Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Institute’s New Director on Speaking Truth in Understandable Ways

By Kathleen Naab

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania, JAN. 9, 2012 (Zenit.org).- A Philadelphia-based educational institute focused on promoting Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body has named a new executive director.

The 7-year-old Theology of the Body Institute picked Damon Owens, a successful businessman turned marriage promoter. Included on his extensive resume is his work as the Archdiocese of Newark’s Natural Family Planning and Marriage Preparation Coordinator, and leadership with the Life Education And Resource Network (L.E.A.R.N.), the largest African-American, pro-life ministry in the country.

Owens is himself a certified Natural Family Planning instructor who has counseled more than 20,000 couples over the last 16 years. He often appears on Catholic television and radio, sharing various aspects of the theology of the body, as well as commentating on topics related to marriage and family. He and his wife, Melanie, have been married for 18 years and have eight children.

ZENIT spoke with Owens about the Theology of the Body Institute and its work, and the difficulties facing those who promote Blessed John Paul’s message.

ZENIT: The Theology of the Body Institute exists to promote John Paul II’s theology at the secular level, too. Is that truly possible and if so how?

Owens: Our mission is to train and educate men and women to understand, live and promote Blessed John Paul II’s theology of the body. While most of the individuals who come in contact with our programs are Catholic, our on-site and Certification courses regularly draw non-Catholics and non-Christians. It is not only possible, but it is critical that we evangelize the broader culture. Our preparation as believers for the “springtime of the new evangelization” includes a deeper grounding not only in the “what’s” of our faith, but the “why’s” behind them.

As believers, we accept even what we cannot fully understand about God’s revelation, because we love and trust him. Still, our faith is reasonable. There is a tremendous amount of truth that can be encountered before an assent of faith. There is a tremendous amount of beautiful and compelling meaning that can be successfully proposed even to a darkened intellect and hardened heart.

Rooted in objective truth, the theology of the body provides a personalistic approach that is well-suited for evangelizing in the modern culture. Our sexuality — masculinity and femininity — carries deep meaning for the identity and vocation of every human person. It is also the place of deep wounds for so many. The Theology of the Body Institute desires to help persons in every state of life gain an understanding of what it means to be created in God’s image and to live out their call to love as he loves. Only from this foundation can an authentic culture of life and love take root and flourish.

ZENIT: Linked to the previous question, statistics about Catholic married couple’s use of artificial contraception seem to indicate there is plenty need for Catholics as well to hear and accept John Paul’s theology. What are your thoughts in this regard? Must we first clean up our own camp before engaging the secular world?

Owens: Beginning with your last question, evangelization is, of course, intimately connected with catechesis (the head) and conversion (the heart). It is always a messy, personal, and inefficient work! Our witness is hurt by our own sin, ignorance, and lack of faith. On one hand, our ongoing conversion strengthens our witness. On the other hand, we have to be careful about setting too high a standard of personal perfection before witnessing to perfection. Without question, contraception is a tap-root of nearly every modern evil. Moreover, the prevalence of Christians contracepting is both a cause and an effect of the rise of other grave evils such as pornography, divorce, violence against women, abortion, fornication and homosexuality. These were the predicted consequences of their widespread use, and the subsequent result of their widespread acceptance.

The question remains, however: How do we reach people’s heads and hearts to reject the evil of contraception? It cannot just be emphatic instruction on the mortal sin of contraception (the head). It must include a compelling invitation to a true conversion of heart. Their hearts must “see” how contraception is a withholding of themselves that deforms the marital act and stifles the very love they long for. Theology of the body is a means to illumine the immutable meaning of things (natural law) in the heart of the person.

Fortunately, the great majority truly desire love. Whether they are in a pew or at the mall on Sunday, they deserve to hear the truth in a way that they can understand it. It is in our heart — or inner life — that we as unique and unrepeatable persons encounter the One True God. While we certainly wish there were a more authentic faith witness from Catholic married couples today, we at the Theology of the Body Institute have been just as awed by conversions in the Faith as by those to the Faith. We remain passionately committed to the simple mission of educating and training men and women to understand, live, and promote the Theology of the Body.

ZENIT: Tell us about the institute and plans you have for it as the new executive director.

