ALL IN THE FAM­ILY Fran­cis hopes to mend shat­tered bonds of fun­da­men­tal in­sti­tu­tion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. - BY CH­ERYL WETZSTEIN

The Amer­i­can fam­ily land­scape that Pope Fran­cis is view­ing dur­ing his first visit to the United States dif­fers vastly from that of 1965, when Paul VI be­came the first pon­tiff to step onto U.S. soil: More cou­ples are di­vorced or liv­ing to­gether and fewer are mar­ried to­day than they were in the ’60s.

But Fran­cis — who is in the United States pri­mar­ily to at­tend the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies in Philadelphia this week­end — isn’t shy­ing away from up­hold­ing tra­di­tional mar­riage and fam­ily life.

“It is my wish that through­out my visit, the fam­ily should be a re­cur­rent theme,” Fran­cis said Thurs­day in his his­tor­i­cal ad­dress to Congress. “Yet I can­not hide my con­cern for the fam­ily, which is threat­ened, per­haps as never be­fore, from within and with­out. Fun­da­men­tal re­la­tion­ships are be­ing called into ques­tion, as is the very ba­sis of mar­riage and the fam­ily.”

The World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies, which be­gan Tues­day and ends Sun­day, was con­ceived by Pope John Paul II in 1992 to strengthen “the sa­cred bonds of the fam­ily unit across the globe.” It first met in Rome in 1994 and then con­vened ev­ery three years. The eighth meet­ing in Philadelphia — with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from 150 na­tions and many faiths — is the first to be held in the U.S.

Fran­cis ar­rives in Philadelphia on Satur­day, when the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies holds an in­ter­cul­tural, in­ter­faith Fes­ti­val of Fam­i­lies, which will end with a na­tion­ally broad­cast pro­gram of mu­sic and per­for­mances. The pope is ex­pected to hear from six fam­i­lies from dif­fer­ent con­ti­nents and speak to is­sues raised by fam­i­lies like theirs.

On Sun­day af­ter­noon, Fran­cis will close the World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies by cel­e­brat­ing a Mass out­side the Philadelphia Art Mu­seum. He de­parts for Rome later that day.

Fran­cis’ trip to the U.S. al­ready was seen as a huge boost to ef­forts to shore up the tra­di­tional fam­ily.

The World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies seeks to be “a source of heal­ing,” said Kathryn Jean Lopez, se­nior fel­low at Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, a con­ser­va­tive think tank.

The pope has talked a lot about how mar­riage and the fam­ily are in cri­sis, but then he in­vari­ably shifts to talk­ing about how mar­riage and fam­ily are “pos­si­ble and de­sir­able and good,” Ms. Lopez said. “And one of the great things about Pope Fran­cis is that he gets peo­ple to lis­ten.”

“I think his laser-point fo­cus is go­ing to be on the sta­tus of the fam­ily,” said Ryan T. An­der­son, a fam­ily and public pol­icy scholar at The Her­itage Foun­da­tion.

Sev­eral popes be­fore Fran­cis have of­fered im­por­tant re­sponses to the sex­ual revo­lu­tion and its im­pact on peo­ple’s lives, Mr. An­der­son said.

“I think what Fran­cis is try­ing to do is kind of prick peo­ple’s con­sciences and to re­mind them of deep truths about the hu­man con­di­tion,” he said.

In 1965, when the “pil­grim pope” vis­ited the U.S., mar­riage rates were high, di­vorce rates were low, and un­wed child­bear­ing was rare for white women (3 per­cent) and rel­a­tively low (24 per­cent) for black women. Non­mar­i­tal co­hab­i­ta­tion was un­com­mon and dis­creet, and gay rights ac­tivists marched for lib­er­a­tion from ha­rass­ment and job dis­crim­i­na­tion — not ad­mit­tance to a so­cial in­sti­tu­tion known for rigid gen­der roles and life­long monogamy.

On his maiden trip to the U.S., Fran­cis has found a na­tion that largely ac­cepts pre­mar­i­tal sex and co­hab­it­ing, a high level (41 per­cent) of un­wed births, de­layed mar­riages among young adults, same-sex mar­riage and a thriv­ing le­gal in­dus­try built around no-fault di­vorce.

He also has seen signs of stub­born poverty: Cen­sus Bureau data show the U.S. poverty rate is around 15 per­cent, vir­tu­ally un­changed since 2010. More­over, this has not im­proved dra­mat­i­cally from the 17 per­cent poverty rate dur­ing Paul VI’s visit.

What’s new and sig­nif­i­cant about mod­ern Amer­ica is that “mar­riage has dis­ap­peared most among the poor,” said Pa­trick Fa­gan, se­nior fel­low at the Fam­ily Re­search Coun­cil and di­rec­tor of the Mar­riage and Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute.

Mar­riage has doc­u­mented tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits — higher in­comes, bet­ter health, higher sat­is­fac­tion with life — but “those who need it most have it least,” Mr. Fa­gan said.

Fran­cis al­ready has called for cer­tain changes re­gard­ing mar­riage and fam­ily: He wants to see re­forms in time and ex­penses as­so­ci­ated with Catholic mar­riage an­nul­ment prac­tices.

He also has an­nounced that priests world­wide may for­give con­trite Catholics for the sin of abor­tion — a “moral evil” — when the church be­gins a “Year of Mercy” in De­cem­ber.

He raised eye­brows last year when he in­cluded a few cou­ples who re­port­edly had been co­hab­it­ing in a mar­riage cer­e­mony he con­ducted, and he has called for the church to be more open and wel­com­ing to les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple. The call that has trig­gered much in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Although these is­sues are likely to con­tinue to garner head­lines, some observers have hoped Fran­cis would use his U.S. trip to reaf­firm “the Church’s doc­trine of mar­riage as the con­ju­gal union of hus­band and wife” and the right of ev­ery child “to grow up in a fam­ily with a fa­ther and mother,” as Prince­ton law pro­fes­sor Robert P. Ge­orge wrote in an open let­ter to the pope this year.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“It is my wish that through­out my visit, the fam­ily should be a re­cur­rent theme,” Pope Fran­cis said in his ad­dress to Congress. “Yet I can­not hide my con­cern for the fam­ily, which is threat­ened, per­haps as never be­fore, from within and with­out. Fun­da­men­tal re­la­tion­ships are be­ing called into ques­tion, as is the very ba­sis of mar­riage and the fam­ily.”

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