Bishops Approve Letter in Defense of Marriage

Say Politics Can’t Change Its Definition

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BALTIMORE, Maryland, NOV. 17, 2009 ( The U.S. bishops have released a new pastoral letter aimed at responding with «urgency» to cultural attacks on marriage by clarifying Church teaching and emphasizing the value of this vocation.

The U.S. bishops’ conference voted on the document, titled «Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,» today at their annual fall general assembly taking place in Baltimore.

The document was approved by more than the required two-thirds of the voting prelates. In the vote, 180 prelates approved the document, 45 opposed it, and 3 abstained.

On Monday, the first day of the assembly, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, chairman of the Subcommittee on Marriage and Family, as well as chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Defense of Marriage, explained the meaning behind the letter.

This document, he said, is meant to give a comprehensive and effective response to the problems that are currently surfacing in our culture regarding marriage and family.

Strengthening marriage has become a priority, the archbishop affirmed.

The letter looks at the «meaning and value of marriage» both as a natural institution and within the Church, he said.

«It aims to promote and defend the definition of marriage,» the prelate stated, by presenting the «essential points of Church’s teaching» in this area.

He expressed the hope that from this pastoral letter, as a «primary source,» concrete activities and initiatives will arise.

Archbishop Kurtz mentioned, for example, a Web site and media campaign being promoted by the conference to reinforce and extend the message of the letter.

Today, the bishops unanimously approved a proposal for other concrete initiatives such as television advertisements to promote marriage in English and Spanish, and a best practices study to improve marriage preparation programs.

On Wednesday, a new video will be presented to the conference titled «For the Defense of Marriage.»


Archbishop Kurtz underlined a «double urgency» of approving the document.

On one hand, he explained, the letter will be «foundational» in helping married couples to live their commitment fully as well as aiding in the preparation of engaged couples.

On the other hand, the archbishop stated, there is a «need to defend marriage within our culture.»

This document, he said, seeks a strategy for mounting the defense, and fills the need for an authoritative reference for the years ahead.

This letter is an invitation to all Catholics and people of good will to «rediscover the meaning of marriage not as a private event between two adults» but rather as a truly «public event» meant to enrich our Church as well as our society and culture, the prelate stated.

He affirmed, «Marriage is a gift that is too good to be lost and a blessing too important to be taken for granted.»

This is an opportunity to address the current challenges, Archbishop Kurtz stated, to give a «deep catechesis» on the Church’s teaching.

It attempts to be «pastorally sensitive,» he said, but this does not mean that it will not be «pastorally challenging.» People may not like to hear the challenges, he acknowledged, but hopefully we have addressed these issues in a way that is sensitive as well.

«Without a foundational document,» the prelate said, «we will not be building our pastoral initiative on a solid foundation.»

This document is part of the bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage begun in 2004. In fact, Archbishop Kurtz stated that all of the efforts in this initiative up till now have been in preparation of this pastoral letter.

Objective and definitive

In a press conference Monday evening, Cardinal Francis George, president of the conference, affirmed that the Church’s teaching on marriage is «definitive» and not created by the bishops.

The Church will continue to teach this, he said, even while reaching out to those people who disagree or feel disenfranchised by the Catholic stance.

What a good Catholic cannot do, the cardinal stated, is say that this is not the teaching of the Church, but rather «just what the bishops say.» These are not personal opinions, he asserted, but objectively true.

When asked by a press representative about this pastoral letter in relation to the so-called same-sex marriage debate, Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, chairman of the bishops’ Domestic Justice Committee acknowledged that these issues have become both moral and political.

«Our task is to speak to the moral and not the political,» he said.

The prelate affirmed that the American people also seem to «resonate» more with the notion that marriage is what it is. «And no amount of political pressure can make it what it isn’t,» he added.

For example, he said, in Maine, same-sex «marriage» proposals have been repeatedly defeated some 31 times.

Passing a law is not the point, the bishop said, but rather, the point is to emphasize the truth.

The Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth received a new chairman today, when Bishop Kevin Rhoades, newly appointed head of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, was elected to carry forward these priorities of the conference.

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On the Net:
Full text of letter:

Conference Web site for marriage:

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