The Conjugal Family: An Irreplaceable Resource for Society

In the contemporary debate about the family, the value of this institution on a private level, as a milieu of affection and rewarding relationships, does not seem to be questioned. Most research shows that the family is first or second among people’s main concerns. Yet, because of the processes of modernization, it is increasingly considered a private matter, without great public importance. This has led to the emergence of some fundamental questions such as: What is the family? Is the way in which it is structured indifferent for society? Is the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman with their children, merely a stronghold of the past? Do the social benefits themselves provide for different modes of “family” organization? What are the social functions of the family? How are these functions recognized, and how should they be handled? To reflect on these issues, my predecessor at the head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, formed a team of researchers in sociology from several universities, under the direction of Prof. Pierpaolo Donati of the University of Bologna. This group had the task of designing a model of empirical research, which would help us to dialogue with the contemporary Preface • 10 • The Conjugal Family: An Irreplaceable Resource for Society world-politicians, lawmakers, economists, creators of culture -not so much on the basis of a particular theory of the family but rather with concrete data. In 2010, the team began reflecting and developing the research project. This project was ambitious and innovative, because its objective was not only to gather statistical data that would refute or confirm the known trends, at least in the Western world, concerning the privatization of affections and the plethora of forms of “family” arrangements. The aim was in fact to design an explanatory study, which would do more than describe social phenomena. In other words, it should be able to explain that particular results derive from certain premises, specifically about family forms. The first example of this method’s appropriateness was confirmed at the Pastoral Theological Congress held during the World Meeting of Families in Mexico City (January 2009), where Professor Pierpaolo Donati and Dr. Maria Sophia Aguirre, of the School of Economics at the Catholic University of America, presented interesting facts, which made it possible to see that the way people organize the family is not indifferent for the labor market and the economy and, consequently, for society’s cohesion and well-being. The research project was ready for implementation in 2011, and two investigative tracks-one documentary and the other empiricalwere used. The documentary investigation consists in collecting and studying existing socio-demographic data, the available results of a great deal of social research. The empirical inquiry, on the other hand, is an original, explanatory type of investigation that does not directly deal with the already well-known socio-demographic phenomena concerning the changing trends in the family, but rather tries to focus on particular aspects about which we know little or nothing. • 11 The path of the survey is simple: A. The investigation sets out from the identification of the respondent’s social and familial condition and the indicators that objectively show whether or not his/her family is (in various ways and degrees) a resource for society. Thus: 1) reciprocity in the family (the sense of mutual indebtedness as an indicator of solidarity); 2) the family’s ability to motivate society through certain works; 3) child care and the transmission of values to children; 4) if some family members help people outside the family and/ or are engaged in activities for the benefit of society. B. The respondent’s assessment of his/her family life, at present and in the future. With this aim, the respondent is asked to complete a series of assessments that make it possible to understand the family’s transformations, subjective aspirations and expectations for the future as well as what conditions would be desirable for carrying out his/her project of an authentic family. The five areas explored are: 1) relationships of the couple (marriage, stability, etc.); 2) parent-child relationships; 3) work-family relations; 4) the internal social capital of the family (ability to produce relational goods); 5) the external social capital of the family (networks of external assistance). This procedure was intended to acquire new knowledge about the family as a social resource. Specifically about: 1) the “weight” of the respondent’s current family as a social resource; 2) how the generational change is perceived; Preface 12 • The Conjugal Family: An Irreplaceable Resource for Society 3) what the respondent’s aspirations are with respect to what he/she considers an authentic family; 4) the conditions that, according to the respondent, are lacking or should be modified in order to support an authentic family in his/her situation. This research project was implemented, in its first stage, in six different countries: Italy, Spain, Mexico, USA, Brazil and Poland. In each location, a local scientific committee adapted the original model to its own social reality. The results of this first phase were presented at the VII World Meeting of Families, held in Milan from 30 May to 3 June 2012 (cf. P. Donati [ed.], Famiglia, risorsa della società, il Mulino, 352 pages, Bologna, 2012). When I assumed the presidency of the Pontifical Council for the Family, it seemed appropriate to me to continue this project, with the idea that new nations from other continents could be included in the future. Our goal is to promote reflection on the centrality of the family, based on the socially recognized public covenant between a man and a woman, who found a community of life and love, in which children are welcomed and educated; and without which it is difficult to reach the objectives of the common good, welfare and happiness of people and of our societies. The book we are now presenting contains the results of research done in the United States, in Chile and in Argentina. Some might wonder why the case of the United States is presented again. In fact, in the first stage, only a part of the documentary research was offered; now, under the direction of Prof. Paul Sullins, of the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University of America, the full investigation is published. As Professor Donati notes in the introduction, the sociological analysis presented in this volume shows, just as the reports of the first stage did, that there is a significant correlation between the • 13 different socio-cultural structures of the family and the quality of people’s lives, their views and their relationships. Moreover, these correlations indicate that the family composed of a father, a mother and their children is a more valuable social resource than other forms of cohabitation, because of the effects it produces for society. In other words, different ways of constructing a family produce different effects. The book shows us what those effects are. Here, I would like to acknowledge the work accomplished at the Catholic University of Argentina, the Catholic University of Chile and the Catholic University of America, by Professors Beatriz Balian, Eduardo Valenzuela and Paul Sullins. They did valuable work not only through their personal investment and talent but also with passion and social commitment that have made it possible to present the results in this book. I also thank Fr. Jose Guillermo Gutierrez, Official of our Dicastery, who has followed this project from the outset and done the editorial work. The Pontifical Council for the Family is especially grateful to Professor Pierpaolo Donati for his commitment and wise leadership of the entire project.