Owens: The Theology of the Body Institute was formed in 2004 with the simple mission to educate and train men and women to understand, live and promote the theology of the body. Each of the founders experienced a profound conversion through Blessed John Paul II’s great work and continue to be animated by the desire to make it accessible to the world — Christian and secular — in an understandable, engaging and attractive manner. Ours is an integrated educational approach that presents the rich intellectual theology in an environment that encourages a real encounter with Our Lord. As we often say, it is an immersion of the head and the heart!

Our certification program with its retreat-format courses is the heart of our mission. These courses include Theology of the Body I, II, & III, Love & Responsibility, Catholic Sexual Ethics, Writings of John Paul II on Gender, Marriage, & Family, The Thought of Karol Wojtyla, and Theology of the Body & the Interior Life. Our on-site events at schools, parishes, seminaries and conferences around the world complement these courses and have grown in number and size every year.

We have a world-class faculty that includes Dr. Janet Smith, Dr. Michael Waldstein, Christopher West, Bill Donaghy, Dr. John Haas, and beginning for 2012-2013, Dr. Peter Kreeft and Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV. To date, more than 1,600 individuals have come to Pennsylvania for our week-long certification courses, and thousands have attended our on-site events around the world. We also held the first Theology of the Body Congress in 2010 bringing together leaders from around the world to explore the diverse applications of TOB. So, I begin with an organization that I consider successful in its mission.

My plans are to build on this success with an enhanced Clergy Enrichment Program for priests and seminarians that enriches both their priestly identity and vocation as fathers. We also plan to expand both our faculty and our Certification course offerings to reach even more lay and clerical leaders. The fact remains that only a small percentage of people in the world are familiar with this profound teaching. I see my role as expanding this success, as opposed to any real change in direction.

ZENIT: You are taking over leadership of the institute when the push for same-sex marriage and adoption is unprecedented. What do you hope to contribute to this battle?

Owens: We are an educational apostolate, so our contribution to social issues such as these is teaching the meaning of things. What is marriage? What does our sexuality mean? What is love, truth, freedom, or joy? What does it mean to be a human person? How do I choose, act, and live in accord with these truths and meanings? These cultural issues ultimately represent a critical loss of the meaning and dignity of human personhood. God bless those who are taking up these issues in the public square. I did that for years and deeply appreciate the need for, and difficulty of, these urgent defenses. It is abundantly clear, however, that these issues incubated long-term in a culture steeped in a disintegrated concept of human personhood. Sexual complementarity devolved into sexual difference, now sexual difference has been denied all together. Equality is argued as sameness. So, the argument continues, since men and women are the same, there is no difference between a husband and a wife or a mother and a father.

This is an identity crisis that requires long-term reformation and restoration. If we don’t know who — and whose — we are, we won’t know how to behave in a way that is in accord with our dignity and brings us true joy. Sexuality, sexual morality, love, marriage, fatherhood, motherhood, family, and life itself are integrated realities that flow from who God has revealed himself to be — a Trinitarian Communio: Three Divine Persons in such union that they are truly One.

The Gospel is “good news” precisely because it reveals to us the deepest truths of our identity created in the “image and likeness” of God, and subsequently our vocation to love. The language, approach, and appeal of the theology of the body gives us a means to understand and embrace the Gospel by rereading the language of the body. Simply put, as the body reveals the person, masculinity and femininity reveal the original, enduring, and eternal meaning of personhood as a call to communion. Love is self-gift. By rereading the language of the body in truth, we see love as not simply something we do, but as a universal human vocation that flows from who we are.

With regard to the specific question of redefining marriage, students of theology of the body are equipped to articulate not mere disagreement, but why it is simply not possible.

Catholics Journalists Rallying the Faithful

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, OCT. 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Our modern media age has given us much to be skeptical about. Poorly informed scandal-mongering often seems to rule the day, and we tend to view journalists with a jaundiced eye, particularly in what often passes for Catholic journalism in the secular press, where the norm seems to be an ill-concealed and anti-magisterial position.

In the space of one week I met two remarkable Catholic journalists, one based in Ireland and one in Italy. These two men not only provide intelligent reporting and commentary on Church news, but have pursued their vocations to make lasting contributions to Catholic culture.
Andrea Tornielli hails from Venice and has been covering Vatican news for the Italian daily Il Giornale for 11 years. Surprisingly, he has avoided cynicism and maintained a refreshing buoyancy that many journalists quickly lose.

