This November in Minnesota, voters will be asked whether they approve a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The Catholic Church has joined with others in hearty support of this amendment, and a leading voice in this effort has been that of Archbishop Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Previously in 2010, the Archbishop wrote to the faithful in his diocese about marriage and distributed DVDs to Catholics throughout Minnesota explaining the Church’s teaching on marriage and why that teaching matters to public policy.
In a March 1st interview, Archbishop Nienstedt spoke with Barb Ernster of the National Catholic Registerabout the meaning of marriage, its importance to society, and why the marriage amendment matters.
Why is [the marriage amendment] such an important issue?
The other Minnesota Catholic bishops and I see the erosion of healthy, happy marriages all around us: the high degree of marriages ending in divorce, the rising number of couples cohabitating with no intention to marry, and the spike in the number of children born out of wedlock, many to single mothers living in poverty. The true importance of marriage as a natural and, for us as Catholics, a sacramental reality is being eclipsed throughout our society.Now there is a driving force, with full media support, to redefine or, in truth, “undefine” marriage from a child-centered institution that unites one man and one woman together with any children born from their union into something different altogether: a system of domestic partnerships based on the romantic inclinations of adults. We understand this to be yet another assault against the dignity of marriage that will likely reinforce some of the negative cultural trends I previously mentioned, developments that research clearly shows are having very bad effects on children and, in turn, all of society.
What do you hope will be accomplished within the parishes?
We hope to educate our Catholic people on why our understanding of marriage matters for the good of the couple, for the good of children and for the common good of the society in which we all live. In short, we hope to show to our people that this is not just a “Catholic” or “Christian” issue. This is a question that touches upon the foundational principles of our society.
Some religious groups have come out against the amendment, and some have remained neutral, stating it is up to individuals to vote their consciences.
How would you address this issue with Catholics?First of all, I remind our Catholic people that an understanding of marriage is not something the bishops or the Church made up. Marriage between a man and a woman predates any civil government or even religion, for that matter. The state simply recognizes and supports marriage; it has no power to redefine it.It is unreasonable and, I dare say, unnatural to think that changing the definition of a word has the power to change the reality that underlies that word — it does not; it cannot. And it becomes a pretense to argue differently.
How do you address the claim that the Church is getting too political and detracting from its spiritual mission?
What is more central to the spiritual mission of the Church than fostering good, healthy marriages between husbands and wives and ministering to the varied challenges that they and their children face in their family life?
We have to remember, too, as the Holy Father has been reminding us of late, that the Church’s work in the public square contributes to the New Evangelization. It is not just the Church “doing politics,” but instead, constitutes her perennial task of forming consciences, promoting justice and announcing truths that are written on the human heart. In this way, we also point to the source of those truths — the eternal Word who has written them into the fabric of our human nature.
- Read the entire interview with Archbishop Nienstedt.
- Find out more about the efforts in Minnesota to defend marriage by visiting the Minnesota Catholic Conference’s Marriage and Family webpage.