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RELIGION: Catholic Church Family Meet Slams Door on Diversity

Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jan 15 2009 (IPS) - The social diversity and broad range of thinking among Catholics is conspicuously absent from the Sixth World Meeting of Families taking place in the Mexican capital this week, say observers.

The Jan. 14-18 meeting organised by the Vatican with the aim of promoting and encouraging the traditional family, made up of a man, a woman and their children, has drawn some 7,000 participants, including a number of bishops.

The meeting has excluded the broad diversity that characterises the Catholic faithful, as well as the debate on different kinds of families, and the overwhelming majority of the participants are from the middle and upper income strata, said Elio Masferrer, president of the non-governmental Mexican Association for the Study of Religions.

Masferrer remarked to IPS that the meeting was "designed under the Church’s vertical ideology," and will merely reinforce its own thinking while "leaving out the great majority of laypersons."

Anti-riot police kept supporters of the small Social Democracy Party from reaching the convention centre where the meeting began Wednesday. The demonstrators were calling for a debate on the existence and rights of non-traditional families, such as gay or lesbian couples.

Several sources have reported that representatives of the Catholic Church secured a promise from the Mexico City government, which is in the hands of the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), that the local police would keep demonstrators from reaching the convention centre.


Gay and transsexual activists had warned that they would hold demonstrations to protest the Catholic Church’s discrimination against them.

At the opening of the meeting, Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, said the family is a gift from God that is threatened by error and sin, and by "relativism."

He also urged Catholics to defend the family from new laws that, he said, endanger it.

His remarks were read by analysts as more or less veiled criticism of new Mexico City laws that legalised same-sex unions and abortion on demand up to the 12th week of pregnancy, and allow transsexuals to change their identity and gender on their identity documents.

Parallel to the Sixth World Meeting of Families, groups like Catholics for Choice and the Population Council met to discuss "other kinds of families".

Spokespersons for the alternative meeting declared that "the model of the ‘ideal’ or ‘natural’ family implies discrimination against and disregard for other structures and forms of living together."

Masferrer said the Vatican-organised meeting is not "a space for true dialogue and reflection, because Catholics who think and live differently have been excluded.

"This meeting will be just one more gathering where the Church will simply nourish its own narrow thinking and small-mindedness, and where lack of dialogue is the rule," he said.

José Suárez, spokesman for the non-governmental Observatorio Eclesial (Ecclesiastic Observatory), said there is no real debate going on at the meeting which, "as was to be expected, will not provide answers to issues of concern to Catholics, like abortion and same-sex unions."

The previous editions of the World Meeting of Families were held in Rome (1994 and 2000), in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1997), in Manila, Philippines (2003) and in Valencia, Spain (2006).

Registration fees at this year’s edition are between 150 and 280 dollars, depending on whether participants registered as individuals or as families.

Although it was reported that the participants came from different countries, almost all of them are in fact Mexican.

Conservative Mexican President Felipe Calderón, a devout Catholic, opened the meeting with a speech in which he linked the growing levels of violence in the country, in part, to family disintegration and dysfunctionality.

The president said it is a central role of the state to support and guide families, which he described as the main "cell" of society.

He said that duty not only applies in the case of traditional families, but also with respect to female-headed households.

Calderón lamented that Pope Benedict was not present at the meeting, due to health reasons. "We miss him, but we will always be waiting for him with open arms," he said.

 
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