Bishop José Luis Del Palacio was worried.
"Many young people in Peru and around the world have unfortunately succumbed to worldly idols of pleasure, money and power,” the bishop of Callao, Peru, told us.
Well, it turns out that we can say quite a bit. As Catholics, we are fully committed to the promotion of sacramental marriage and a strong family life. And as anthropologists, we have have seen the truth of Catholic teaching played out on the ground and reflected in scientific studies. No society in human history has survived for any length of time without strong marriages and a strong family life. None.
Of course, reaching the young with this message is a tremendous challenge. It is a challenge because we live in an age where many voices in society claim that marriage and family are mere conventions, social constructs that can be refashioned and reconstructed in any old way we choose. These voices speak of how the only thing that matters is that two people love each other, no matter whether they sign a marriage certificate or not, or even whether they are the same sex.
Others say that the natural family is obsolete, a thing of the past, and should be relegated to the dustbin of history. Still others say that there are new family structures that are just as good as, and perhaps even better than, the natural family. They speak of the the merits of single parents, of cohabiting couples, and of divorced and remarried couples. They praise households with only one of the biological parents present along with his or her new partner, households where none of the biological parents is present, or even households comprised of one person.
A household composed of a father and a mother who are bound together for life and who raise their natural and adopted children together is viewed by some as only one of many options and perhaps not even the best or most common one. The Church says this is not true, that every child deserves to have a father and a mother bound together in a lifelong sacramental union.
But what exactly does social science have to say on the matter, which is arguably the cultural debate of the 21st century?
The Mexican sociologist Fernando Pliego has examined the sociological evidence on the question of whether the current multiple “family” structures produce the same level of well-being. He gathered together all of the reliable studies on this question that had been carried out in 13 democratic countries. He found 351 studies that relied upon censuses, national surveys and scientific studies of 800 cases or more to compare different family structures. These contained some 3,318 statistical analyses of data on health, education, poverty, access to basic services, family violence, sexual violence, suicide or addictions rates, etc., comparing these various structures.
The results of these studies, carried out in 13 different countries located on five different continents, are astonishingly consistent. Nearly all demonstrate that where a father and mother are living together with their natural or adopted children there are tremendous benefits. The members of these traditional families enjoy better physical health, less mental illness, higher incomes, and steadier employment. They and their children live in better housing, enjoy more loving and cooperative relationships, and report less physical or sexual violence. Moreover, when the bonds between parents and children are more positive, drug, alcohol and tobacco use is lower, children are better socialized and cooperative, they commit fewer crimes, and they perform better in school.