in terms of the value of the
family in general and thus also for
the Christian. The first consequence
is that the identity and mission of
the family are inseparably linked to
its origin, which is the indissoluble marriage between a man and
a woman. The dissolution of marriage leads to the destruction of the
family, and thus to the destruction
of society and persons as well. The
second consequence is found in the
fact it is only possible to perceive, in
an adequate manner, the full value
and importance of the family and
its mission in the development of
the person and society from the perceptive of its transcendent or divine
origin. “Marriage and family have
a transcendent relationship with
God […]. Whichever concept or
doctrine that does not have this essential relationship of marriage and
family with its divine origin and
destiny, which transcends our present human experience, would not
understand its most profound reality and could not encounter the precise way to solve its problems” (Paul
VI, Aloc., 12.II.1966, Authors own
translation). Benedict XVI for his
part highlights that “in our time,
as in times past, the eclipse of God,
the spread of ideologies contrary to
the family and the degradation of
sexual ethics are connected…just
as the eclipse of God and the crisis of the family are linked, so the
new evangelization is inseparable
from the Christian family.” (Address at the Plenary Assembly of the
Pontifical Council For The Family,
The history of peoples and cultures
show sufficiently that notwithstanding any changes in the manifestation of the forms of family throughout the ages, the fact has remained
that the family is not an effect of
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
chance or the product of some sort
of evolution of nature. It is not a human invention, nor is it a cultural
creation alone. It is, on the contrary,
an institution that responds to the
most profound truth of the humanity of the human being. It is based
in the given and permanent structures of the humanity of the man
and woman that transcends the
will of individuals and cultural configurations. For this reason, there is
something sacred and religious to it,
not externally but altogether innate
to it; received not from humanity
itself, but rather emanating from
humanity’s very nature. Humanity’s
own self-awareness perceives this, as
seen through the testimony of the
vast majority of people throughout
the different ages and eras; and that
is the clear teaching of Revelation
and the Magisterium of the Church.
II.The Inviolable Dignity of
the Human Person, Man and
Woman, and Human Life
egarding the human person
and human life in its various stages, the most important documents after Vatican II, in
chronological order, are: the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968), the
Declaration on Procured Abortion
(1974), the declaration Persona Humana (1975), the declaration Iura et
bona (1980), the letter Homo sexualitatis problema (1986), the instruction Donum vitae (1987), the
apostolic letter Mulieris dignitatem
(1988), the encyclical Evangelium
vitae (1995) and the instruction
Dignitas personae (2008).
These documents respond to
specific problems and situations,
though the doctrine that they proclaim transcends the response required to those facts under consideration. It is thus regarding the
origin and initial phases of life
present in the encyclical Humanae
Vitae regarding the regulation of
births; the instruction Donum Vitae, regarding the respect for nascent
human life and the dignity of procreation, which then extends into
the instruction Dignitas personae
and its bioethical considerations;
the Declaration on Procured Abortion on abortion; and a substantial
part of the encyclical Evangelium
vitae regarding the inviolable value
of human life. The fact that voices
today are all the more numerous in
pushing for the legalization of so
called “mercy killing” is an opportunity that the Church has taken to
illustrate the false arguments used
in support of this legislation (loss
of the sense of pain and suffering;
false conception regarding human
freedom and autonomy; medical
progress being such that the life of
those gravely ill can be indefinitely
prolonged; etc.), and in doing so,
yet again, robustly affirms the sacred value and absolutely inviolable
nature of human life. We see this in
the declaration Iura et bona on euthanasia, and also in the encyclical
Evangelium vitae, in which a large
part is dedicated to the inviolability
of human life throughout its existence, not only in its initial and final
stages. The remaining documents,
dealing less directly with the transmission of human life per se, pertain
Church Texts
more directly with human sexuality
and the difference between man and
woman: the declaration Persona humana, which regards certain questions of sexual ethics; the apostolic
letter Homosexualitatis problema
on the pastoral attention to be given
to those experiencing homosexual
attraction; and the apostolic letter
Mulieris dignitatem, on the dignity
of the vocation of women. It is clear,
however, that these offer crucial insights, without which it is not possible to reach the truth of human
love, and thus also, a true notion of
marriage and family.
With such documents, the
Church is seeking to proclaim the
“Gospel of Life”, which is central
to the message of Jesus (cf Evangelium vitae, n. 1) and thus also central to the mission of the Church.
