This article was originally posted on the USCCB blog here.
By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski
Questions revolving around marriage and human sexuality are deeply felt in our homes and communities. We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in affirming the inviolable dignity of all people and the Church’s important role in accompanying all those in need. In doing so, we also stand with Pope Francis in preserving the dignity and meaning of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The two strands of the dignity of the person and the dignity of marriage and the family are interwoven. To pull apart one is to unravel the whole fabric.
When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.
Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”(1) Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed.(2) Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.
During our Holy Father’s remarkable visit to us last year, he reminded us that all politicians “are called to defend and preserve the dignity of [their] fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”(3) Catholic politicians in particular are called to “a heroic commitment” on behalf of the common good and to “recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values and oppose laws and policies that violate [them].”(4)
Faithful witness can be challenging—and it will only grow more challenging in the years to come—but it is also the joy and responsibility of all Catholics, especially those who have embraced positions of leadership and public service.
Let us pray for our Catholic leaders in public life, that they may fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage and offer a faithful witness that will bring much needed light to the world. And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses wherever we are called.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development.
1 Amoris Laetitia (2016), no. 251.
2 See USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2015), no. 23; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 5
3 Address to Congress, September 24, 2015.
4 Faithful Citizenship, no. 39.
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.