Thursday, September 10, 2009

REPOST: The Role of Church and State in Stabilizing Families

Note from Blog Admin:

The first post of the speech below was faulty, and so we're doing it over. Here is the speech delivered by Sen. Tatad at the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam last August.

Amsterdam, 11 August 2009

Strengthening families in situations of poverty

The Role of Church and State in Stabilizing Families
By Senator Francisco S. Tatad

It has never been easy to be poor, lesser still to be a poor family in a poor-country setting. Millions of families share that situation around the world today. Poverty is the first and most compelling reality they must contend with every single day. It begins with their most basic needs---food, clothing, shelter, education, health care; the failure to meet those needs could tear the marriage apart, expose the poorer spouse to greater financial stress and emotional burden, the children to all forms of privation and insecurity, to vagrancy, pornography, prostitution, drugs and other addictions, and make everyone lose their faith in God and everybody else.

In my country, the state tries to address this problem through various anti-poverty measures, basic education and skills training, job creation, micro-finance, socialized housing, health outreach programs, emergency relief services, and peace initiatives in conflict areas. The Church on the other hand tries to mitigate it through its own regular feeding and disaster relief programs, initiatives in education, character and skills formation, and leadership training especially for the youth and women; livelihood in agriculture and small enterprise; health care especially for the poorest families; policy setting for social legislation and relevant programs; peace and justice in conflict areas; and human development where greater access is needed. It is not uncommon for church and state personnel to work hand in hand to deliver services. Where the work of the Church tends to have a much greater impact on the personal lives of families, the government tries to course some of its activities through church volunteer workers. Although the instability of families usually stems directly from poverty, the task of stimulating them to lead more stable lives often involves much more than ministering to their material needs.

In many instances, poverty could serve as the very glue to keep the family together. It could act as the strong wind, as the good rabbi said here yesterday, that compels the poor family to button up its coat against the bitter cold. It takes a lot of mutual sacrifice and self-giving to face up to problems that never go away, and use them as a means to bring the family closer together. But such heroism is not rare, especially among the poor who hold their commitment to their family as something never to be broken. I have seen this at work in my own home and in so many other homes in my own country.

In recent years, extreme poverty and the desire for a better life have forced millions of Filipinos to leave their homes in search of jobs in foreign countries. The inevitable separation of spouses has many times led to marital infidelities on the part of one spouse or both that ultimately broke the marriage. The Church’s constant effort to provide moral encouragement and spiritual help has saved and continues to save many troubled families.

Through spiritual counseling and healing, frequent confession and reception of the Eucharist, the support of Bible-study and prayer groups and other supernatural aids, many families have survived the threats to their family life. Left to purely natural and human means, the threatened family simply disintegrated.

The importance of being spiritually connected cannot be overstated. A family that frames its daily struggle purely in economic or material terms is likely to crumble as soon as the going gets rough. Marriages that survive the prolonged separation of the spouses or any kind of trial at all are usually those in which the spouses, helped by the Church, retain their hope in God, and know what the Pope means when he says “man is not a lost atom in a random universe.” [1]

I use the term Church being Catholic, to stay on familiar ground. Otherwise, in an ecumenical world of many confessions, where one speaks of many religions but one covenant, church here would mean synagogue, temple and mosque for others. Each of these institutions has to accompany every marriage and every family with their prayers and counsel in everyday life. They have to be open to them, draw them in, so that no family ever stands alone to face the torments of the modern world.

The family, which is the basic unit of society, is not only the first school of life and love but also the first domestic church. It does not stand alone. It is part of a much larger whole, Christ’s Church, properly understood, which has always engaged the world on questions of human dignity and every other fundamental question.

We have seen how poverty in the poor countries, no different than that in rich countries, exerts such pressures on family life. Poor families need no further aggravation from any source. Nevertheless since the last century, a recurring Malthusian fear of the world not having enough to eat and a not so muted eugenicist fear of the “socially unfit” swarming over the planet have fueled various forms of external interventions in the otherwise sacred and inviolate precincts of the family, most aggressively in poor countries.

A well-funded global campaign to change the parameters of human sexuality, marriage, the family, and the very nature of man himself has targeted families everywhere, and this has not been easy to resist. Especially because presented as a great social good, indispensable to social progress.

The announced aim is to liberate the poor, especially women and their families. But women have since been reduced into sex objects and the family deconstructed to accommodate divorce, same-sex union, civil partnership, contraception, sterilization, abortion, euthanasia, and everything else that prevents any unwelcome entrant into the world of the living where some had put up the old sign, “Verboten” or “Verboden” or “Off-limits.”

Situations of poverty, hunger, poor education and inadequate health care have become the ready-made excuse for powerful governments, multilateral institutions and nongovernmental organizations to introduce measures whose manifest resolve, regardless of their announced intent, is simply to bring down the size of the family and the national birth rate and nothing much else.

Some are hoping that because the world financial crisis has put a strain on the resources of many governments, this effort would now slow down. There should be more pressing priorities. That notwithstanding, it could in fact still intensify, because of US President Obama’s order lifting the restriction imposed by President Reagan in 1984 on the use of American funds to support abortion and related activities in the developing world.