But beyond his well-informed coverage of everything from papal trips to the latest questions in the Italian bishops’ conference, Tornielli has taken an interest in the case of Pope Pius XII, producing four books on the man Eugenio Pacelli, who reigned as Pontiff from 1939 to 1958.

The 1998 Berlin commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the Kristallnacht sparked Tornielli’s interest in Pius XII. The Night of Broken Glass took place on Nov. 9-10, 1938, and opened the era of Jewish persecutions in Germany.

On that occasion in 1998, Yisreal Meir Lau, then chief rabbi of Israel, asked during his impassioned speech the damning question: “Pius XII, where were you? Why were you silent during the Kristallnacht?” Two Italian newspapers the next day ran that as their headline, with the subhead “The Shameful Silence of Pius XII.”

The evident problem with this, Tornielli pointed out, was that Pius XII was not elected until March 1939, four months after the Kristallnacht. This event vividly demonstrated to the Italian journalist that when it came to Pius XII, anything goes. “The black legend around him had become so great that anything negative, including lies, would get newspaper space,” wrote Tornielli.

Andrea spent several years investigating documents, records and Vatican archives working with Italian history professor Matteo Napolitano to learn more about this much-maligned Pope.

Tornielli came out swinging in 2001 with the 400-page book “Pio XII. Papa degli ebrei” (Pius XII: The Pope of the Jews), tackling the origins of the blackening of Pius XII’s name. This was followed by “Il Papa che salvò gli Ebrei” (The Pope Who Saved the Jews), written with Napolitano.

Tornielli points out that after World War II the state of Israel officially recognized Pope Pius XII’s efforts to help the Jews, and that unheard-of honors were accorded to the Pope before and after his death.

“The Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel,” Andrea observed, “which refused to play Wagner, considering him Hitler’s inspirational composer, asked permission to perform before Pope Pius XII. How can one imagine that they would go and play for ‘Hitler’s Pope’!”

Tornielli noted that a dark cloud gathered over Pius XII during the turbulent years of the Cold War as well as during the progressive movements of the late 1960s.

Yet this new anti-Pius wave was not caused by the discovery of new information regarding his papacy. In fact, no new documents had come to light since the encomium of the 1950s. And in those years, Andrea points out, “everyone knew what the Pope had said, and more importantly what he had done, during World War II.”

Rolf Hochhuth’s play “The Deputy” debuted in the Proletarian Theater of Berlin in 1962. Tornielli describes it as “written by a mediocre playwright, seven hours long and intended to purge the German conscience for having democratically elected Hitler.”

Despite its tediousness, the play was staged in Paris and London within the year, and the world learned to condemn Pius XII for “his silence.”

Tornielli points out that “The Deputy” was actively sponsored by the Soviet Union, which was intensely hostile to the Church. At the same time, many Catholic progressives saw the defamation of Pius XII as a way to divide the old Church regime from the “new Church” they expected to emerge from the Second Vatican Council.

Once Tornielli realized this, he studied the life of Pius XII even more closely, producing two more books, the most recent published this year, a 661-page biography of Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII. This work includes unpublished material from the Pacelli family archives.

Tornielli’s book illustrates the continuity of the Church through the period from the first to the second half of the 20th century, as well as the extraordinary modernity of Pope Pius XII.

The journalist observed that “television has affected a great deal of how we perceive John XXIII and Pius XII.” Little footage of Pius XII exists, but John XXIII was elected in the age of television. “When John XXIII brought Christmas gifts to the sick children at Bambino Gesù hospital, the televised event moved the world,” he wrote.

But he adds, “When Pius XII went in 1943 to the Gregorian to visit 2,000 orphaned children and distributed gifts, no television camera was present.”

Tornielli’s work has uncovered documents recognizing Pius XII’s early understanding of the anti-Catholic nature of the nationalist parties, as well as refreshing details about his pontificate. He reported, “After John Paul II, Pius XII canonized more women than any other Pope, and percentagewise he actually canonized the most — at 54%.”

Pius XII also continued with the topic of liturgical reform and was open to the hypothesis of evolution, which he cited in his encyclical “Humani Generis.” He met and addressed all sorts of scientists from astrophysicists to plastic surgeons; reading and learning about their work to be able to discuss their work with them from a more informed position.

