The Catholic Conference of Illinois has created a new Defense of Marriage department in response to the state’s passage of a civil-unions law.

Each Catholic diocese in the state will appoint advocates who seek to defend against “public-policy encroachments” and to promote the Church’s “love and solicitude towards marriage, families and children,” the conference said on Sept. 22.

Zach Wichmann, the conference’s director of government relations, heads the new department.

He said that the new office reflects the bishops’ intention to keep the Church in the public square and in line with the Catholic faith’s mission. The department will advocate marriage as the proper home for human sexuality and explain how it expresses love and cooperation in God’s creative design.

“The teachings of the Church are not overwhelmingly popular everywhere, nor are they always easily explained,” said Wichmann. “But our message will be proclaimed for the sake of stronger families, secure children and an enriched spiritual life.”

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has decided to cancel contracts with the state’s Catholic Charities agencies because of their conscience-based refusal to place children with cohabiting couples, including those in same-sex civil unions.

Wichmann said this conflict reflects a growing tension between the Church and the state.

Catholic Charities agencies are suing to retain the contracts, citing religious discrimination and its 40-year partnership with the state to provide homes to the neediest of children.

“The government is not obliged to embrace Church teaching,” Wichmann said. “But the insistence that Catholic organizations discard that teaching undermines our mission and severely narrows opportunities for public ministry.”

Weichmann said that the stature of the nuclear family diminishes every day, even though it provides organization to society and love, stability and confidence to children.

Illinois initiatives to redefine marriage are likely, he said. The New York Legislature redefined marriage to recognize same-sex couples, while the Maryland governor is expected to push a “gay marriage” initiative next year.

“The outcomes of these proposals will have implications in many areas of civil and religious life,” Wichmann said. “The Catholic Church will strive to prevent negative consequences to society, public
ministry and children.”

His concerns echo those of Archbishop Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In a Sept. 20 letter to President Obama, the archbishop warned that attacks on the definition of marriage would “precipitate a national conflict between church and state of enormous proportions and to the detriment of both institutions.”