The Heart of the Deepest Truth

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Marking the 30th Anniversary of Familiaris Consortio

“The Church knows the path by which the family can reach the heart of the deepest truth about itself. The Church has learned this path at the school of Christ and the school of history interpreted in the light of the Spirit. She does not impose it but she feels an urgent need to propose it to everyone without fear and indeed with great confidence and hope, although she knows that the Good News includes the subject of the Cross. But it is through the Cross that the family can attain the fullness of its being and the perfection of its love.”
Familiaris Consortio,86

Thirty years ago, on 22 November 1981, Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation on the Christian Family in the Modern World, Familiaris Consortio, was published. To mark this anniversary, the Marriage and Family Life Project Office at the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has prepared a multimedia archive. In these pages we revisit the 1980 World Synod of Bishops on the Family in Rome whose deliberations inspired the content and structure of Familiaris Consortio, and look at the impact of both the Synod and the document on the life of the Church in England and Wales.

Familiaris Consortio has been described as the ‘Magna Carta’ for the pastoral care of marriage and family life by successive presidents of the Pontifical Council for the Family. It is the reference point par excellence for all those with a heart for families and a desire to serve them in the Church. It sets out the path by which families and the church can come to appreciate more fully “the heart of the deepest truth” about family.

Two of those who accompanied bishops to the Synod have contributed to this retrospective: Archbishop Vincent Nichols, an adviser to Archbishop Derek Worlock, one of two English and Welsh bishops who participated, and Dr David Thomas, theological adviser to the US Bishops’ delegation. We close with a look at the lasting impact of Familiaris Consortio on Catholic family ministry in England and Wales.


Dr David Thomas
Dr Thomas attended the Synod as a theological adviser, or peritus, to the American bishops.  Dr David Thomas describes why he was drawn to the theological study of marriage and family life.


The Marriage and Family Life Project Office is particularly grateful to Archbishop Vincent Nichols for granting us special permission to access the Worlock Archive in Liverpool and the Archives of Westminster Diocese. We also wish to thank Meg Whittle, Diocesan Archivist in Liverpool and Claire Muller, Diocesan Archivist in Westminster for their assistance in locating and reproducing many of the pieces featured here.  The Project Office is also indebted to Dr David Thomas for his recollections of the Synod of Bishops and of the period surrounding the publication of Familiaris Consortio; to Antonella Chila at the Vatican’s photo archive for locating original images; to Clara Donnelly and Canon Philip Green for their help researching Monsignor George Leonard; to Toni Rowland at the Marriage and Family Life Renewal Ministry (MARFAM) in South Africa and to Phil Butcher and Kevin Bartlett for their help in bringing this resource together.