Last May 8, Pius XII received a proclamation of heroic virtue, the first step up the ladder of sainthood. I asked Tornielli whether he thought he would live to see Pope Pacelli canonized. He shrugged with a wry smile, “All we can do is pray.” And in Tornielli’s case, publish.

Knight of the Round Table

Last week I met with David Quinn, an Irish journalist who for years served as editor of the Irish Catholic, the principal Catholic paper in Ireland. He still contributes columns to both the Irish Catholic and the Independent, but he has turned his journalistic talents in other directions as well, using his quick wits to grapple with the many-headed hydra of anti-Catholicism.

Although he was baptized Catholic in his native Ireland, it took several years in Australia, working and meeting with the lively evangelical community, to reawaken his Catholic faith and convert him “from a nominal Catholic to a committed one.”

Returning to Ireland, Quinn started his career as a journalist in 1994, working for the Sunday Business Post, but as the sexual scandals involving Irish priests swelled into epic proportions, he noticed that not one word was said or written in defense of the Church.

As people used the scandals to promote the question of married priests or simply to bash the Church for any of its positions, no one was prepared to answer. Quinn, probably drawing from his experience among the evangelicals, pugnaciously stepped into the breach.

As the lone Catholic journalist willing to explain and defend the position of the magisterium, Quinn was soon invited to debate on a myriad of subjects from priestly celibacy to same-sex marriage to atheism.

With his clear presentation, good old-fashioned common sense and, well, truth on his side, Quinn has done much to turn the tide of public opinion in favor of the Church.

How does he prepare for the diversity of topics he is called on to debate? “I’m fortunate enough to work in my area of interest — current affairs — so my work reading is also pleasure reading,” he said.

But Quinn soon realized that playing defense to the volleys of attacks wasn’t enough. Catholics in Ireland needed a presence that would study, analyze and defend the institution of marriage and the family.

In 2006 he founded the Iona Institute, dedicated to the defense of marriage, which so far has produced important studies documenting the effects of divorce, single parenting and same-sex marriage. He adamantly insists that those who claim that all forms of “family” are essential equal, must bear the burden of proof.

“Children cannot be used as a social experiment,” Quinn protests. “One can’t just wait and see how the children of these arrangements will be affected; the advocates of alternative families must demonstrate their claims.”

The institute also encourages the practice of religion, which is regarded with disdain by most of the Irish intelligentsia. But Quinn argues that the exaggerated personal authority of the modern age has led to higher crime, drug abuse and suicide rates than ever before: “It is far more difficult to have a strong civil society without a certain level of religious practice.”

Quinn has also jousted his foes firsthand, debating with atheists such as Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling “The God Delusion,” and Christopher Hitchens, who has stooped so far as to denigrate Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. One senses that the chivalric spirit of the days of Knights of the Round Table may be slowly returning to the Isles.

“There has been a modest revival of Catholic apologists since I’ve started with the public debates,” Quinn admits. “Plenty of good people are covering bioethics and others have started to take an interest in defending the Catholic position on marriage.”

As the so-called Dark Age loomed after the fall of the Roman Empire, the papacy in Italy rallied the Christians while the Irish monks saved civilization. Andrea Tornielli and David Quinn remind us that we can still hope for great things from these two nations.



“The Most Difficult Moment Was in Cairo”

ROME, SEPT. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Though Cardinal Renato Martino wanted to be a missionary, his poor health prohibited him from following that dream. Instead, he joined the Holy See’s diplomatic service and in this way, he says, fulfilled his great desire to evangelize.

Cardinal Martino is now the president of two pontifical councils: the Pontifical Councils of Justice and Peace, and the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers. This summer he celebrated the golden anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, a vocation with which he says he is “still enchanted.”

In this interview with ZENIT, the 74-year-old prelate reflects on some of the milestones of his ministry.

Q: Your Eminence, how did you discern your vocation?

Cardinal Martino: I come from a family marked by faith and Catholic tradition, with a wonderful mother, who was also an artist. The holy card marking my 50th anniversary to the priesthood, with the Virgin and Child, was painted by her. [I had] a strict father and four brothers and sisters. A large family, totaling 56 people at Christmas gatherings; I have 13 nephews and nieces and 26 great-nephews and nieces.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a missionary. I was fascinated by the Jesuit missionary preachers who came to Naples, to our parish.

