Marriage has been under assault for at least 40 years, but according to Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, the younger generation can turn the tide — by getting married and staying married.
Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco is the chairman of the US bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage. As the Supreme Court on Tuesday and Wednesday heard arguments in two cases regarding same-sex “marriage,” the archbishop is at the forefront of the Church’s battle to defend marriage against this latest, and more “extreme” assault.
The archbishop was in Washington on Tuesday to lead the prayer for the first national March for Marriage, which ended precisely at the Supreme Court.
ZENIT spoke with the archbishop by phone on the vigil of the march.
ZENIT: Recent polls report that a slight majority of Americans favor same-sex “marriage,” but of course polls are only worth so much. What is your view? Is this battle lost at the level of culture, both here at home and internationally?
Archbishop Cordileone: We’ve been hearing for 10 years that public opinion has shifted and that the majority of Americans favor legalizing same-sex “marriage,” but until the last election the traditional concept of marriage has won out every time the people have been able to vote on it. And even now, this last election may indicate some shifting of opinion, but there was another poll that was done the day of, or the day after the election, which indicated that 60% of Americans still favor the traditional concept of marriage. It always depends on how the question is phrased. So, I think that when people understand what marriage really is, what its true purposes are — and that it’s not something that’s discriminatory, that they come around to appreciate it more.
ZENIT: The Supreme Court will soon begin to address the issue of same-sex unions. What will this mean for the Church’s efforts to defend marriage?
Archbishop Cordileone: Well, regardless of how the Supreme Court decides, we have a great challenge in defending marriage because it is a matter of educating our people on marriage. The reality is the meaning of marriage has been undermined for a long time — this has been going on for decades now. For at least 40 years, even longer. Think of the trend that started after the sexual revolution of the 60s: no-fault divorce, swinging and couples marrying but agreeing not to have any children. All of this, along with widespread cohabitation and promiscuity, has resulted in the real meaning and beauty of marriage to be chipped away at for a very long time now. This is just the latest. And each time it gets a little more extreme. This is a little more extreme too. So regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, we will have a challenge.
Obviously if they were to overturn either of these laws, the challenge will be greater, because the law is a teacher, and what is legal gets into the mindset of the people — that [what’s legal] must be morally legitimate and it must be a good thing. But even if they uphold both, we will still have a great challenge in educating our people because so much in the dominant culture is telling them otherwise.
ZENIT: A follow-up question about that. Does the Church oppose this movement for homosexual “marriage” more than some of these other sins against marriage that you’ve spoken of. Is there something more fundamentally incorrect in this current attack on marriage than these others?
Archbishop Cordileone: I’d say that, because [the movement toward homosexual “marriage”] shifts away from what exists in the natural order — in the natural order, the bodies of men and the bodies of women are designed to be complementary. Only a man and a woman can join their bodies in such a way that it creates new life. So this would be a step away from recognizing how reality is set up in the natural order.
ZENIT: With marriage under attack from more than one side: on the one hand, the attempt to redefine it, on the other hand, the continued prevalence of divorce, more and more cohabitation, etc…, if you had to list the top three strategies for defending marriage, what would they be?
Archbishop Cordileone: Formation. Formation. Formation. [Chuckling]
Education, yes, but education means more than just conveying facts. People need to be formed. We need to be helping our young people develop the virtues they need to understand marriage and appreciate it and want to be married. And have the virtue, then, the moral strength, to be able to make a commitment to marriage and to sustain marriage. Our society has been so damaged by the breakdown of the family.
This younger generation can turn it around — if they get married and stay married, we will start to turn this around. So we need to form people in the faith.
We do have an immediate challenge in terms of defending the definition of marriage in the law, because like I said earlier, the law is a teacher and if the law changes, it’s going to be even harder to educate our people about what marriage really means.
ZENIT: The bishops are making a big effort to promote marriage and have various initiatives under way. Are they reaching the people in the pews? Are we making inroads in formation?
Archbishop Cordileone: Well it is really the parish priest who has to reach the people in the pews. So I think there is some, how do you say, some inconsistency there. In some places, it’s going well, and in other places, not as well as it should. But the bishops are certainly making efforts to put material out that people in the parishes and priests can use to help educate their people on this.
ZENIT: What should an ordinary parish priest do to promote marriage?
Archbishop Cordileone: Education. Education. Education.
To preach about marriage. There’s such a rich wealth to preach and teach from on marriage. It’s natural meaning. The social good of marriage. And the whole mystical-theological meaning of marriage that’s built on the natural order. Really everything about Revelation is understood through marriage, because the Bible is a book about a marriage. God’s covenant with Israel was a marriage covenant. He started with Adam and Eve and then it is consummated in the marriage feast of the Lamb, at the end of the Bible. So there’s so much there to teach. So [for priests] themselves to study and to understand the meaning of marriage more deeply so that they can then preach about it effectively. And then teach it. Address it explicitly in RCIA classes, in their confirmation formation program, in their parish school, if they have a school, and in dioceses, too, to teach our high school students about this. So there’s a lot that the parish priest can be doing. And [then] obviously when it comes to preparing couples for marriage, to give them a good preparation, consistent with the teachings of the Church.
ZENIT: Some would say that parishes are weak both in preparing a couple for marriage and in supporting the newly married. I ask about supporting the newly married because in 2007, Benedict XVI suggested there should be a program for the newly married for the first 10 years of their marriage. But I don’t think there’s much in the way of that out there. What do we need in parishes to really turn this whole thing around?
Archbishop Cordileone: I’ve thought about this for quite some time, that we do need something to support newly married couples. Because I think they get preparation before marriage — there’s usually a more experienced married couple that they get to know. Then there’s a gap from the time they get married until the time their children are school age. There’s no natural community that they fit into within the parish. Once the children start going to school, they are connected with the school community — whether it’s the parish school if they are in a parish school, or when they enroll them in the religious education program,
with those parents. So, yes, we do need something to support them during that time and, I think, singling out successfully married couples is a way to do that. We do that before the wedding to help prepare them for marriage, so, those older more experienced couples could be mentoring-couples for them after they are married — maybe in small faith communities. There’s been this movement in parishes for a long time now to form these small faith communities around different themes, different ways of reflecting on the faith. Maybe this could be one such theme — to have newly married couples in a small faith community, led by a more experienced married couple.