By John Jalsevac

December 16, 2008 ( – An historic Forum involving 30 delegates from the Orthodox Churches, Bishops’ Conferences and Vatican met at Levico Terme (Trent-Italy) this past month to reflect together on the theme of the family, particularly in the context of a culture that has “brought about a deep crisis in the vision of what it is to be human and family life.”

The First Catholic-Orthodox Forum was organised by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) and is hoped to be a first step toward closer ties and cooperation between the historically estranged Churches.

Russian Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfejev said of the Forum, “The aim above all is to start clear and effective communication between our churches so that we are aware that we face the same challenges (secularism, consumerism, atheism, etc.). These are themes which all our churches face individually and instead it is important to tackle them together.”

For this First Forum the delegates chose the theme of the Family “because it is a fundamental good for the whole of society,” said Cardinal Erdõ. “Unfortunately, today the family is often threatened by an egoistic, relativistic culture focused exclusively on temporary material well-being. In this context, we feel the urgency to proclaim the Gospel of the family and we are convinced of the need to witness together our concern and the source of our hope.”

Bishop Alfejev agreed with Erdõ, lamenting the fact that the once strongly Christian West has in recent times begun to pressure “the Third World and the Islamic world to accept contraception, abortion and sterilization.”

The Forum produced a document reflecting on the role of the family in the current age, in which the delegates observed that, “In the past the family and childbirth were regarded as something sacred.” However, in recent times, “these notions are questioned. There is an attempt to change language and introduce ambiguity into international documents under the ideological introduction of the gender theory.” (To read the complete document, see:

While the world is paralyzed by a global “economic crisis,” observed the Forum delegates, it is ignoring an even more pressing crisis, a demographic crisis that has sprung from the crisis in the family.

“The demographic trends alone in Europe are clear signals of a crisis much greater than the financial one,” says the document. “The family, born of marriage between man and woman that gives rise to children and an extended network of relationships, needs to be rediscovered as valuable social capital. We appeal to political and social leaders to address this major social issue before it is too late. Without this attention, lack of financial funds will pale before the lack of social and human resources that the family brings.”

The Forum also addressed the question of sex education, in the context of a discussion on the role of parents as the primary educators of their children.

“Parents have the original, primary and inalienable right to educate [children],” proclaims the document. “They must be acknowledged as the generally best suited and the first and foremost educators of their children.

“We call upon the political institutions to ensure the parents’ right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions … In particular, sex education is a basic right of the parents and must always be carried out according to their choice and under their close supervision.”

The document concludes with a number of practical suggestions, including encouraging governments to protect families by altering their tax laws, and for society as a whole to address the inverted system of priorities which has placed economic gain above the good of the family.

The Catholic-Orthodox Forum intends to meet in the future to address other problems and difficulties facing Europe.

To read the complete document produced by the Forum, see:


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