Unfortunately, the dream very soon vanished, because I was too frail and the doctors told me clearly that my constitution would not endure in missionary lands.

My desire to carry the Gospel to the world took on another path. Through a number of circumstances, I frequented the Vatican Diplomatic Academy, the oldest in the world and, since 1962, I have worked with the nunciatures of Nicaragua, Philippines, Lebanon, Canada and Brazil.

Between 1970 and 1975, I was in charge of the section for international organizations in the Secretariat of State. Subsequently, on Sept. 14, 1980, the Pope at that time, John Paul II, sent me as pro-nuncio to Thailand, as apostolic delegate, to attend to the relations with Singapore, Malaysia, Laos and Brunei.

In 1986, I was appointed permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations in New York and, in that capacity, I took part in the major international conferences promoted by the United Nations during the 90s, particularly in New York, 1990, at the World Summit for Children; in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1992, at the Conference on Environment and Development; in Barbados, 1994, at the Conference on Small Island Developing States and, that same year, in Cairo, at the Conference on Population and Development.

In Beijing, China, 1995, at the World Conference on Women; in Istanbul, Turkey, 1996, at the Conference on Human Settlements; in Rome, 1998, at the Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court; in New York, 2000, at the Millennium Summit;

In Monterrey, Mexico, 2003, at the International Conference on Financing for Development. Also, in Madrid, Spain, at the World Assembly on Aging, and, that same year, in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the Conference on Sustainable Development.

Q: You have had to face many difficult situations, including frequent disagreements with United Nations offices and delegations that, particularly in the 90s, were especially critical of the Holy See, above all with regard to demographic policies, abortion, contraception … Could you comment on this experience?

Cardinal Martino: The most difficult moment was in 1994, in Cairo, during the Conference on Population and Development. President Bill Clinton’s administration, together with a greater part of the developed countries, were determined to get the conference to recognize abortion as an international right.

Some nongovernmental organizations even requested that the Vatican delegation be expelled from the United Nations. But with the Lord’s help and thanks to the support, on that occasion, of Latin American and Islamic-majority countries, we succeeded in rejecting the attempt to approve abortion as a contraceptive method.

As head of the Vatican delegation, I managed to obtain the support of 43 delegations and to ensure that paragraph 8.25 of the final document adopted by the conference should declare that “on no account may abortion be invoked as a family planning method.”

This regulation remains in force to this day, despite frequent and continuous attempts to eliminate it. So far, voluntary interruption of pregnancy, which, unfortunately, is still a dramatic phenomenon these days, has never been approved by any United Nations body.

Q: What mission to you look back upon with most satisfaction?

Cardinal Martino: From May 15 to 21 this year, at the express request and in representation of the Holy Father Benedict XVI, I visited Ivory Coast, a country torn by a long period of strife and bloodshed.

During my stay, I celebrated the Eucharist in several cities and parochial communities; I met with the bishops and highest authorities in the country. Particularly, I attended a meeting with the President, Laurent Gbagbo, who appointed as his prime minister former rebel chief, Guillaume Soro, a brilliant 34-year-old Catholic.

In order to give consistency and solidity to the peace agreements, I invited both of them to the solemn Mass I celebrated in St. Paul’s Cathedral, in Abidjan, on May 20.

The cathedral was crowded with faithful, together with the bishops and civil authorities. I encouraged the people of Ivory Coast to continue along the way of peace and to promote national reconciliation and the participation of all the country’s living forces, without any form of political, religious, cultural or ethnic exclusion.

When the time came to exchange a gesture of peace, I invited the president of the republic and the prime minister to come up to the altar to receive my peace gesture. After that, I invited them to exchange peace with each other: They hugged each other, assuring that this would last — a great gesture of reconciliation, before the applause of several thousand people.

All this was transmitted live by the national television channel. I instructed them never to forget that day, should difficulties arise in the future, because this was a historical gesture, a commitment of peace and concord sealed in the cathedral, before God. To all the people of Ivory Coast, to the numerous innocent victims, to the groups of those displaced, to those wounded, and to so many others, I expressed the spiritual closeness of the Holy Father and, in his name, I offered some financial help toward the primary needs of those in most dire hardship.