The theme of human life has always
been an important issue for the
Magisterium of the Church. Albeit
in diverse forms, the Magisterium
continues with this theme, but in
the past years has done so in ways
that, in a certain sense, are new. For
example, considerations now, on
the one hand, fall upon new technological advancements allowing
medical possibilities previously unimaginable, and on the other hand,
upon the reductionist vision of life
due to the loss of meaning of human life and existence. The combination of these two factors can give
rise to grave dangers for humanity.
At the root of the Magisterium’s
action regarding life, there is always the motivating factor of love
for humanity. “Just as a century ago
[the XIX century] it was the work-
ing classes which were oppressed in
their fundamental rights, and the
Church very courageously came to
their defense by proclaiming the
sacrosanct rights of the worker as a
person, so now, when another category of persons is being oppressed
in the fundamental right to life, the
Church feels in duty bound to speak
out with the same courage on behalf
of those who have no voice. Hers is
always the evangelical cry in defense
of the world’s poor, those who are
threatened and despised and whose
human rights are violated. […] If,
at the end of the last century, the
Church could not be silent about
the injustices of those times, still
less can she be silent today, when
the social injustices of the past, unfortunately not yet overcome, are
being compounded in many regions
of the world by still more grievous
forms of injustice and oppression,
even if these are being presented as
elements of progress in view of a
new world order.” (Evangelium vitae, n. 5)
The Church speaks out in favor
of human life in order to denounce
those actions that go against it, but
above all to proclaim the inviolable
dignity in each and every stage of its
development – from its very beginning stages to its natural end. The
revelation of the “Gospel of Life” is
given in the fullest and most definitive sense in Christ. Only in Christ
can humanity receive the possibility to know the fullness of truth
regarding human life. (cf Gaudium
et spes, n.22). However, that same
truth, in seed form, is already found
engraved upon the heart of every
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
man and woman: the “Gospel of
life […] written in the heart of every
man and woman, has echoed in every conscience ‘from the beginning’,
from the time of creation itself, in
such a way that, despite the negative
consequences of sin, it can also be
known in its essential traits by human reason” (Evangelium vitae, nn.
¶ The Goods of Life
and Human Sexuality,
Goods of the Person
o inquire as to the meaning
of life requires one to first
inquire as to the meaning
of human existence. It is only possible from this starting point to adequately evaluate, for example, the
technical contributions regarding
human life in whatever stage it is
found. As only in Christ is it given
to know the full truth of the human
person (cf GS, n.22), thus consequently, only in Him does one find
an adequate response regarding the
dignity of the person and the value
and meaning of life, as the mystery
of Christ is the perspective from
which the Magisterium speaks of
the person and of human life. The
human person that the Church contemplates in this respect is the person fully alive, called to be and exist
in Christ. This perspective, however,
as was previously mentioned in the
words of Evangelium vitae (nn.2930), does not devalue or render useless what is perceived through the
light of reason alone.
The Church’s Magisterium speaks
from an integrated anthropological
perspective when it speaks on the
subject of life and human sexuality.
The perspective taken is one that
considers the person in his or her
totality of body and spirit, called to
the supernatural life. This, among
other things, “presupposes a proper
idea of the nature of the human
person in his bodily dimension” (cf
Familiaris consortio, n.11), capable
of recognizing “man in his unique
unrepeatable human reality, which
keeps intact the image and likeness
of God himself.” (Redemptor hominis, n. 13).
In this vision or idea of the human person, Cardinal Ratzinger underlined the fundamental principle
that is required when constructing a
viewpoint that is necessary to evaluate and answer problems related to
human life and sexuality. It consists
in a conception of the human being
that affirms the substantial unity of
the person. The body is not merely
a mass of tissue, but contrarily an
essential component of the human
person. Changes to the human
body affect the diverse levels of the
human person. As the human person only exists as man and woman,
sexuality is a constitutive dimension
of the human being: this “is” man
or woman. Sexual difference is not
a construction stemming from a decision taken voluntarily by the individual or society. The human person is a unique “I” or physiological/
spiritual subject. This is what is expressed by the notion that the soul
is substantially united to the body,
which is its substantial form.
It is impossible to consider having interaction with a person’s body,
and not their person. The body is
the visible expression of the person.
Even though from a scientific perspective – for example, under the
microscope in a laboratory – the
Church Texts
human body can be studied as if it
was an animal, there exists between
the human person and animals an
essential difference that reveals the
human person to be on a level that
is qualitatively superior. It is not
that the human body is more than
the body of animal – it is that it is
something altogether different.
nother fundamental principle, building upon what
was previously mentioned
and also upon the idea of Cardinal
Ratzinger that the Church never insists too much, is again taken from
Cardinal Ratzinger, namely that
the human person is endowed with
such dignity, that he or she can never be considered as an “object”, but
always and only as a “subject”. Thus,
with the human person it is never
licit to establish a relationship of
ownership or of production. Sexuality is a means, a language if you will,
by which the person is revealed.