There is no reason why poor families in the poor countries should continue to absorb this assault. After all, all predictions of great famines wiping out millions of earthlings before the end of the last century had failed. Birth and fertility rates in the most advanced countries have fallen, and their abortion and other anti-family laws have created nothing but broken homes, drunken divorcees, fatherless children, pregnant teenagers, teenage abortions, teenage suicides, and an infirm and aging population with little prospect of being replaced. All moral and ethical values have broken down, and the post-modern world has sunk into a deep moral relativism where every truth is lost and doubt alone exists----especially on the most fundamental questions.

These should have sufficed to bury this tragic folly. But old habits die hard, so the same disastrous policies and programs are recycled over and over, regardless of the harm they do to poor families everywhere. This is what is happening in my poor heroic country, the Philippines.

The Philippines is a country of 90 million, growing at an annual rate of 2.04%, with a Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 3.02, according to its National Statistics Office. (The CIA World Factbook, 2008, however, quotes the birth rate at 1.72%, the TFR at 3.00.) In 1974, we were one of 13 developing countries whose combined population growth inspired the U.S. government, through its National Security Study Memorandum (NSSM) 200, to proclaim a world population plan that called for, among other things, a two-child family everywhere by the year 2000.[2]

Today our birth and fertility rates are down. The large families are gone; the average family size now is five, two parents and three children, and getting smaller still. About 12 million Filipinos live and work abroad; a million more migrate each year. The average Filipino worker is 23 years old, neither too young nor too old. A healthy and dynamic population. No cause for alarm.

Alarm, if at all, should come from those who fear that our fertility rate is already so dangerously close to the replacement level. Last month, the biggest explosion heard in Seoul, Korea was a report saying that by year 2050 Korea would become the most aged society in the OECD with 38.2% of its population----or four out of every 10 Koreans----being 65 years old or over due to its low birth rates and its rapidly aging population. This prompted the head of the Planned Population Federation of Korea urgently to appeal to all Korean women to beget more children---the exact opposite of what he had been telling them for years.

At no time has it become so clear to everyone that people are indeed every nation’s first and ultimate resource. Julian Simon said it before, but populous India, with its 1.3 billion people, has produced a new expert witness for our times. In his book, Imagining India, Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys, a global leader in information technology, proclaims authoritatively that India owes its booming economy today to its teeming millions of entrepreneurs and workers. A fitting reproach to those who had previously written off India as a basket case because of its outsize population.

But instead of addressing the real problem of falling birthrates and aging population, the culture of death lobby continues to look in the opposite direction. As world markets tumbled and every government worth its salt tried to find a possible way out, we in the Philippines were absorbed in a reproductive health bill that seeks to provide everything proscribed by the Church, local custom, and the Constitution.

The country is predominantly Catholic. Abortion is a crime, divorce, civil partnership, and same sex-union are out, the only marriage we recognize is the sacramental or civil union of one man and one woman, for one lifetime. The State may not get involved in promoting contraception or sterilization, but it will not force Humanae Vitae on ignorant or disobedient churchgoers. No law prohibits contraception or sterilization.

The Constitution recognizes “the sanctity of family life,” vows to “protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution “ and to “equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception.” It proclaims marriage as “the foundation of the family,” and the family as “the foundation of the nation.”

There are those who disrespect some of these laws. But on the whole they have served the nation well. They have kept most marriages intact, most of our unmarried young men and women chaste, the two sexes different and distinct from each other. And they have kept the society together despite its various fissures and myriad problems.

Still, the bill’s proponents tried to railroad their measure, cheered on by NGOs, the secular media, foreign-degreed academics, economists and scientists, and full-page newspaper ads paid for by some foreign-funded organization.

Faced with such challenge, the families and family groups in opposition decided to transform the legislative fight into a spiritual battle. They brought the issue to their Bible studies, prayer meetings and to the Bishops, who promptly mobilized their priests and the various lay organizations within their respective dioceses. The Bishops then began individually to engage the legislators, offering them moral and spiritual advice, while simultaneously catechesizing everybody else. Many original supporters of the bill have since withdrawn, and many more are rethinking their position.

The fight in Congress is not yet over, but the fight for the family has gained ground. In church, the masses are always full, more and more people are seeking spiritual direction, the lines to the confessional are getting longer. At home, more families are finding time to sit and enjoy their meals together, talk about their work, the children’s studies, their community and church activities, and intimate questions about human sexuality, which were taboo before. A great catechesis is going on.

There is no reason why this catechesis cannot be transformed into something infinitely larger, involving all the other churches and religions. Where before doctrinal differences had tended to set one religion against another, the defense and protection of the human family makes it necessary for all religions to come together and thwart the advance of all secularist and relativistic forces against the very idea of religion. All religions have a duty to defend God’s covenant with man and the human family, and the best way to do so is for the Christian to become a good Christian, the Jew a good Jew, the Moslem a good Moslem, and together defend the right of the family to be free from any atheistic impositions by the State and the right of God to be present in every heart and every home and in the public square.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI quoting his own 2006 homily at mass in Islinger Feld, Regensburg, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, 29 June 2009
[2] The others are India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, Ethiopia and Columbia.


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