This was the most effective way of presenting the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, and its practical application.

I have also been thanked for this meeting and for the reinforcement of the peace process by the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, who I had met before he took on that position, because he represented South Korea before the United Nations during the same period as my stay in New York, where I attended to a group of South Korean Catholics.

For 18 years, I administrated confirmation to members of this group. I saw Ban Ki-moon in Rome, when the promotion of his candidature had not yet begun, and I told him I was sure of his election. He looked at me in surprise, incredulously. I assured him: We’ll talk about it after your election. I’m sure you will do a lot of good.

Q: On Oct. 1, 2002, John Paul II called you to Rome, to take over the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, but as head of this dicastery, you continued your travels throughout the world …

Cardinal Martino: Taking on the direction of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and, since March 11, 2006, also that of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Travelers, allows me to sustain and prolong the task of evangelization which I wished to carry out from the days of my youth.

The publication and diffusion of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church was a stimulating task. As I noted in the introduction to the volume, “transforming social realities with the power of the Gospel, to which witness is borne by women and men faithful to Jesus Christ, has always been a challenge and it remains so today at the beginning of the third millennium of the Christian era.”

I am fully aware that the announcement of Jesus Christ is not easily swallowed in the world today, but precisely because of that, the people of our time are in need, more than ever, of faith that saves, of hope that enlightens, and of charity that loves.

These are the reasons that move the Church to intervene with its teachings in the social field, in order to help and accompany Catholics in serving the common good.

Q: Is there something that you would like to accomplish but which you have been unable to?

Cardinal Martino: I have no regrets. I am still enchanted with the priesthood. I thank the Lord every day for the grace of the priesthood. I have celebrated more than 19,000 masses, and each one of them has been a real gift to me, because, even if my role had only been that of celebrating the Eucharist alone or for a small community, I would, however, be grateful to the Lord for having had the opportunity to serve him.



Report Shows Big Downside to Family Disintegration
By Father John Flynn, L.C.

ROME, SEPT. 10, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Marriage continues to decline in the United States, bringing with it numerous adverse consequences for individuals, and society in general. This is one of the main conclusions of a recent study.

The National Marriage Report released its annual publication “The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America 2007” this summer. The center is based at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.

The authors of the study are two academics well-known for their writings on family and marriage issues: David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. They found that from 1970 to 2005 there was a decline of nearly 50% in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women.

A significant proportion of this drop was simply due to delaying marriage until an older age. Nevertheless, more people simply don’t marry or are unmarried, due to cohabitation and a decrease in the numbers of divorced people to remarry.

The report cites estimates that about a quarter of unmarried women 25-39 are currently living with a partner, and an additional quarter have lived with a partner at some time in the past. As well, over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared with virtually none 50 years ago.

Cohabitation is more common among those of lower educational and income levels, as well as those who are less religious than their peers.

Myths

The report also rebuts a couple of myths often used by anti-family forces. The first myth is that living together before marriage is useful in order to find out whether the couple can get along, thereby avoiding a bad marriage and an eventual divorce. This is not borne out by the facts, the report observes.

“In fact, a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage,” the report comments.

The report admits that there are diverse opinions over how the data can be interpreted, but at a minimum the authors conclude: “What can be said for certain is that no evidence has yet been found that those who cohabit before marriage have stronger marriages than those who do not.”

The second myth refuted by the report is the affirmation that even though fewer are marrying, those who marry have higher quality marriages. Not so, reply Popenoe and Whitehead, noting that “the best available evidence on the topic” shows a decline over the last 25 years in the number of both men and women who affirm their marriages are “very happy.”

Education’s role

The report also reveals a growing social divide when it comes to marriage. Among those who have received a university education the institution of marriage has strengthened in the last couple of decades. College-educated women now marry at a higher rate compared with the rest of the population, and they are also less favorably inclined toward divorce than less educated women.

In addition, among those who delay marriage past age 30, college-educated women are the only ones more likely to have children after marriage rather than before.

There is, thus, a growing “marriage gap” in America, notes the report, between those who are well educated and those who are not.

