ROME, March 28, 2013 ( – Efforts “to defend the poor, to defend those on death row, to defend human life at its earliest stages” are all part of the same “social justice” work for the Catholic Church, a top-level Vatican official has said: that of “the defense of humanity.” 

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said in a lengthy interview with John Allen published yesterday by the left-leaning National Catholic Reporter that he expects the papacy of Pope Francis to put the family “at the center not only of the life of the Church, but also political, economic and cultural life”.

In the face of a heavily secularised culture that actively “crushes” the desire of young people to get married and have children, Archbishop Paglia said it is the task of the Church to “reaffirm that the family is a crucial dimension of society”.

Paglia said that the issue of defending the family transcends the “left-right” divide in contemporary politics. “The left needs the family too,” he said.


The “primary danger” facing the world, he said, is the “emptying [of] the meaning of the words ‘marriage and ‘family,’ and thus their substance, in order to privilege individual satisfaction and impulses”. 

“Marriage is between a man and a woman for their good and, if possible, for raising of children. Indeed, the latter is a basic call of marriage, to link the generations. It's not just the space in which two people love each other. This is the basic error – the family is the place where the generations meet one another, not just a vehicle for fulfilling an individual’s desires.”

Natural marriage, between a man and a woman for the procreation and nurturing of children, Paglia holds, is not only the cornerstone of society, but creates natural benefits for everyone in society: “People in traditional families live longer, they produce more, they have fewer psychological disturbances, and they create a much stronger social fabric.”

Paglia is described by Allen as “a hero to the church’s peace-and-justice wing” who comes from a “centre-left” position on the Italian political scale. This position, Allen suggests, might make Paglia’s position on the Vatican’s family dicastery a surprise, but the archbishop insists there is no need for a conflict between the pursuit of “social justice” and defense of the family.

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Asked why he believes the family based on marriage and children is losing favor in western societies, Paglia said, “The problem is that what I would call the 'culture of the individual' is ever more prevalent.” 

“It’s the exaltation of the ‘I’ as the custodian of every right, holding the right to have all possible rights … This cult of the ‘I’ finds its prime obstacle in the family. Today, the ‘I’ is destroying the ‘we’.”

On the Church’s opposition to the re-definition of marriage, Paglia quoted the ancient Roman orator and lawyer Cicero, “who wasn't a Catholic and not even a Christian”.

“He defined the family this way: Familia est principium urbis et quasi seminarium rei publicae, meaning, ‘The family is the fundament of the city and like a school of citizenship’. 

“Without strong families, we would have disfigured cities and unsustainable societies. Centuries ago, the great jurist Justinian said that marriage is the union between a man and a woman, and he didn't say it as a believer but as a citizen of the world.”

“We have to rediscover this basic reality and help people see that the importance of the family is not something the church is imposing, but it’s a fact of life,” he added. 

Paglia also decried the modern tendency towards small families of only one or two children, which “whether it’s imposed by the state or the result of personal choice, leads to the aging of societies”.

“I also find myself asking, after twenty years, what will these millions of one-child citizens understand about the terms ‘brother’ or ‘sister’? Will they be cancelled from our vocabulary?”

Paglia said that one “critically important task” is to reintroduce the family as a basic unit of the economy. “An economy that’s attentive to the family has many advantages. For instance, instead of making women to commute to work, why not draw on modern means of technology to allow women, where possible, to work from home if that's their choice?” 

He admitted that, although polls continue to show that the great majority of young people want to be married, the secular culture “crushes this desire”.

“Many claim that it’s impossible,” he said. “They are made to believe that the economy doesn’t help the family. They are bombarded with advertising and with an exasperated sort of hyper-sexuality. They disempower these young people by insisting that what they want isn’t politically correct.” 

Comparing the threats to the family to the threat of nuclear annihilation, Paglia said that the world stands on the edge of “an anthropological abyss”.

“Some so-called philosophers think that human beings are entirely constructible by themselves, in a manner that's total and absolute. Nature is irrelevant, all that matters is culture. When they say ‘culture,’ of course, they mean the culture of the ‘I’.” 

But the Church, he added, must take the position of a parent who says “no” out of love and a desire to help the child avoid harm. 

“If a father says ‘no’ to a son who's doing something dangerous, and says it only in that moment without ever having shown concern before, then the child will perceive the father as an oppressor. But if the father loves his son, if he’s taken care of him when he’s sick, if he’s celebrated with him when he does well, if the son knows that his father is trying to guide him towards his goals and helps him when he's having trouble, then that 'no' becomes an expression of love, not a form of prohibition. That's what the church has to rediscover, at all levels, from the diocese to the parishes.”