To manipulate the human person
in any aspect – that is to say, to exercise a direct dominion over him or
her – is to surpass not only limits
of the ethical nature but also those
of a metaphysical nature in the order of creation. The human soul
and personal existence – which is
linked to the corporality and physical life – is the exclusive patrimony
of God, even if phenomenologically
speaking is not clearly ascertainable.
The fundamental reason behind the
dignity of the body and human life
lies in the creative act of God, which
is taken altogether to new heights in
consideration of its elevation to the
supernatural order and redemption.
Human reason though, is able to
perceive this dignity.
The fundamental ethical criteria
in terms of evaluating considerations or contributions regarding the
human person – in any stage of
existence – is the respect for personal dignity. The personal character proper to the human being
demands that, as one possessing absolute dignity, he or she cannot ever
be used or treated as a means to an
end. The fundamental rule in ethics
is that it is the very human person
as such who is the end. This is true
not only at the macro level of the
human species, but also at the level
of the individual person. The person
transcends his or her condition as an
individual member of a species and
is unique, new, and unrepeatable.
This dignity of human life comes
with the necessary condition of
being received as gift. This is a requirement proper to the personal
condition of the human being.
Only thus is one treated as a person,
in a manner that is “disinterested”
so to speak. At its heart the requirement is one of a filial personal condition, which as such can only be
welcomed and received as gift. That
which the Church affirms regarding
quality of life, extraordinary treatments, palliative care, the death
penalty, and legitimate notion of
self-defense is a definitive call to responsibility for life, particularly for
the lives of others.
This respect owed to human life
does not close the doors in any way
to technical interventions carried
out in the body, etc. Medical interventions, surgeries, drugs, etc., are
ethically licit means to facilitate the
¶ Human Life and
Sexuality, Goods that
are not merely Instruments
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
life processes and ends written into
nature of the human being, who is
composed of body and soul. Those
types, however, which go against
this nature or respond to a reductionist vision of the body, are not
¶ Human Life as
“an All, an Everything”
n underlying question here
regards the meaning that is
to be given to the expression “human life”, because it must
be said the term “life” can be applied to realities that are in a certain
sense interchangeable. To identify,
for example, human life and animal
life in parity without observing essential differences would indicate at
least a great lack of scientific rigor.
The same observation must be
made in regard to human life itself,
which can have a variety of meanings
associated to the word “life”. Firstly
this word can allude to the indispensable condition or requirement
for the human being to exist in the
world, speaking here of physical or
biological life, which is the first and
most basic meaning. A second meaning of “life” has to do with the moments of human existence; that is to
say, the situations and continuum of
earthly existence of the human being.
The word can also refer to the fullness of life – according to the designs
of God – towards which each one
of the phases of the human person’s
earthly existence tends to. Accordingly, in the human person, physical
life as a meaning of “life” is neither
exhausted in and of itself, nor does
it represent its supreme good. The
same is said also concerning “life”,
understood as a phase or situation of
earthly human existence.
Neither the bodily life nor the
earthly existence of the human person are absolute ethical or anthropological goods, nor are they the
most important values of the human
person. They are not the totality of
life – not all of human life in its fullness. At times though, it constitutes
the most basic and fundamental
value of man, and as such, must be
absolutely respected. Temporal life,
in effect, supports the other values
and goods of the person which surface and revolve around it. The ultimate reason of being for these is
not found through seeking them in
themselves alone, but in the peculiarity, which is in ultimate instance,
proper to their relation to eternal
life. Earthly life is not an ultimate
reality, but rather a penultimate
one. From there, along with other
considerations, the greatness and
relative nature of man’s dominion
over his own life are derived. It also
follows that when it is said that life
has an absolute value and that this
must be respected, this affirmation
refers to life in its fullest sense.
It is understood then that the
meaning and value of human life
has its foundation in the fact that it
is a journey in personal realization.
The plan of God for the human
person is not immediately realized.
To be fulfilled it is necessary that a
free response is given, and furthermore, that this free response take
place throughout the entirety of life.
The human person has value in his
or her most absolute sense, not so
much from what he or she already
is, but rather, in what he or she is
called to be. Life in its full existen-
Church Texts
tial sense corresponds exclusively to
the ultimate and definitive state of
the human being having given consent to the call of God the Creator.
