‘The Family Under Attack’: a Much Needed Guide for the Synod on the Family

Loreto Publications has just published an important and very timely book. The Family Under Attack, written under a pseudonym by a traditional Catholic priest with broad and deep scholarly learning, comes right in time for the second part of the Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family, which will take place in October 2015 in Rome.

Don Pietro Leone — the author’s nom de plume — deals with all the major issues, problems, factors, teachings, and attacks that concern modern marriages and families. The subtitle of the book sums it up well: “A Theological and Philosophical Defense of Human Society.” In a very calm and lucidly reasoning way, the author presents both in theological and in philosophical ways the doctrinal justifications for the traditional moral teaching of the Catholic Church. In the following presentation, however, I shall discuss only a few themes of this rich book: the ordered ends and purposiveness of marriage; contraception; the varied killing of preborn children; and the hierarchical order of authority in the family.

Don Pietro Leone deals, for example, with the very foundational question, “why the indissolubility of marriage is so important,” namely: for the procreation, protection, rearing and education of children unto eternal life. The author puts it as follows:

“Our analysis of the nature of sexuality in the light of the moral law has shown us that it is a form of love that belongs in that life-long relationship which is marriage: such a relationship alone provides the support that both parties need for undertaking the heavy burdens of parenthood, it alone provides a background for the development of mature and happy children, the basis for the highest and deepest union and friendship that exists between persons, and the support of these persons in their old age.” (p. 62)

Don Pietro Leone also deals with the importance of the right order of the finalities of marriage, and he shows thereby where parts of the modern Magisterium of the Catholic Church have made some serious errors. He shows that, traditionally, the Catholic Church with reference to Holy Scripture has always taught that the procreation of life is the primary end (“finality”) of marriage. God created Adam and Eve and told them to go forth and multiply. The very fact of the existence of male and female lies in the procreation of children so as to fill the earth with mankind.

Still in 1944, for example, the Holy See released a document where it condemned the claim that mutual help and love has the same importance as the procreation of new life within marriage; saying, moreover, that such a proposed equalization goes contrary to the Church’s teaching. Don Pietro Leone quotes from this document:

The Declaration of the Holy See ends with the following question addressed to the Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office: “Can one admit the doctrine of certain modern writers who deny that the procreation and education of the child are the primary end of marriage, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but rather are of equal value and are independent of it?” They replied: “No, this doctrine cannot be admitted.” (p. 80)

However, the pastoral Second Vatican Council quietly reversed (or implicitly rescinded) this condemnation and even taught that the mutual love and respect of the spouses is now the primary end of marriage, while procreation is subordinate and comes second. Don Pietro Leone describes convincingly this fundamental doctrinal problem, since there are grave short-term and long-term effects of this novel teaching. While the procreation of life reminds the spouses of their duties before God and gives their conjugal life, from the outset, the right aim, purposiveness, and direction, the finality of “mutual love and help” tends to turn the spouses into more self-centered people who seek first their own fulfillment and happiness, not their children’s — much less their children’s aim and efforts for the challenging attainment of eternal life. If this reversal of priorities happens, however, a marriage tends to become more fragile, since it is so that, if that sustaining love and mutual help are no longer present, then the primary purpose for that marriage will also likely become obscure and even cease to exist and thus the marriage itself would be further endangered.

Don Pietro Leone shows in other fields, such as contraception and the hierarchy in the family, how certain novel teachings of the Church have also had weakening effects upon the modern family. For example, he shows how, traditionally, and again with reference to Holy Scripture (especially Eph. 5), the Catholic Church has taught that the man is the head of the family, that he has to rule and to suffer, with perseverance and loyalty, for the greater good of his wife and children, as Christ did for His Church to the end. On this basis of that hierarchy (the vertical principle of order), the authority of the husband is strengthened, while, at the same time, it fortifies his vocation to sacrifice for his wife and children. However, the novel teaching, as is now to be found in Familiaris Consortio, says that husband and wife should mutually defer to one another, in a sort of diarchy of dialogue. The husband is not any more designated or at all described as the head of the family. The grave effect of this new teaching can be seen today: men are not any more as present in their families and they too often go to find their sought-for pleasures outside the home, or at the computer. Since they often do not feel any more respected and needed, they seek their putative fulfillment elsewhere. Whereas, in the traditional doctrine, the father was given his place of honor and authority and he thereby felt the importance of his role as protector and provider.

