ROME, May 23, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The 7th World Meeting of Families is set to begin next week in Milan, and the Vatican, from the pope down to his officials in the curia, is trying to warn the world that with the ongoing destruction of the traditional family, Western civilisation could be facing its end game.

Since his election in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI has given prominence to the rifts, the deep fractures in modern western societies where the family used to take precedence in law and social custom. He has told the world again and again that the family is the foundation of our society, without which our entire civilisation would, or will, collapse. And while he was saying it, the family, as the primary institution of human societies, continues to be attacked by governments that have adopted what the pope sees as an essentially anti-human ideology.

A look at the global situation, the jurisdiction of the Vatican, shows a dismal vista for the family based on marriage. Marriage is under massive pressure from two directions. In the West, the growth of a relativistic philosophy and radical secularism have resulted in the state chipping away at the rights and legal protections of the family on one side and the meaning and nature of marriage in law on the other.

From the East, the pressure comes from a totally different, non-Christian paradigm of marriage that does not hold the same foundational concept, that of a monogamous relationship of love and mutual fidelity between one man and one woman - persons of equal dignity - for life. In many countries of what used to be called the Orient, including the Middle East, South and West Asia and the Far East, a more commercial and materialistic foundation is considered the norm, and in Islamic countries, these differences become radical.

It may be that Pope Benedict is increasing the volume of the Vatican’s responses to the crisis because he is aware, as few others are in a position to be, that the great societal shift in the western world is in its end stages. No one disputes the observation that legal “gay marriage” and civil unions are only the last of a long series of changes that have totally reshaped the modern world.

Since Benedict’s election in 2005, eight governments of formerly Christian countries have legalised “gay marriage” by simply re-writing the legal definition of marriage. This number does not include the many jurisdictions, like the UK, that have compromised and granted more or less identical legal privileges to same-sex partnerings as “civil unions”. Argentina, Portugal and Iceland: 2010. Sweden and Norway: 2009. South Africa: 2006. Canada and Spain: 2005.

These, together with the pioneers Belgium and the Netherlands, 2003 and 2001 respectively, make ten countries around the world. Mexico City and some of the US states also allow the practice and other places - Israel and some of the Netherlands’ overseas holdings as well as all states of Mexico - recognize same-sex “marriages” conducted elsewhere. Ten more countries are considering changing their laws.

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Legal changes making divorce easier and marriage less secure started the process in the late 19th century. Many in the life and family movement believe that divorce is a lost cause, with every nation in the formerly Christian world except the Philippines and the Vatican City itself allowing some form of divorce. Indeed, it is difficult to answer the rejoinder from the other side of the marriage debates: if there was so little interest among traditionalists in defending marriage against divorce, why is it suddenly so important to oppose “gay marriage” now.

The ultimate result is that in places where divorce rates are finally dropping, experts believe it is only because of the increasing number of people not bothering to get married at all. Nearly all countries outside the Middle East have no laws prohibiting cohabitation, instead granting these “de facto unions” many of the same rights and privileges as marriage.

Divorce may have been the key that opened the Pandora’s Box, with all other legal changes to the protections of the family following in succession culminating in the nearly global legalization first of artificial contraception, then of abortion; the widespread social acceptance of sexual activity outside marriage; and the incredible proliferation of the pornography industry and what is now politely referred to in the mainstream press as the “sex trade,” that together are fuelling the international trafficking of human beings, including children.

Out of about 196 countries in the world, give or take Taiwan, there is only a tiny handful where abortion is still completely outlawed, and of the 17 countries of the western world that retain realistic abortion restrictions, only three are in Europe, including the Vatican city state.

Behind the primacy of the family lies a uniquely Christian idea. The reason the family is so important a defining feature of our societies is that it is founded in the concept of the equal moral dignity of all persons. The reason family traditionalists are nearly always also pro-life, the reason that the two go hand in glove, is that the two proposals, the primacy of the family and the right of the unborn and vulnerable to life, are founded on the same principle: that all human beings, regardless of their age, abilities, social status, anticipated income, nationality or state of “wantedness,” are persons entitled to precisely the same protections under the law. 

Pansexualists, those who believe that there ought to be no definitions or limitations on human “sexual expression,” accuse those of us who defend the traditional family, and Pope Benedict particularly, of irrationally clinging to a dead past, an outmoded or retrograde concept of society that has already gone extinct. 

Taking the longer historical view, however, the idea that the pro-life and pro-family point of view is “retrograde” is heavily ironic. We in the Western World have been Christianised for so long that we have unconsciously subsumed these civilisation-building principles without being able any longer to articulate and define them. We have had our civilisation for so long that we have forgotten the barbarism it defeated and tamed. The result of this societal amnesia is that we are increasingly condemning as “retrograde,” or “oppressive” the very concepts that built, nurtured and protected our society.

So immersed are we in these foundational ideas, we have little insight to imagine a society not run on Christian moral principles. Beginning history students, even those who regard themselves as “emancipated” and secularised, are often shocked by the ideas that were considered normal in the ancient world.

In the world before Christianity, the idea that all human beings are equal under a divinely authored Natural Law was a wild innovation, an unprecedented and revolutionary novelty in an ancient world that had, since the dawn of history, universally accepted slavery, women and children as chattel and routine infanticide at the whim of parents.

On the other hand, nearly all the ideas so frequently championed by our philosophical opponents were part of the normal fabric of life in the ancient world; violent, brutal and arbitrary as it was. The notion that one spouse could dispose of the other at whim by a “no fault” system of divorce; that one parent, without being obliged even to consult the other, could decide which child would live and which would be “exposed”; that merely being human was not sufficient grounds to bestow the legal protection of the state: all were among the uglier aspects of Roman law. The notion that a man’s wife and children, slaves and dependent “clients” were possessed of exactly the same dignity and legal status as he was, would have shocked a Roman patrician of the 2nd century. As it would an Indian Brahmin of the 10th or a Confucian scholar-official of the 12th.

Only Christianity, and Christian philosophy and jurisprudence, has ever proposed to treat financially or physically or socially unequal human beings equally in law. The very concept of “person” in law did not exist until it was developed by Christian philosophers who also developed the notion of “human rights” based on nothing more than membership in the species, made in the image of the author of all creation.

And now Pope Benedict is sounding the alarm that those Christian concepts of law and philosophy are being rejected by governments, on so fundamental a set of priorities as the nature of the family. What is to stop our societies from sliding all the way back to our retrograde, and violent, pagan past?

Benedict’s papacy, including the mega-projects like the World Meeting of Families, can be described as a salvage operation, a mammoth project to revivify the Catholic institutions that have languished and declined since the cultural revolutions of his youth, and to redirect them toward their original task of evangelising the Christian message to the world.