Family Being Undermined in New Zealand

Bishop Browne Says Developments «Frightening»

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ROME, SEPT. 21, 2004 ( Secularization in New Zealand is deepening in large part because of the undermining of the family, says the president of the country’s episcopal conference.

As evidence, Bishop Denis Browne pointed to the legalization of prostitution last year and the current effort to give civil unions the same status as marriage.

The nation’s prelates find these developments «really frightening,» the bishop told ZENIT.

The Hamilton bishop and other New Zealand prelates, led by Cardinal Thomas Williams, met with John Paul II last week at part of their five-yearly visit to Rome.

According to Bishop Browne, his brother prelates are «trying to keep things under a little bit of control.»

In his address to the Pope, he said that «it appears as though the current Parliament is really discussing what we would call a social engineering agenda.»

Bishop Browne said the representatives of the episcopal conference were appearing before a select government committee to express the Church’s thoughts about the civil-union bill.

«In simple terms, this bill will really diminish the value of marriage,» he warned.

«The term ‘marriage’ could well become a word of the past if this becomes legislation and will be replaced by ‘civil union,'» Bishop Browne observed. «This can include de facto relationships, same-sex relationships — it can be anything — and this is what the Holy Father picked up in the address that he gave to us.»

John Paul II’s words on this issue made waves around New Zealand. Prime Minister Helen Clark, who met with the Pope last May, responded to reporters by saying that the «Pope has strong religious views and he is entitled to express them.»

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said, «Clearly [the Pope] would take a very religious view of life. Some of us come from a very long and strong secular background. Certainly that is my family tradition.»

«Attitudes to religion and church seem to be diminishing in our country,» Bishop Browne said.

According to results of a recent census, he said, «The Christian population in New Zealand seems to be diminishing and the biggest increase from the last census to the one of late is those who no longer have any religion. It’s quite an alarming jump.»

Pondering the reasons for this change, the bishops recognize the often antagonizing role of the media in shaping young souls and interfering in family interaction.

«We were a family of daily prayer,» recalled Bishop Browne, who came from a family that raised six children, five of whom who followed priestly or religious vocations. «If we go to parishes now, there are so many distractions to compete with there.»

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