by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One blessing the Lord has brought forth from the tragedy of the legalization of abortion is a bringing together of Christians across denominational lines in support of the sanctity of life. One recent expression of the ecumenical nature of the pro-life movement was the issuance on Nov. 20, 2009, of The Manhattan Declaration, signed initially by 148 Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical Protestant leaders. I was privileged to be among the original signers.
The Manhattan Declaration addresses three major societal and cultural issues: a) the sanctity of human life; b) the defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman; and c) the protection of religious liberty.
1) The Manhattan Declaration recognizes the 1973 Supreme Court decisions that “stripped the unborn of legal protection” began a cheapening of human life which “has now metastasized” into destructive embryonic stem-cell research as well as efforts to promote assisted suicide and other forms of euthanasia.
The declaration borrows language from Pope John Paul in its discussion of the battle between a “culture of life” and a “culture of death.” It invites all Christians to defend the sanctity of each and every human life no matter age, stage of development, or physical or mental condition.
2) The Manhattan Declaration recognizes marriage as “the institution on which all other human institutions have their foundation.” An American culture, which 50 years ago was hospitable and supportive of marriage, has changed dramatically. For instance, in less than 50 years, the out-of-wedlock birth rate has risen from under 5 percent to above 40 percent. This is just one of several social indicators (e.g., the high divorce rate, the prevalence of cohabitation, etc.) of the weakening of marriage in our culture.
The declaration calls upon our cultural institutions to “stop glamorizing promiscuity and infidelity,” but instead to restore in society “a sense of the profound beauty, mystery and holiness of faithful marital love.” The movement to redefine marriage so as to include same-sex unions ignores the societal interest in supporting traditional marriage as the best possible environment for generating, educating and caring for children.
The Manhattan Declaration rejects the claim that same-sex couples have a right to be afforded the societal status and privileges of marriage: “No one has a civil right to have a non-marital relationship treated as a marriage. Marriage is an objective reality — a covenantal union of husband and wife—that it is the duty of the law to recognize and support for the sake of justice and the common good. If it fails to do so, genuine social harm follows. First, the religious liberty of those for whom this is a matter of conscience is jeopardized. Second, the rights of parents are abused as family life and sex education programs in schools are used to teach children that an enlightened understanding recognizes as ‘marriages’ sexual partnerships that many parents believe are intrinsically non-marital and immoral. Third, the common good of civil society is damaged when the law itself, in its critical pedagogical function, becomes a tool for eroding a sound understanding of marriage on which the flourishing of the marriage culture in any society vitally depends. Sadly, we are today far from having a thriving marriage culture. But if we are to begin the critically important process of reforming our laws and mores to rebuild such a culture, the last thing we can afford to do is to re-define marriage in such a way as to embody in our laws
a false proclamation about what marriage is.”
3) The Manhattan Declaration upholds religious freedom as the right of every human being. The importance of this issue was illustrated in the recent efforts by Congress to draft health care reform legislation. Neither bill passed by the House of Representatives nor the version passed by the Senate provided adequate conscience protections for individuals or institutions.
Moreover, in recent years, there are many examples of the erosion of religious liberty in the United States as well as in other Western nations. For example, Catholic Charities in Massachusetts was forced to discontinue its placement of orphaned children, rather than being forced to comply with the mandate to place some children with same-sex couples in violation of Catholic moral teaching. In other countries, Christian clergy have been prosecuted for preaching and teaching the 2,000- year understanding that homosexual activity is immoral.
The Manhattan Declaration concludes: “Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”
Since the Manhattan Declaration was issued in November, more than 300,000 Americans have signed. Our hope is to have more than 1 million signatures by its first anniversary in November 2010.
If you would like to read and study the Manhattan Declaration, go to the Web site at: www.ManhattanDeclaration.org. I encourage every member of the Archdiocese to sign the Manhattan Declaration, which can be done online.
It is one small, but important, way in which you can join the effort to reclaim our culture.