In a recent document, The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization, the Vatican re-affirmed the Catholic Church's ancient teachings on marriage while addressed many modern challenges to the institution. The Instrumentum Laboris, or "working document," is a preparatory guide for an upcoming Extraordinary Synod of Bishops - a gathering of the Church's leaders worldwide - which will focus on problems facing the family in the modern age.
Last year, the Pope asked for input from around the world, from Bishops, theological experts, and the laity, and the document frames most of its observations in terms of these "responses."
Referencing the differences between true marriage and same-sex unions, the document explains:
On unions of persons of the same sex, the responses of the bishops' conferences refer to Church teaching. There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and family.
The responses describe... where States have introduced legislation recognizing civil unions or so-called “marriages” between homosexual persons. In some countries, the situation reflects a real redefining of marriage, where the couple is viewed only in legal terms, with such references as “equal rights” and “non-discrimination” without any thought to a constructive dialogue in the matter based on the deeper anthropological issues involved and the centrality of the integral well-being of the human person, especially the integral well-being of the children in these unions.
Every bishops’ conference voiced opposition to “redefining” marriage between a man and a woman through the introduction of legislation permitting a union between two people of the same sex.
Describing how "the legal systems in many countries are having to make laws on situations which are contrary to the traditional dictates of the natural law," the document cites both "homosexual unions" and also "gender ideology":
Very few responses and observations demonstrated an adequate, popular understanding of the natural law.
The responses and observations also show that the adjective “natural” often is understood by people as meaning “spontaneous” or “what comes naturally.” Today, people tend to place a high value on personal feelings and emotions, aspects which appear “genuine” and “fundamental” and, therefore, to be followed “simply according to one’s nature.”
Situated in this context is the increased diffusion of the ideology called gender theory, according to which the gender of each individual turns out to be simply the product of social conditioning and needs and, thereby, ceasing, in this way, to have any correspondence to a person’s biological sexuality.
The need to find an effective, positive, and winsome way of teaching the faith, however, is a central concern for the Vatican, and and so the document takes pains re-affirmed the Church's teaching on the importance of family
Many responses see a need to go beyond simply condemning this ever-pervasive [gender] ideology and to respond with persuasive argumentation against this position, now widely spreading in many western societies. In this way, the Church’s position on the subject of fatherhood and motherhood will be a strong voice in the anthropological change which some very influential persons are promoting.
The family is acknowledged in the People of God to be an invaluable asset, the natural setting in which life grows and develops and a school of humanity, love and hope for society.
One of the great challenges of the family today consists in attempts at its privatization, running the risk of forgetting that the family is “the fundamental cell of society, where we learn to live with others despite our differences and to belong to one another” (EG, 66). What needs to be clearly delineated is the idea of the family as a resource in society, that is to say, a source of the essential virtues for a life in community. In a family, a person learns a sense of the common good and experiences the goodness of living together. Without the family, a person is unable to emerge from his individualism, since it is the only place to learn the power of love to sustain life, and “without a love which is trustworthy, nothing could truly keep men and women united. Human unity would be conceivable only on the basis of utility, on a calculus of conflicting interests or on fear, but not on the goodness of living together, not on the joy which the mere presence of others can give” (LF, 51).
The entire document is available here. It is a very interesting read that should put to rest the claims in many quarters that the Catholic Church under Pope Francis is anywhere near changing its teaching on the nature of marriage. But it also should encourage marriage defenders, and not only Catholic ones, with its affirmative and clear analysis of the challenges facing the family today, and its positive restatement of ancient truths in answer to modern questions.