Last November at their annual meeting
in Baltimore, Maryland, the U.S. bishops
passed the pastoral letter Marriage:
Love and Life in the Divine Plan. The
document is one of the final parts of
the bishops' multiyear National Pastoral
Initiative for Marriage, which
began in November 2004 and will conclude
During the meeting, the bishops
engaged in quite a lengthy discussion
about the document, with some bishops
expressing concern over the document's
pastoral tone and content. Two
rounds of amendments and nearly 100
changes to the document later, the
body of bishops eventually voted 180-45 to pass the document, with three
The document's introduction lays
out its purpose, stating: "We intend
this pastoral letter to be a theological
and doctrinal foundation. It can be a
resource to help and encourage all
those who are moving toward marriage,
who are journeying in married
life, and who are accompanying and
assisting those who are called to the
vocation of marriage."
The letter addresses issues such as
divorce, cohabitation, contraception
and same-sex marriages.
The document does a nice job of laying
out the Church's position on many
of those issues, but the question
remains: How will this document translate
into practical help for married couples?
The document says it is addressed
"first and foremost to the Catholic
faithful in the United States." Why
then are the bishops using phrases
such as "intended to be fecund" when
addressing conjugal love? (By the
way, fecund means "fertile" or "capable
of producing much vegetation or
many offspring," in case anyone else
was wondering.) And in the original
draft, before the amendments, the
document made reference to both
cohabitation and contraception as
"intrinsically evil." The document now
refers to contraceptive practices as
"objectively wrong" and "essentially
opposed to God's plan for marriage
and proper human development."
Is language such as this really the
best way to connect with the Catholic
Off the Radar
I read this document as part of my job.
But I suspect that a good number of
married couples are not even aware of
this document or the bishops' multiyear
initiative on marriage. To confirm
my hunch, I asked some married couples
ranging in years married from just
a few to more than 50. None of them
had heard anything about the "For
Your Marriage" initiative.
I too have seen little promotion of
this initative, which has been going
on since 2005.
So how do the bishops expect married
couples to get on board? The
trickle-down effect of many of the bishops'
documents is minimal at best. I
know I haven't seen mention of this in
my parish bulletin. And that's a problem
if the bishops really want to get
their message out.
I can't say I'm overly surprised that the
marriage initiative has flown under the
radar. The day I walked down the aisle
15 years ago with my husband, Mark,
and said, "I do," was the last time I
heard anything of significance from
the Church concerning our marriage.
All those years and three kids later,
nothing has changed.
While I appreciate the bishops' desire
to reach out to married couples, it still
feels as if their message isn't reaching
us. For far too long, married couples
have been overlooked as an ongoing
ministry in the Church.
Don't get me wrong: What the
bishops have put together with this
initiative at www.foryourmarriage.org is a big step forward. The information
on the site is practical and useful, but
documents and Internet sites aren't
going to do the job if no one knows
about them. The bishops need to meet
married couples where they are. And
the best way to do that is to get the
message to their priests, parishes and
Hopefully, the final phase of the initiative,
which is slated to develop pastoral
resources, will help fulfill this
need. And hopefully it will take into
consideration that marriages rise and
fall as much on the everyday issues of
children, finances and finding time to
spend together as the ones the bishops
address in this document.
In the conclusion of their document,
they say, "The vision of married life
and love that we have presented in this
pastoral letter is meant to be a foundation
and reference point for the
many works of evangelization, catechesis,
pastoral care, education and
advocacy carried on in our dioceses,
parishes, schools, agencies, movements
Let's hope that, as they move forward
into the next phase of this
initiative, the bishops follow through
on that statement. And that in the
process they give us married couples
some tools and programs we can use to
enhance our marriages for years to
Maybe they could ask their married
nieces or nephews. Or enlist members
of the leadership teams of Engaged
Encounter, Marriage Encounter or
similar groups to get the word out. And
we can help, too. Tell a friend, sibling,
relative or neighbor about the initiative.
If married couples want more attention
we should step up and speak up.
I'm sure those of us on the front lines
could offer the bishops a thing or two.
All they have to do is ask..--S.H.B.