Meeting with the bishops of Scandinavia this morning on the occasion of their "ad limina" visit, the Holy Father placed particular emphasis on the centrality of the family to maintaining a healthy society. As "the first and indispensable teacher of peace," he said, it is of interest to the entire population "to defend and promote stable family life."
Pope Benedict told the Scandinavian bishops that "one of the most important messages that the people of the Nordic lands need to hear from you is a reminder of the centrality of the family for the life of a healthy society."
He expressed his sadness that, in recent years, there has been "a weakening of the commitment to the institution of marriage and the Christian understanding of human sexuality," the very ideals that "for so long served as the foundation of personal and social relations in European society."
Benedict XVI then underscored children's rights to life and to being brought up "within marriage."
For children, he continued, "it is through their secure and recognized relationship to their own parents that they can discover their identity and achieve their proper human development."
The Holy Father expressed that this "fundamental right is one that one would expect from societies "with a noble tradition of defending the rights of all their members," and that it would trump "any supposed right of adults to impose alternative models of family life."
Quoting from his 2008 Message for the World Day of Peace, he added, "Since the family is 'the first and indispensable teacher of peace,' the most reliable promoter of social cohesion and the best school of the virtues of good citizenship, it is in the interests of all, and especially of governments, to defend and promote stable family life."
In the rest of his message to the bishops of Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland, Pope Benedict urged continued commitment to conveying Church teaching on social and ethical questions to the people, thus influencing decisions on matters that regard the common good.
He also encouraged support for priests, who are often rather isolated from one another in the expanses of northern Europe and paid tribute to the "enormous contribution" of religious in the life of the Church in Scandinavia. He then asked for the continued promotion of vocations among immigrant and native populations.
Pope Benedict XVI met with bishops from the five countries that comprise the Nordic Bishops' Conference just after noon on Thursday.