ROME, JUNE 11, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The state of the family has been very much on the mind of Benedict XVI. Last Saturday, in an address to a diocesan pilgrimage from Verona, Italy, the Pope expressed concern over the increase in divorces and de facto relationships.
Then, on Monday, he gave a lengthy speech on themes related to marriage and the family during the opening of an ecclesial congress organized by the Diocese of Rome.
The Holy Father has good grounds for being concerned, as demonstrated by recent data from a number of countries. A statistical analysis presented at a seminar held by the Lateran University showed a marked change in marriage when data from 2001 and 1981 were compared.
According to the report on the seminar in the newspaper Corriere della Sera on March 19, Italy in 1981 had a rate of 5.6 marriages per 1,000 people, for a total number that year of 316,953. By 2001 the rate had fallen to 4.5 marriages per 1,000 people, or 260,904 marriages in all.
Couples living together outside marriage have also risen. In 1993 there were 277,000 de facto couples in Italy. By 2001 the number had risen to 453,000. Bishop Dante Lafranconi of Cremona reported at the seminar that around half of the couples who attend Church-run pre-marriage courses are already living together.
The latest figures on the Italian family released by the country’s official statistical office, ISTAT, back up the concerns. For 2002-03, singles accounted to 25.4% of family units, compared with 21.1% in 1994-95, according to a report last Oct. 28 in the Corriere della Sera. The number of de facto couples was estimated at 564,000.
Spain is also seeing strong challenges to the family. An article June 3 in the newspaper La Razón revealed that a report published by the Institute of Family Politics showed a 60% increase in separations and divorces in the last 8 years, for a total of 134, 931 in 2004.
Out of wedlock
On the other side of the Channel things are worse. The Guardian newspaper reported last Dec. 17 that data published by the Office for National Statistics showed that 41% of births in England and Wales in 2003 took place outside marriage. This compares with 12% only a decade earlier. In some areas, such as northeast England and Wales, the proportion of out-of-wedlock births is now over 50%.
London’s Telegraph newspaper on Feb. 5 analyzed further information coming from the Office of National Statistics on the family. The number of marriages in 2003 rose by 4.7% on the previous year, to 267,770.
But the rise in the last two years in marriages is due above all to an increase in second marriages after divorces. In fact, in 2003 only 59% of all marriages were to first-time brides and grooms. Moreover, the average age for first marriages in England and Wales in 2003 was 29 for women and 31 for men, compared with 23 and 26, respectively, 40 years earlier.
Marriage stability might also suffer in Ireland soon, as a report published Feb. 26 by the news portal Catholicireland.net revealed. Following a 1997 referendum on divorce, Irish couples have had to live apart during four out of the five preceding years before applying to the courts for a divorce.
However, a new law of the European Union, which automatically overrides the Irish Constitution, changes the situation. The law, which came into force March 1, allows a spouse who has lived abroad for one year to apply for a divorce in that nation’s jurisdiction. And once a case is initiated in another EU country, Irish courts no longer have jurisdiction in the matter.
In North America the situation is no less serious. A report released by Statistics Canada showed a sharp increase in repeat divorces. In a March 10 article, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported that 16.2% of the divorces granted in 2003 involved men who had previously been divorced. The figure for women was 15.7%. Overall, there were 70,828 divorces in 2003, up almost 1% from 70,155 a year earlier.
“We are … a very individualistic society, and we value choice, we value romance, and we’ve become much less tolerant of anything that goes wrong,” said Anne-Marie Ambert, a York University professor and one of Canada’s foremost specialists on marriage and divorce. “We are less willing to work at relationships. It’s much easier to break up a marriage than it used to be in the past.”
An editorial March 11 in the Globe and Mail expressed concern over the state of marriage in Canada. It noted that the proportion of marriages expected to break up before they reach the 30th wedding anniversary reached 38.3% in 2003. And while politicians are busy introducing same-sex marriage, they do nothing to help husbands and wives stay together.
“Divorce is considered to be a private matter between husband and wife, an individual choice in which government and society have little interest,” said the editorial. “That’s obviously not true. Divorce is not just a tragedy for couples. It’s a problem for everyone else.” After noting how divorce harms children, and the couple themselves, the editorial concluded: “When a marriage ends, a home is destroyed as surely as when a house burns to the ground. Every divorce is a tragedy.”
In the United States, Census Bureau figures for 2003 show that both men and women are putting off marriage, the Associated Press reported Dec. 1. In fact, one-third of men and nearly one-quarter of women between the ages of 30 and 34 have never been married. This is nearly four times the rates in 1970.
The data from the Census Bureau’s “Current Population Survey” showed that the age at which people marry for the first time rose from 20.8 for women and 23.2 for men in 1970, to 25.3 and 27.1, respectively, in 2003. The number of births outside marriage reached nearly 35% in 2003, compared with 11% in 1970.
The family is also under threat in Australia. Households comprising both parents and at least one child now account for only 47% of the total, the newspaper Australian reported Jan. 22. On the rise are single-parent families, up from 552,000 in 1991, to 763,000 by 2001. The newspaper based its report on information in the 2005 Year Book Australia, published by the country’s Bureau of Statistics.
Vocation to love
In his speech Monday, Benedict XVI explained that marriage is a lot more than the result of social and cultural factors. The question of what is the right way for a man and a woman to unite their lives is founded on the deepest essence of what it means to be a human person, he said.
The Bible reveals to us that we were created in God’s image, and that God is love, the Holy Father said. Being an authentic image of God therefore means that we must find the way to live out our vocation to love. And the love expressed between the couple at the moment they commit themselves in marriage must be complete and total for it to be authentic.
Thus, the decision to live together without marrying, as well as the attempts to create “pseudo-marriages” of same-sex couples, are a misuse of our liberty, said Benedict XVI. Such moves, he added, also stem from a refusal to acknowledge the profound spiritual dimension of our human nature.