Archbishop Kurtz, who has been characterized as a "smiling conservative," was gracious and pastoral, but firm in his contention that the Church's teachings about marriage need to be heard. The problem with marriage in our culture, he stated, is that "while people admire Jesus for sacrificing, they do not want to make sacrifices themselves." Although our own Bishop Daniel Conlon admitted we may not win the public battle in our courts and legislature, Kurtz insisted that we need to have the "conviction that our leadership can make a difference" and that "cultural movements can change." The difference, he said, is us.
Kurtz challenged us, pointing out that it is clear that "God's revealing and our nature go together 'like a horse and carriage' - man and woman fit together as two in one flesh. This is the first time in history we have tampered with that definition of marriage." What is needed in response, he insisted, is "three C's: courage, compassion and commitment" along with a need for communicating that to live within Church teaching requires both "inner discipline and community support." He urged all to read the USCCB document "Love and Life in the Divine Plan."
The archbishop had several practical ways to promote and strengthen marriage in parish life:
1. Find ways to proclaim good examples of married life (find and lift up the stories and examples in the community)
2. Pastors should be involved in marriage preparation so they develop relationships with couples.
3. Be involved and provide marriage enrichment. Couples are not "done" after the wedding.
4. Support those who are on the brink of separation or divorce - reach out and help them.
In the Q & A session after his talk, Kurtz noted that we need to be a part of local decisions on what it taught in public schools about marriage, and that we need to be more "out there" with the truth about marriage - because our own people often form their opinions without the Church. He encouraged the use of the new "Blessing for a Child in the Womb". And to our youth, we need to communicate that "the friendship between married people is not just about mutual satisfaction, but about chaste and holy living and sacrificial love."
After his talk, we viewed a video which has been provided to all parishes: Made for Life (you can view it online HERE.
After lunch, Dr. Alvaré provided a tour of the developments in court decisions and legislation regarding marriage in the United States. Some key points from her presentation:
- The 1970's saw the rise of decisions and factors that changed our traditional American view of marriage: no-fault divorce, right of unmarried people to birth control, legal abortions, rise of cohabitation, new reproductive technologies, an increase in non-marital births (she noted that today among Hispanic women, 54% of all births are outside of marriage.)
- In the history of American legislation and court decisions, originally marriage between a man and a woman was seen as supportive to a good society. The "goods" of marriage meant more than the rights of the individual.
- Up until 1980, courts saw traditional marriage as the vehicle for preparing children for the obligations of society. Indeed, all current federal programs are based on a preference for children to be born within marriage.
- Abortion says fathers have "zero rights to the child." (Arguments in favor were based on assumption of male violence.)
- Reproductive technology breaks family ties and give preference to single parenting.
- Cohabiting and single parenthood as promoted in the culture today are all about the rights of women. (Even though there is 11 times more violence in co-habiting and single parent homes than in traditional families.)
- Procreation is now seen as a matter of choice for the individual, even within marriage.
- The rights of the adults are seen as more important than the rights of children
- Current arguments for same-sex or non-traditional models are based on "sexual expressionism"- sex is a matter of self-expression, not related to children or maintaining a stable home.
- Same-sex marriage advocates call state interest in linking marriage to children "irrational"
- The research is behind us. It shows that the family structure with the best outcome for children is two biological parents who remain married. The economic divide between those who are doing well and those who are poor, is not actually race, but marital status. Strong marriages = strong economy. (Book recommendation: Charles Murray, Coming Apart.
- Difficulties with the current cultural view in the US: Totalizing the state: it now gets to define marriage. Dualism: taking the baby out of sex takes the body out of the person and objectifies women. Rule by men, not by law: the courts get to make the decisions. Threats to religious freedom when religion conflicts with sexual expressionism: denial of the role of natural law.
- Religion, she said, has "value added" - it is expert in humanity, based on truths of natural law and covenant values. Our track record is stability in marriage - the Catholic way of marriage is recognized as good for society. Transcending politics with principles is a novel idea today.
As someone who supports the Church's teaching on marriage and is disturbed by many of the cultural trends, I have to say that this day was encouraging. Like Bishop Conlon, I have a gut feeling we will continue to lose the legislative and court battles, for the reasons Dr. Alvaré gave - that the culture regards sexual self-expression as the highest good and the only factor involved in the concept of marriage, and that we have turned over the decision-making to the state. This is certainly not ideal, but we still have a chance to reach our own people with the message that marriage is not only a human institution, but a divine one, created by God himself, within the natural order of things - and that the union of one man and one woman for a lifetime, providing a strong foundation for the children who will form our future is still the highest good. If we can do that, we can send them out to plant seeds of truth in American culture.