The historical existence of the human person is certainly a form of
life, but is not a life that is in an absolute sense good by its own accord
alone. If life in its historical temporal sense has value, it is because of its
intrinsic connection with the fullness of which it points toward, for
by itself it does not have a reason for
being, nor intelligibility, nor reason
of goodness, or value in and of itself. For this the Church underlines,
time and time again, the uniqueness
of the human being amongst all
other created beings and the relation that man and woman’s earthly
existence has with eternal life, thus
revealing the most profound meaning of human life. Only through this
life can the human person arrive to
the fullness of life, participating in
the very life of God. The conclusion
is that to adequately understand the
value and meaning of human life –
understood in the sense of physical
life or the situation in which this
can be found – it is necessary not
to lose sight of the meaning of that
life which permeates the human
person’s existence, and which corresponds to its all, or to his or her entirety: that is to say, that life which
in its origin and in which the human person finds his or her fullness,
as willed by the Creator.
This is the reason why the good of
human life is only perceived in its
fullness from Revelation. The explanation of the characteristics and peculiarity of the intrinsic goodness of
is human life – as declared by Sacred
Holy Scripture – are linked above
all to the fact that the human being,
created “in the image and likeness
of God”, has been called to participate in the very life of God. “Because he is made by God and bears
within himself an indelible imprint
of God, man is naturally drawn to
God” (Evangelium vitae, n. 35).
“The dignity of this life is linked not
only to its beginning, to the fact that
it comes from God, but also to its final end, to its destiny of fellowship
with God in knowledge and love of
him” (Ib., n. 38). The revelation
of this dignity – proclaimed in diverse ways throughout the entirety
of Scripture, as much as in the Old
Testament as in the New Testament
– finds its meaning in the mystery
of Christ. It is Christ who, with his
life and word – with his Person – reveals the finality of the salvific plan
of God begun in creation. This is to
say that the human person becomes
a child of God, made to participate
in the divine nature, glorifying God
in Eternal Life. “How precious must
man be in the eyes of the Creator,
if he gained so great a Redeemer’
(Exsultet of the Easter Vigil), and
if God gave his only Son’ in order
that man should not perish but
have eternal life’ (cf. Jn 3:16)!” (Redemptor hominis, n. 10)
This meaning of life is lost in an
anthropology that is characterized
by positivism or materialism. In this
view only the biological dimension
of human life is taken into account:
the only one that can be empirically
analyzed. Mechanistic philosophical
understandings proceed from this
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
basis. Once human life is reduced to
the biological state, and thus, only
to a physiological chemical flow, the
human person is reduced to merely
organography. To have a good life is
equated with having good health, to
have what is understood as a healthy
life. Suffering and lives understood
to be deficient in this respect are
lived out without meaning, as they
do not fit in any way into this notion of functionality. Arriving at
similar conclusions, even if from
different points of departure, are
anthropologies characterized by dualism that, in considering the body
and soul as two realities in conflict,
in final analysis devalue the nature
of bodily existence. This is what
happens when, in the pretext of scientific or medical progress, practices
are developed which reduce human
to mere “biological material.”
¶ All Human Life
uman Life is inviolable,
that is to say, it can never
be treated as an instrument, as a thing or medium through
which another good is obtained via
the integral good of the person. Human life is absolutely valuable by
the very same fact of being human
life. This inviolable character – sign
of the inviolability of the person – is
written in the heart of the human
person. This is present in the experience of every person, that, in the
depth of his or her conscience, the
person is always called to respond to
his or her attitude toward life – his
or hers as well as others – as a reality that is not absolutely owned by
the individual and that cannot be
treated in a whimsical manner. This
conviction is not one that is exclu-
sive to Christian faith, or that taken
from a religious context alone. The
Catechism of the Catholic Church
recalls, “the covenant between God
and mankind is interwoven with reminders of God’s gift […] The Old
Testament always considered blood
a sacred sign of life. This teaching
remains necessary for all time” (n.
2260). The essential element of this
teaching is “the commandment regarding the inviolability of human
life (that) reverberates at the heart
of the ‘ten words’ in the covenant
of Sinai” (Evangelium vitae, n. 40).
The New Testament, confirms and
brings to its fullness the message of
the Old Testament, “But the overall
message, which the New Testament
will bring to perfection, is a forceful
appeal for respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person. It culminates in
the positive commandment which
obliges us to be responsible for our
neighbor as for ourselves: ‘You shall
love your neighbor as yourself ’”(Ib.,
n.41) Its most profound dimension
is encapsulated in the duties of love
and respect for one’s own life and
the lives of others.
