Bishops' Marriage Doc Obtained by NCR

NCR has obtained a copy of the USCCB's proposed document on marriage (for their November meeting) which you can read here.  Much of the document is taken up with the theology of marriage (marriage as a sacrament, as a sign of Christ's love, as a symbol of the Trinity and of the church), and some passages focus on the question of same-sex marriages, which prompts perhaps the strongest language of the 57-page document.  Same-sex marriage, says the document, "harms the intrinsic dignity of every human person and the common good of society."  NCR also has an editorial here.  Read it all for yourself.  But remember, it's only a draft.

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9 years ago
I well remember our Pre-Cana instruction nearly 30 years ago, when the priest stood up in a Manhattan church basement in front of 300 young kids and boomed out a previous version of this pastoral letter, saying at one point, “you don’t have to sit here, but what’s your grandma gonna say when you can’t get married in the church?”  Our experience in that basement inspired my wife and I to get involved in the PREPARE ministry in our parish when we moved to Minnesota; at one point, we coordinated the ministry for a parish community of 3800 families where the church married over 200 couples per year. 
There’s much to recommend in the draft letter, but also passages to improve. here are some modest questions and suggestions based on the draft text:

“The search for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that our humanity brings to it, …” (113)
There’s something a bit arid about describing humanity as so impoverished, don’t you think?  Particularly when the son of God was incarnated into this messy, chaotic, and earthy existence living his life fully human and fully divine
“God first established marriage as a natural institution…”  (116) As we learn more about the incidences of same-sex or asexual procreation in the natural world, natural law is going to become an increasingly shaky foundation for excluding homosexuals from marriage.  A case can made that as with interracial marriages before Loving vs. Virginia, including or excluding same-sex relationships says more about culture than nature.
(341-422)  Eloquent and well-founded in their traditional sources, the arguments against contraception run counter to the lived experience of millions of people around the world in the past few generations who have lived holy, generative lives in their marriages and practiced  artificial birth control.  When contraception without technology is ok, but tools like artificial birth control that manage or lessen marital stresses are not, the church’s teachings are vulnerable to its historical biases against science, and the reality of ongoing revelation through the Holy Spirit.  We need a theology that would acknowledge the unitive and procreative purposes of marriage and make a place for the moral use in marriage of technologies like artificial birth control.  Without this theology, the Church can’t come to grips with the fundamental conflict of theory and wide-spread practice, and leaders who continue to preach and teach without addressing this conflict lose their credibility on other important issues, which makes it even more difficult to defend against the slippery slope that some of you are thinking about right now.
(423-465)  In the case of same-sex marriage, it’s the equal protection laws and the lived experience of same-sex couples that are overwhelming the panicky invocations stated, not an emerging consensus that we should reinstitute Sodom and Gomorrah.  There’s no question that same-sex marriage is one of the biggest changes in marriage for centuries, but doesn’t the Gospel say “by its fruits you shall know it?”  Where is the humble, introspective tone of Always Our Children?  Where is the willingness to engage with the evolving civil law while waiting for more experience and knowledge about whether homosexuality is in fact, not a disease or perversion, but a part of God’s creation?
(466-499) How much more balanced and compassionate are the comments on divorce vs. those on contraception and same-sex marriage, particularly since divorce is the one of the three Jesus explicitly speaks against.  The church states its case with empathy and compassion.  How might this letter be received if the previous two sections and the teaching against cohabitation were articulated with equal empathy and compassion?
545-1100 The long section on marriage as a sacrament seems for the most part very well written and coherent, but it raises directly the question of purpose and audience.  Is this really meant for couples preparing for marriage?  It reads more like a source document for a class on the theology of marriage.  I would challenge the authors of this section in three ways:
1) If marriage is so great, why hasn’t this sacrament prospered compared to the divorce rate, a phenomenon which largely if not entirely precedes the growing presence of the three other challenges to marriage described in part I?  What needs to be different if marriage is to be promoted, strengthened, and protected? Implementing different strategies would provide a reason for a new pastoral letter, as opposed to restating the verities as this one appears to do.
2) Aren’t there other wisdom figures besides the last two popes (with the occasional glancing reference to Paul VI and selective social science studies) who’ve had important things to say about marriage?  The focus on John Paul II and Benedict XVI seems almost, well, modernist!
3) (767)  Stating that marriages between two Catholics most fully reflect the life of the Church is guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of ecumenists everywhere.  As they quest pell mell to reestablish Catholic identity, what it would be like for the Bishops to teach an inclusive interpretation of the Eucharist, suggesting opportunities for intercommunion (at the celebration of weddings, for example) where the grace of the Holy Spirit could be equally made manifest in the whole family, not just among the Catholics?
Here’s hoping that people of good will remake this draft in a way that will be received and appreciated by the intended audience!  Otherwise, “be admonished:  of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.”
9 years ago
The NCR editorial has its own problems in its understanding of the issue.
The editors say that "...Nowhere does the document state the simple fact that the sacrament of marriage is conferred in a nuptial Mass. ..."
In fact, there is no requirement that the sacrament be confected within a mass. The ritual describes the ceremony outside of mass very distinctly.
Having prepared couples for marriage for nearly forty years, and having officiated at about a hundred of them (including three of my children), I believe proximate marriage preparation is best done face to face with a person experienced and skilled at that task. A bishops document is reference material at best.
Deacon Mike
9 years ago
Even with 6 Catholics on the Court, the Bishops's letter won't have an effect on the legality of gay marriage, which is based on equal protection doctrines and a growing body of law that expands individual rights.  They are badly advised, as is the Vatican, on the biological and legal facts of this issue.  Their scriptural knowledge on this is not so good either.  The final nail in the coffin of the current view on homosexuality is the pastoral need to celebrate gay marriages for individuals (and more importantly, their families) who are married in civil ceremonies.  When I was in High School marriage class and in marriage preparation, we were told that the Church does not perform the marriage, the couple does with the Priest providing witness.  While the Church can certainly have an opinion stating that gay and lesbian marriages do not have the same Charism, such a belief defies both logic and experience.  In reality, the coming pastoral is nothing more than an episcopal temper tantrum.  They can kick and scream all they want, but it won't change reality.


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