In response to the request by the Synod on the Family for input from lay people around the world, the Australian Family Association has responded by urging the Synod to more strongly emphasise the role of the family to the stability, security and prosperity of society, and to make promotion of a proper understanding of marriage and family central to the Church's catechesis.
The Australian Family Association (the AFA) is a voluntary, ecumenical, non-party organisation concerned with strengthening the natural family.
Although not Catholic or religious, as a lay organisation working to protect, promote and support natural marriage and family, the AFA sought to draw the Synod's attention to the very important areas of the interface between the family and government and public policy.
The AFA understands that the Church is primarily concerned with the pastoral care of families and its mission and ultimate purpose is spiritual. However, the Church needs to be aware of developments in law and government policy which affect the health of the family as a foundational and influential social institution .
The AFA suggested that the role of the family as the primary social institution could be dealt with more fully.
Basic unit of society
It said, "The AFA holds that the family is the basic unit on which human societies are built and is the prime agency for the moral, social and emotional development of children and therefore the fundamental social unit of society.
"The purpose of the family is to serve as the chief functioning mechanism for the primary delivery of social services in the fields of nurture, education, health and welfare and is therefore also the fundamental economic unit of society.
"The family income provides essential services such as housing, food, clothing, education, health care expenses, transport, for dependants without income and care and support for extended family e.g., elderly parents or relatives. The family seen in this light is the primary social institution and is fundamental to the economy."
In its submission, the AFA said that if the family was not supported in its function in looking after its members, then the state would have to step in to do so and the expense would be borne by the public purse.
"The AFA submits that the fundamental social and economic importance of the family should be stressed and that, even for this reason alone, laws and government policy should protect, support and promote marriage and family."
The AFA suggested that the Synod document could be strengthened: that the evidence of the benefits of marriage to the health, happiness and financial good of the spouses should also be included in the account of marriage and family in the Synod Document.
There are studies showing that married people lead longer, healthier and more productive lives, are less likely to live in poverty and have fewer mental problems
The AFA also suggested that the final Synod document should be strengthened to refer specifically to the benefits for children of a stable marriage between their biological parents and the disadvantages of parenting outside of traditional marriage.
"There is evidence-based research that children raised by their biological parents in a stable marriage do better in terms of health (physical and psychiatric), social skills and enjoyment of subsequent adult relationships, educational outcomes and career success and personal income, which have a very real impact on whether they can find employment, whether their income will be sufficient to marry and support children of their own, whether they are able to sustain a marital relationship," the AFA said.
The AFA further suggested that, in order to offer an adequate account of marriage and family, the social and economic cost of divorce and marriage breakdown should be noted.
"Stable marriages and the families based upon them are net contributors to society while divorce is a net cost to society."
In response to the Synod's request for advice on what can be done to get governments to support families, the AFA suggested that the there are a raft of policies which governments need to adopt to support families, including family-friendly taxation, financial and social recognition of the role of motherhood, and laws which protect children from the dangers of pornography and violent video games.
But these depend upon understanding and communicating the fundamental importance to society of intact, functioning families.
"Families that work well produce the productive and law abiding citizens needed to keep business and industry turning and so fuel a healthy economy and the tax base to assist and support those who are unable through illness, accident or misfortune to provide for themselves or their families."
The AFA also pointed to some of the anti-family issues which need to be addressed in society. These include flawed sex education programs which in many cases rob children of their natural innocence, the push for same-sex marriage, the prevalence of online pornography and video violence, and the undermining of parental authority (particularly in the health and education areas).
It also warned of the anti-life culture which impacts on families, with an acceptance of abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia, and an unwillingness to accept children who are the greatest gifts of marriage.
In many countries, this has created societies which have below-replacement birth rates.
The AFA referred to the teachings of Vatican II which expressly urged lay people to fulfil their specific vocation in society, through their own actions and by joining voluntary organisations which are working to change the culture to one which is pro-family and pro-life.