According to Don Pietro Leone, the Catholic Church has also effectively (or implicitly) changed in the recent past her earlier teaching on contraception. The author says the following, concerning the changes that came in at the time of the 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council (and this topic is now once again timely and very urgent):

“The historian, Professor Roberto de Mattei, in his book on this [Second Vatican] council relates that many of the Council Fathers had accepted the Malthusian prophecies about a population explosion and the consequent dire need for birth control. He quotes the speeches of the Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh and Bishop Méndez Arceo in this connection, with their accent on love, responsibility, and freedom; and the speech of Cardinal Suenens with its emphasis on the second finality of marriage, which he names ‘the growth of conjugal unity,’ over against the first, which is procreation. The Professor relates how various cardinals faithful to Catholic doctrine responded to these innovatory ideas: Cardinal Ruffini accused the innovators of declaring as moral that which had always been held to be immoral; Cardinal Ottaviani defended established Catholic doctrine on the generosity of parents; and Cardinal Browne briefly set forth the principles of Catholic marital doctrine. The historian explains how the chapter of Gaudium et Spes dedicated to the dignity of marriage and of the family expresses the innovative rather than the traditional teaching, and that it represents an unhappy synthesis of the two opposing tendencies.” (pp. 73-74)

After presenting the major arguments of the papal magisterial texts Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio in a detailed manner, Don Pietro Leone summarizes his appreciation, as well as his criticism of these recent magisterial texts, as follows:

“It is incumbent on the commentator first to acknowledge with gratitude that contraception has been condemned in modern Church teaching as vigorously as in the past; but second that this teaching is at divergence from Tradition in a number of points, of which we shall proceed to consider three: 1) It no longer accords priority to the procreative finality of marriage, but rather accords priority (at least implicitly) to ‘love’; 2) It condemns contraception not for its frustration of the procreative finality of marriage, but rather for its rupture of the bond between ‘the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act’; 3) It advocates natural birth control.” (p. 78)

Don Pietro Leone points out that the generosity and openness to life has always been part of the Church’s teaching about marriage. However, if one alters the teaching about the finalities of marriage, the teaching (and, at least, the laxer practices) concerning birth control will change, too — overtly or subtly. Don Pietro Leone shows, for example, how the commandment of God to “increase and multiply” has led the Church traditionally to encourage large families:

“We observe that multiplication, in the common acceptation of the term, means multiplication by a factor of more than one, so that it excludes the maintenance of the status quo, which would be achieved by the procreation of only two children (in which case each generation up to the present day would only contain two members), and therefore indicates families of more than two children. The attitude of the Church towards procreation is in short one of generosity.” (p. 87)

After presenting Pope Pius XII’s strict words about the resort to, and more frequent use of natural forms of birth control, which are sinful if not practiced for grave reasons, Don Pietro Leone shows how Pope Paul VI, in his own encyclical (Humanae Vitae), has omitted any encouragement of large families, while more than once emphasizing “responsible parenthood,” which was, and still is, understood in the ambiguous context of the quasi-Malthusian empirical arguments about an alleged overpopulation. Don Pietro Leone says:

“Turning now to Humanae Vitae, we remark that it makes no appeal to generosity or fruitfulness (apart from one comment that ‘marital love is fecund’), but rather to ‘responsible parenthood.’ Mr. Galvin points out that this phrase is used seven times in the encyclical, and occurs in the title of the Majority Report produced by the Papal Commission prior to the encyclical, which in fact favors artificial contraception. This appeal to responsible parenthood is made in the context of ‘the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples’ with particular reference to population growth. … We remark that Humanae Vitae advocates a wide use of natural birth control. We have seen in the summary above how it also praises the practice in glowing terms.” (pp. 89-90)

These few quotations and supportive (and representative) examples should give the reader a little insight into how Don Pietro Leone argues in his book. He writes lucidly and convincingly, presenting sufficient evidence to defend the validity of his theses. Very important also is his chapter where he deals with the killing of the unborn children in utero: the spiritual and psychological effects upon the mother who commits this act of murder — “the deliberate killing of the innocent” — as well as the pains which are inflicted upon the dying child. Don Pietro Leone also amply shows how, in this entire field, any violation of God’s Laws will lead not only to much unhappiness, but also, finally, to dangers for the soul.

It is to be hoped that each Synod Father — while preparing for the upcoming Synod of Bishops on Marriage and the Family — will find the time to read and deeply consider this book. This book, if fully appreciated and incorporated into the Church’s thinking, could lead to a recovery of truths and insights which have been neglected and practically denied or bypassed for many decades now. A true evangelization of today’s world has to start with the truth: The truth about nature; about God’s Laws; and about the effects of immoral actions upon the individual soul as well as upon society. If this book is taken earnestly and gratefully by the Synod Fathers, we do not need to worry about the upcoming final report of the October Synod and its final message to the Catholics, as well as to the whole non-Catholic world.

To purchase the book The Family Under Attack, click here.