The foundation or reason for this
inviolability is found in the reality
that, as Revelation teaches, human
life is the property of God who is
Creator and Father. Only He can
say: “It is I who bring both death
and life” (Dt 32, 39). “Human life
is sacred because from its beginning
it involves ‘the creative action of
God’ and it remains forever in a special relationship with the Creator,
who is its sole end” (Donum vitae,
Int., n. 5; Catechism of the Catho-
Church Texts
lic Church, n. 2258; Evangelium
vitae, n. 53). Its inviolability derives
from its sacred nature, which is to
say the peculiar relation that, from
its origin to its end, it has with God.
“God therefore is the sole Lord of
this life: man cannot do with it as
he wills” (Evangelium vitae, n. 39).
It must be said at this point that,
for some ideologies, the affirmation
of the inviolable character of the human being does not mean that each
individual human life – all human
life – is inviolable, but only the human species as such. In this mode of
thinking, the life of each individual
person is not valued in and of itself,
but rather only insofar as it contributes to the good of humanity as a
whole. The utility and wellbeing
of the human species, as a whole,
would be thus a justification for
the suppression of lives considered
useless or having defect. This idea is
present in the mentality of eugenics, which welcomes human life
only under certain conditions, and
in its defense of euthanasia as means
to deal with lives considered to be
without meaning or value, etc.
The life of every human being is
unique and unrepeatable and, as
such, inviolable and autonomous.
Experience illustrates this fact. The
human being experiences himself
or herself as “someone”, who at no
time and in no way can be reduced
to any notion less than a “you” and
in no way to things or entities that
are not endowed with this same interiority. The human being is unrepeatable, and is one and the same
throughout the duration of his or
her existence.
The respect for the dignity of each
human life as a fundamental ethical
attitude flows inseparably from the
perception of this consciousness. If
the human person is not just “one
amongst many equals” in the world
of created entities, it is evident thus
that the person cannot be used as a
mere instrument in the service of
these realities, be it those realities of
an inferior level (those entities considered as “things”) or those realities
at an equal level (other persons).
Ultimately, the reason for the singularity and value of each human life
emanates from the origin of each
human life in a creative act of God.
Each human person corresponds to
a singular and unique call by God,
that is, a personal call which represents the personal destiny of the
human being that is not possibly
exhausted in the notion of a collective destiny alone. When God
disappears in the consideration of
human life only the relationship to
one’s own self and to others remain,
and the personal condition and
value of human life are entrusted
to one’s own discretion or to that of
o adequately value the inviolability of human life requires, among other things,
the affirmation that every human
life, - all human life – is absolutely
valuable in and of itself, with sovereign autonomy in its development,
in each and every stage of its existence. Its value and dignity is not
linked first and fundamentally to its
“quality”, but to the radicality of the
fact that it is a living human being.
The anthropological foundation of
¶ In Each and Every
Creating a Future. Family as the Fabric of Society
this exigency resides in the unity of
the human person, that as such, cannot be understood from one of its
“co-principles” alone (the body or
the soul), nor much less identified
by its manifestations (one thing, in
effect, is the being of the person and
another is the manifestation or realization of the person as such).
From the theological perspective, the inviolability of human
life throughout the duration of its
existence – once again emphasized
– is found in the truths of Creation and Redemption. The actions
and above all the life of Jesus reveal
the dignity of and the meaning of
life to us. Furthermore, it illustrates
to us that when life is in precarious
or delicate state, or is considered as
useless, it remains nonetheless “a
gift” and must be jealously guarded
as such. Human life, regardless of
its condition or stage, represented a
true reflection of the image and likeness of God, and as such, maintains
the link uniting it to its Creator and
Redeemer, which is to say to its origin and end. The plan of God for
the human being is to reproduce in
his or her life the image of His Son.
This is the way to fulfill one’s exist-
ence as an image of God. “It is precisely by his death that Jesus reveals
all the splendor and value of life”
(Evangelium vitae, n. 33).
It is evident therefore, that the
eclipsing of the meaning of God
inevitably leads to the loss of the
meaning life. Thus “at the heart of
every culture lies the attitude man
takes to the greatest mystery: the
mystery of God.” “Where God is
denied and people live as though he
did not exist, or his commandments
are not taken into account, the dignity of the human person and the
inviolability of human life also end
up being rejected or compromised”
(Evangelium vitae, n. 96). If the life
of the human person remains enclosed withi the limits of his or her
earthly existence, and the human
person is just another one of the
living creatures in this world, the
very meaning itself of life is called
into question. “Life itself becomes a
mere ‘thing’, which man claims as
his exclusive property, completely
subject to his control and manipulation” (Ib., 22).
Imprimé en France par Romanzin SA
Dépot légal décembre 2014
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