The Pastoral Letter of the Nordic Bishops to the Congress of the Family in Jönköping 14-16 june 2010
The family holds a special place in the mission of the Church. On the one hand the church has the task to support and protect the family and on the other she recognizes that the family is an important channel for passing on the faith a nd to build the community of the Church. The role of the family and its structure has under gone changes throughout the ages. But in essence the family is a union of a man and a woman as it is expressed in the marriage covenant. The unitive nature of the love between a man a nd a woman is an image of the triune God. Although man and woman are different God has given them the task of being one flesh and to be fruitful and multiply. (Gen.1:28)
The couple obey this mandate when they, through their mutual love, procreate life and thus become partners in God's work of creation.
The view of marriage and the family has changed rapidly because of changes in lifestyle, an altered view of man, and the availability of contraceptives. Human sexuality is no longer seen or engaged in as an expression of mutual love and openness between husband and wife. Now, the purpose of sex as bringing forth life is also questioned if not altogether denied.
Pope Paul VI discussed this problem already forty years ago in his encyclical 'Humanae vitae' published on 25 July 1968. The encyclical and its message was the source of much debate when it was first published. Ever since it has led to many interpretations of human sexuality, the Christian moral teachings and even magisterial authority.
The ideas that were discussed in the encyclical are still of topical interest; especially the value of human life, the protection of every person's dignity and, not least, the promotion of conjugal love. Strong criticism has been directed at the encyclical seen, as it is, through an individualistic viewpoint which has been formed in the name of liberty. But the so-called free vision of sexuality has neither made people happier nor strengthened marriage.
On the other hand, during this time, we have acquired a better knowledge of human sexuality which makes it possible to use methods of natural family planning that the encyclical recommends, which takes into consideration a woman's natural biological rhythm. In this way both the partners can take full responsibility for their mutual sex life.
The Nordic Bishops, once again stand behind the message of the encyclical 'Humanae vitae' and its continued relevance. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his address to the International Congress on the 40th anniversary of 'Humanae vitae':" The Magisterium of the Church cannot be exonerated from reflecting in an ever new and deeper way on the fundamental principles that concern marriage and procreation. What was true yesterday is true also today."
The teachings of the Church as expressed in 'Humanae vitae' is, for many people, not easily accessible and seems difficult to implement in their life situation. But the innermost core and basic message is now, and always will be, the truth about responsible conjugal love. In order for young people and married couples to deepen their understanding of this, they need support and encouragement from dedicated priests. These have the task of both proclaiming the whole truth and unselfishly assisting people in the challenges of life.
During the past months the church, also in our diocese, has been deeply shaken by the disclosures of sexual ab use of minors by priests and other co-workers. The representatives of the church have committed terrible crimes against young, innocent people. These crimes are awful because they not only wound but, may perhaps, totally destroy all trust that they had for the priest and thus also the Church.
First, we would like to express our sympathy to those who have been abused in body and soul, and we ask for pardon in the name of the Church. We know that both lay people, priests and clergy suffer from these exposed wounds and suffer shame and are distraught. Many people, rightly wonder how the Church can continue to teach her sexual morality in the situation that has arisen. But this will always be the Church's position: to proclaim the truth even when she finds herself in a situation where sin has darkened those in her own ranks.
The encyclical, 'Humanae vitae' defends the respect for human life and the value of every individual person. Life begins at conception and from that moment to the very end of natural life it must be protected from killing, abuse, violence and humiliation. To remind us of this we once again recommend that we celebrate 'respect for life day' in our Nordic dioceses.
Such a 'respect for life day' is already celebrated in Sweden on the third Sunday of Advent. We wish now that this Sunday which is a preparation for the birth of Christ, will be a thanksgiving day for the gift of life in all our dioceses. Thanksgiving for the gift of life is also a challenge to defend and respect life and its dignity in all its phases, and in every way possible protect the weak and defenceless.
Pope Paul VI defended the dignity of life with his encyclical 'Humanae vitae' and Pope Benedict XVI has underlined the relevance of the message of the encyclical in our day. We, the Bishops of the Nordic countries join the Pope in his message and recommend to all the faithful to read it with open hearts and without prejudice.
May the Lord lead you all with His blessings
Your Bishops in the Nordic Countries.