Putting a priority on marriage

Bishops meet in KCK for marriage initiative


by Joe Bollig
joe.bollig@theleaven.org KANSAS CITY, Kan. — When the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life met here, they were a little like Moses and the wandering Israelites: They knew where they were headed — but they didn’t have a map.

On Oct. 23 and 24, the bishops, committee staff members and advisers met at Savior Pastoral Center to continue their work on the U.S. bishops’ National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage. The bishops came here at the invitation of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, who is a committee member.

The multiphase initiative began in 2005 and will continue through 2011, although elements — such as a marriage Web site sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.foryourmarriage.org) — will be ongoing.

Right now, it’s all about the process.

“An initiative does not follow a simple linear path,” said Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky. “By its very nature, an initiative attempts to be a catalyst, in the sense that it inspires many activities. So it’s hard to judge at what point we ought to be in the initiative.”

Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, from the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, called the committee’s work to this point “a design-build process.”

“We sure do not have a blueprint,” he said. “Even today, after all this time, that first question this morning (at the Oct. 24 meeting) was to make sure we have a clear understanding of where we are and where we think we’re going to go, because we really don’t have the whole initiative in its final form.”

The initiative dates back to 2004, when the bishops voted to make marriage a pastoral priority. The bishops believed that marriages needed support in the face of a deteriorating culture, as evidenced by high rates of divorce, an increase in long-term cohabitation, and other challenges to traditional marriage.

“God calls most members of the church to the sacrament of marriage, and we pastors of the church have a serious obligation to support that vocation,” said Bishop Conlon. “The initiative for marriage is an expression of our love and respect for the institution of marriage and for those in the church who are called to marriage.”

The bishops have undergone an extensive consultative process that involved focus groups comprised of single, married and divorced persons; focus groups of priests and diocesan tribunals; and dialogues with social scientists and theologians.

Research was also undertaken on attitudes about, and understanding of, marriage. The bishops have studied pastoral letters on marriage and policies on marriage preparation.

The committee put together a series of background papers for priests, bishops and pastoral leaders. However, the most visible manifestations of the initiative have been a media campaign called For Your Marriage and a Web site, both unveiled in June.

“If you were to ask, ‘What is the initiative about?,’ in essence we would say it’s looking at the rich teachings of our Catholic faith on marriage and attempting to express them in a fresh and new way that addresses contemporary problems,” said Archbishop Kurtz.

“Our hope would be that . . . we could assist each bishop on the diocesan level to inspire and motivate families that are already married,” he added, “and to help people prepare for marriage from the very earliest days of their catechetical life.”

Ultimately, the bishops hope to cap the initiative with a document on marriage.

“Our hope would be this time next year to be able to present to the bishops of the United States the draft of a pastoral letter that will be the centerpiece of our pastoral initiative,” Archbishop Kurtz concluded.

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