In fact, for those without a university education, “the marriage situation remains gloomy,” according to the report. This is due to a combination of a continuing decline in marriage rates and a growing percentage of out-of-wedlock births. By the year 2000, fully 40% of high school drop-out mothers were living without husbands, compared with just 12% of college-graduate mothers, states the report.

Since hitting a high point in the early 1980s, divorce has moderately declined. Overall, the lifetime probability of a first marriage ending in divorce or separation remains between 40% and 50%. The risk of divorce, however, varies quite notably. The chances of divorce are much higher for those who are poor, people who are high-school drop outs, and couples who marry as teenagers. Couples who have a family background of divorce, as well as those who have no religious affiliation, are also more likely to divorce.

Bottom line

In addition to the personal consequences, the breakdown in marriage and family life over the last few decades has had a severe economic impact. A section of the report looks at the economic benefits of marriage for society.

“Married couples create more economic assets on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples,” argues the report. Married couples live more frugally, as opposed to two adults living as singles, and they also save and invest more for the future. Men also tend to become more economically productive after marriage, earning between 10% and 40% more than do single men with similar education and job histories.

The increase in divorce has also resulted in more inequality and poverty. The report points out that a large body of research has shown that both divorce and unmarried childbearing increase child poverty. One study even went so far as to show that if family structure had not changed between 1960 and 1998, the black child poverty rate in 1998 would have been 28.4% rather than 45.6%, and the white child poverty rate would have been 11.4% rather than 15.4%.

Divorce also means higher costs for governments, due to such factors as welfare payments and increased juvenile delinquency. The nation’s 1.4 million divorces in 2002 are estimated to have cost taxpayers more than $30 billion, the report affirms.

The increase in single-parent families also imposes a high cost on children. By 2006 some 28% of American children lived with just one parent. “This means that more children each year are not living in families that include their own married, biological parents, which by all available empirical evidence is the gold standard for insuring optimal outcomes in a child’s development,” commented Popenoe in his introductory essay to the report.

Reversing trends

Popenoe also asks how the breakdown in marriage and the family could be repaired. One way to do this is through a cultural transformation led by religion. With the passing of years, Popenoe continues, the United States and other countries have become ever more secular and individualistic. This is particularly the case among young people.

Strengthening religion and the family is one of Benedict XVI’s common themes. The family is a priority of the new evangelization, he declared July 5 to a group of bishops from the Dominican Republic present in Rome for their five-yearly visit.

The Pontiff said, “The Church desires that the family truly be the place where the person is born, matures and is educated for life, and where parents, by loving their children tenderly, prepare them for healthy interpersonal relationships which embody moral and human values in the midst of a society so heavily marked by hedonism and religious indifference.” 

More recently, when responding to questions Sept. 1 posed by the youth gathered for an encounter with the Pope in Loreto, Italy, Benedict XVI stated that the marginalization affecting so many people today in part is due to the fragmentation of families.

The family, he pointed out, “should not only be a place where generations meet, but also where they learn to live, learn the essential virtues, and this is in danger.” We need to make sure the family survives and is once more at the center of society, the Pope urged. A task more urgent than ever in the light of current trends.



Interview With the Prioress of Regina Laudis Abbey

BETHLEHEM, Connecticut, AUG. 30, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Adherence to the Benedictine tradition of work and prayer is the key to the success of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, according to its prioress, Mother Dolores Hart.

The Abbey of Regina Laudis is the topic of the recently released book “Mother Benedict,” written by Antoinette Bosco and published by Ignatius Press.

Mother Benedict Duss founded the Benedictine monastery 60 years ago, after the Second World War. She died in 2005.

In this interview with ZENIT, Mother Dolores discusses the history of the monastery, her own personal journey from Hollywood film star to Benedictine nun, and the personality of the abbey’s founder.

Q: Mother Benedict, the founder of the first contemplative Benedictine Abbey for women, is described in the book as strong and determined, but also a gardener, both of flowers and of souls. What was she able to accomplish through this unique set of personality traits?

Mother Dolores: Mother Benedict loved to garden. She said her ideal monastic life was gardening and studying.

God had other ideas, however, and she was driven to establish a foundation because she could see that is was what God wanted.

Mother Benedict was also a very creative, intelligent woman who cultivated many friendships and who always had time for a crisis.

Q: Can you explain the connections between General George Patton and the Abbey of Regina Laudis at the end of World War II?

