VATICAN CITY, March 9, 2012 ( – In discussions with US Bishops in Rome for their Ad Limina visits this morning, Pope Benedict XVI discussed “the contemporary crisis of marriage and the family, and, more generally, of the Christian vision of human sexuality.”  He noted that “a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost.”

Since, he said, quoting Pope John Paul II, “the future of humanity passes by way of the family,” the Church must resist “the powerful political and cultural currents seeking to alter the legal definition of marriage.”  He thus said that “a reasoned defense of marriage as a natural institution consisting of a specific communion of persons, essentially rooted in the complementarity of the sexes and oriented to procreation,” is required. “Defending the institution of marriage as a social reality is ultimately a question of justice, since it entails safeguarding the good of the entire human community and the rights of parents and children alike,” he added.

The Pope said that he and the bishops must recognize and admit the “deficiencies” in the teaching of the faith (catechesis) “of recent decades.”  That teaching, he said, “failed at times to communicate the rich heritage of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural institution elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament, the vocation of Christian spouses in society and in the Church, and the practice of marital chastity.”

He called for a overhaul of the marriage preparation programs in the Catholic Church with a concentration on “the serious pastoral problem presented by the widespread practice of cohabitation, often by couples who seem unaware that it is gravely sinful, not to mention damaging to the stability of society.”

There is, he said, an “urgent need for the entire Christian community to recover an appreciation of the virtue of chastity.”  He warned that “permissive ideologies exalted in some quarters” are “a powerful and destructive form of counter-catechesis for the young.”

“Young people need to encounter the Church’s teaching in its integrity, challenging and countercultural as that teaching may be; more importantly, they need to see it embodied by faithful married couples who bear convincing witness to its truth… In a society which increasingly tends to misunderstand and even ridicule this essential dimension of Christian teaching, young people need to be reassured that “if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing, of what makes life free, beautiful and great.”

He explained that “The integrating and liberating function of this virtue should be emphasized by a formation of the heart, which presents the Christian understanding of sexuality as a source of genuine freedom, happiness and the fulfilment of our fundamental and innate human vocation to love.”