Well, you really could have had this conference, and made the case that it was necessary, any time in the last 50 or 60 years. For a long time now, people have taken for granted that men and women would always want to marry, that they would want to stay married, that they would welcome children. For decades now, we’ve had that assumption side by side with the failure of men and women to come together in marriage, the falling apart of marriage, the lack of welcome of children, not even associating children with marriage.
And because we took for granted for so long that everybody knew there was something compelling about the male-female relationship, permanently committed in marriage, there was actually too little discussion.
Now, you might respond, “People talk about men and women all the time.” They do so in a shallow sense: they talk about their sexual attraction, they talk about relationships falling apart. Yet there is very little conversation about the meaning, the essence of their union, what it means for their entire life, the lives of their children, the lives of their communities, and what it means in the divine plan.
Why did God create a two sexed humanity? Why did he make them attracted to one another in a one-flesh union? Why did God put creation there when he could have put it anywhere? It must mean something, and we want to get out language, concepts, and beautiful images in the films we’re presenting, that help people to grasp this in their ordinary lives.
Who is behind the conference? Who is its principal sponsor?
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is the principal sponsor. They are closely cooperating with the Pontifical Councils for the Family, for Interreligious Dialogue, and for Christian Unity. Officials from each of those Vatican offices will open the sessions and introduce the topics. Between them, they chose the speakers from around the world whom they believed would have a serious interest in contributing to the development of new language, of a new inspiration about the man and the woman in marriage.
Are the heads of these Vatican dicasteries presenting talks?
We have His Excellency Jean Laffitte, Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Family, Cardinale Jean-Louis Tauran, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Kurt Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and Archbishop Augustine Di Noia and Cardinal Müller from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
How much do you expect the conference to change the way the world views marriage and its attempts to refine it?
In some discrete locations around the globe, in some publications, in some talks, this conversation about the greatness, the beauty, the meaning, the essence of the man and the woman’s relationship in marriage is happening. But the Holy See has a unique platform, and there is a reason why it is the Holy See gathering all of these religious traditions from all over the globe.
The Church’s respect for reason, it’s respect for other religious traditions, and its ability to welcome them to the table to have a conversation—and, let’s be frank, the marvelous appeal of Pope Francis, the Church’s leadership worldwide on the questions of marriage and sex and parenting, the depths of its intellect, and the millenia of its grappling all make it an ideal place and sponsor for this event.
While no one event can infuse the discussion about marriage with all the reason and facts and beauty that it deserves, this is going to make a very good start on thinking about it.
I’ve been a family scholar full-time as a professor for 15 years, and before that I worked in policy offices. I was a family law attorney, so I’ve been at this for 30 years. I read every day—sociology, psychology, theology, anthropology, law, obviously. I cannot remember seeing in one place contributions from the religious traditions like this. In 2003, the Rockefeller Foundation brought us to Como where they have a study center, and there I met with Jewish, Islamic, Catholic scholars—it was a gathering of the Abrahamic faiths—and we had five days of intense dialogue. I’ve had informal dialogue with other religions. But for the scale of religious diversity on this very particular topic, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.