Mother Dolores: General George Patton, Sr., liberated France as the commanding general of the Third Army. His was the army that liberated Jouarre, the abbey where Mother Benedict was in hiding.

Years later his granddaughter, the daughter of General George Patton, Jr., Mother Margaret Georgina Patton, found her way to the Abbey of Regina Laudis, and that began the conscious connection between the liberator and Mother Benedict.

This connection continues through the whole Patton family to this day.

Q: Many convents, during the turbulent time after the Second Vatican Council, were forced to close for one reason or another. What do you think kept Regina Laudis not only stable, but flourishing during that time?

Mother Dolores: Regina Laudis suffered its own turmoil during those years. What kept Mother Benedict going was her adherence to Benedictine tradition in work and prayer and a dedicated program of renewal, engaged in by the whole community.

For Mother Benedict this did not mean throwing everything out, but taking on perennial values with a new dedication.

Q: Your own life could be a story, going from a movie star, in roles opposite Elvis Presley and George Hamilton, to a cloistered Benedictine nun. In what way were you drawn from your Hollywood lifestyle, to the quiet, contemplative life at Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: My life will soon become a story by the good grace of my long time friend and collaborator, Dick DeNeut, who headed Globe photos in Hollywood for many years.

My good fortune was to have him as a professional contact who made certain that my reputation in the press never went the way of becoming a “starlet.” I learned very early in my career that good complements held your life intact, and I was indeed graced.

Hal Wallis signed me to a seven-year contract when I was only 17. In those seven years to follow, I was the leading lady for Elvis Presley, Montgomery Clift and Stephen Boyd, and I learned my trade from such greats as Karl Malden, Anthony Quinn and Cyril Richard.

To experience the fullness of my profession through the gifts of these artists and many more who came my way in the short years of my time in Hollywood was a gift from God that I never had dreamed possible. Yet it was one I had prayed for since I was a small girl, watching the films on Saturday afternoons in my grandfather’s movie projection booth.

I was watching for my Daddy who was an actor and had been whisked off to Hollywood by a talent scout because he looked like Clark Gable. I vowed that I would do this too.

But God had other plans for me. I had to acknowledge the vocation I had been trying to run from for years. I knew this the first time I came to Regina Laudis. I was finally home.

Q: In the preface of the book, you discuss Mother Benedict’s wisdom on living out one’s sexuality even under the vow of virginity. Can you describe her thoughts on this?

Mother Dolores: There is no contradiction between virginity and sexuality. To be truly virginal is to be fully oneself. To be fully a woman, one’s sexuality must be integrated and expressed in all that one does.

This integration should lead to the ability to collaborate with men or women, lay or religious, in creative movements within the community or with laity, according to one’s mission.

Sexuality is not limited to genital expression but pervades all we do. In a life dedicated to virginity the genital expression is sacrificed, but not the total giving of oneself to the mission.

Q: The book ends shortly after the death of Mother Benedict. Now, after nearly 60 years since the abbey’s founding, how do things look today at the Abbey of Regina Laudis?

Mother Dolores: Today, the Abbey of Regina Laudis is blessed in a number of ways.

On July 11, the feast of St. Benedict, we were privileged to receive the archbishop of Hartford, His Excellency Henry Mansell, for an unprecedented ceremony of monastic consecration in which the archbishop consecrated five members of our community who had been married before they entered religious life. This was an enormous blessing for all of us.

We are also planning for the November release of our new CD, “The Announcement of Christmas,” that celebrates our work in chant covering the season of Christmas from the beginning of Advent through the close of the season at Epiphany.

This will allow listeners to enjoy the musical treasures of the church’s liturgy that are often hidden from the ears of everyday churchgoers. These time-honored chant melodies for centuries have so beautifully expressed the glory of Christ’s continual coming through the ages in the Flesh of Humanity.

There is also our own birth, in August, as the community celebrates the ceremony of “clothing,” which welcomes the entrance of a postulant into the novitiate, reminding us that Our Lady’s gift of fecundity is ever-present in the growth of our own community.

And Regina Laudis remains hopeful for continuity as a new postulant has arrived to fill the new novice’s place in the ranks.

We are reminded in Romans 5 that it is through faith that we are in grace and so we pray for this gift continually, that we may be worthy of him to whom we have pledged our lives.