ROME, OCT. 19, 2001 ( George Weigel, John Paul II´s biographer and an expert on topics of social justice, on Thursday addressed a congress on "The Family as Social Subject."

Weigel believes that modern man´s need for freedom has been given erroneous answers. Those answers are based on pragmatic utilitarianism that regards everything as a contract, or on "Islamic activism," which does not allow religious freedom.

--Q: In this context, what is the role of the family?

--Weigel: In response to pragmatic utilitarianism, Catholic social doctrine teaches that the family is not simply a contractual agreement geared to satisfying individual needs. It is a covenant that consists of making promises and keeping them.

The essence of family life is to understand how we can be a gift to others. In school we learn to understand the meaning of freedom. We need the family to generate men who are really free. Because of this, one can say that the future of the family is closely related to the search for authentic human freedom.

--Q: Is there some sign that this concept might be accepted in the modern world?

--Weigel: Social science scholars are again beginning to recognize the crucial role played by the family in human development.

Recent research in the United States, on the deforming effects of divorce on the growth and education of children, is causing a revision in legislation on divorce and people are beginning to think that what was contemptuously dismissed as "traditional family," has many points in its favor.

However, this new awakening of the moral sense has yet to penetrate public life in a constant way, so that it can lead to changes in legislation.

--Q: How was "Familiaris Consortio," John Paul II´s most important document on this topic, published 20 years ago, received in the United States?

--Weigel: The framework is complex. His moral message was accepted in some sectors. However, we have not seen this new moral realism applied to the law. We still have a terrible abortion law, and the tax system does not help the family. There is much work to be done.

--Q: Has the world of youth changed at all?

--Weigel: Young people, who must deal with the harm caused by the sexual revolution and the disintegration of the family over the past 40 years, are far more open to the teaching of the Church than their parents. I have seen this in universities, when I have spoken on the Holy Father´s teaching on the theology of the body.

--Q: How should the challenge of globalization be addressed?

--Weigel: Globalization is not an event that can be avoided. It is happening. The problem is the way it is happening. Is it happening in a way that allows families of poor countries to grow in conditions where they can exercise their economic creativity? The critical issue is the corruption of political institutions in the Third World, which impedes this.

Laws that place obstacles to the economic creativity of poor families must be reformed. The social doctrine of the Church calls attention to the reform of corrupt political institutions, which impede poor families of the Third World from liberating themselves.