CNS PHOTO | MARIA GRAZIA PICCIARELLA, POOL
Pope Benedict meets with Roman Curia at the Vatican Dec. 21.
VATICAN CITY – The family in Western society is undergoing a "crisis that threatens it to its foundations," said Pope Benedict in his annual talk to the Roman Curia.
That crisis is due to false ideas of human nature that equate freedom with selfishness and present God-given sexual identities as a matter of individual choice, the pope said.
As a result, human dignity is profoundly undermined, he said in his Dec. 21 talk to officials at the Church's central administrative offices at the Vatican.
But the pope said that the Catholic Church can help restore a proper understanding of human nature as a basis for justice and peace.
Some forums for bringing forward the Church's understanding of human dignity are in its dialogues with states, secular society and other religions, he said.
"The question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself - about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human," Pope Benedict said.
"Only in self-giving does man find himself," the pope said, "only by letting himself be changed through suffering does he discover the breadth of his humanity."
As a consequence of an "increasingly widespread" refusal to make lifelong commitments to the family, the pope said, "man remains closed in on himself" and "essential elements of the experience of being human are lost."
Citing a study of same-sex marriage and parenting by Rabbi Gilles Bernheim, the chief rabbi of France, Pope Benedict deplored what he called a "new philosophy of sexuality," epitomized by the word "gender."
That philosophy teaches that "sex is no longer a given element of nature," but a "social role we choose for ourselves," he said.
"Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist."
The consequences of this attitude, the pope suggested, have included unethical biomedical practices: "The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned."
To reject the "pre-ordained duality of man and woman" is also to reject the family as a "reality established by creation," he said.
That has particularly degrading consequences for children, the pope continued. "The child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain."
Striking a more hopeful note, the pope said the Church can help society recover a true understanding of human nature.
"The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness," he said.