Pope Benedict XVI may no longer be occupying the Chair of St. Peter, but his far-reaching effects on the Catholic Church are just beginning. Take, for instance, his defense of marriage.
In his Christmas address to the College of Cardinals, the Pope highlighted the stress the prevailing culture currently places on the very definition of the nature of men and women and the essence of marriage.
Driving the point home, he posited how “the manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on, there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be.”
Catholics for the Common Good is a movement for Catholics that has taken the message Pope Benedict has given and are now in the process of equipping Catholics and non-Catholics alike to build a civilization of love and a culture of life through formation and coordinated witness. The group's booklet, Getting the Marriage Conversation Right, written by William May, president of Catholics for the Common Good, is an expression of the New Evangelization taught by Benedict’s predecessor, Blessed John Paul II.
In simple and concise language, May’s booklet not only defends marriage adroitly, but also provides readers with sober and powerful positions from which to engage people who might have a different view, similar to the prevailing trends identified by the Pope in his Christmas message. It’s not a how-to book on winning an argument, but, rather, a brief and thoughtful treatise that will make the reader a well-informed and well-prepared defender of marriage.
Your booklet reads like an NFL playbook for how to engage in the traditional marriage conversation. What was the inspiration for it?
It may come across that way, but the booklet is not a how-to for defeating those who propose redefining marriage. After leading the lay Catholic part of the Prop. 8 campaign to restore the definition of marriage in California, we continued to work and train volunteer leaders as marriage advocates. In the process, we found that embedded in the current dialogue are false premises and corrupting cultural influences that undermine communication for even the most well-catechized Catholics.
The booklet is meant for everyone concerned about marriage. It was written for use in small study groups as part of a formation program, to help train speakers and to serve as a handy reference when questions come up in conversations with friends and family.
According to the booklet, users need no special theological viewpoint to advocate for traditional marriage. Would you elaborate?
Marriage unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. We suggest memorizing this description of marriage. That’s what marriage is; this is what marriage does. It’s the same reality that has been recognized by every culture, every society and every religion, each according to its own competencies. It can only be recognized and not changed.
The Catholic Church did not create this reality, but, based on Revelation, she has given us a deeper and more beautiful understanding of marriage. Using religious language to describe marriage gives the false appearance that marriage’s definition is a religious issue, which it is not. The method in the booklet is to take the reality — the authentic teaching on marriage — and put it into language that can be understood in the culture by all and can be repeated in any situation.
What are the basic dos and don’ts of the marriage conversation?
Research shows that, today, the majority understand marriage to be merely the public recognition of a committed relationship for adults. However, in reality, we know that marriage is the institution that unites a man and a woman with each other and any children born from their union. The dialogue should be about the public interest of each definition, which has nothing to do with homosexuality.
We cannot rebuild a marriage culture without recreating [that] common understanding. Properly understood, we must ask: “Do we need an institution that specifically unites kids with their moms and dads?” If “Yes,” it is marriage between a man and a woman. If “No,” then why not? How can banning the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads be justified?
So, in essence, this conversation is about human rights.
The adult-centric debate ignores the fact that children have an interest in marriage, particularly the marriage of their moms and dads. In fact, in Donum Vitae [Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation], the Church teaches it is a human right for children to be born into a family with their mothers and fathers united in marriage. That relationship is important and connected with our identity: knowing who we are and where we came from.
Recognizing this reality, we need to ask if anyone has a right to create children with sperm and egg donors with the intention of depriving them of knowing and being cared for by their mom, dad or both. Considering the rights of the child and growing human consequences of marriage breakdown and fatherlessness, promoting marriage must become an imperative of social justice.
How have current trends in social science harmed traditional marriage?
Social science is important for elevating awareness of trends that harm children and society, as with the breakdown of marriage. Studies demonstrate the need for policies that promote marriage before men and women have children and support them in their marriages.
But trying to use social science to justify the definition of marriage based on outcomes for children is problematic. It moves the conversation away from marriage to competency in parenting, which has nothing to do with marriage. It leads to false claims like “Don’t children parented by gay couples deserve to have married parents?” To find the false assumption for any argument offered in support of redefining marriage, ask the question, “What does this have to do with the only institution that unites kids with their moms and dads?”
Why not civil unions or domestic partnerships?
Civil unions and domestic partnerships are intended to be pseudo-marriage, equal in value but different in name. Effectively, they have the same consequences as redefining marriage because it becomes discriminatory to make a distinction and promote the unique value of men and women marrying before having children.
Pseudo-marriage requires teaching children in schools that alternative families, in which children are deprived of their mom or dad or both, should be considered role models or life-style alternatives. This undermines children’s understanding of the reality that marriage unites not only a man and a woman with each other, but with any children born from their union.
How does a Catholic use your booklet to optimum effect?
The booklet is purposely very short but is packed with a lot of concepts and insights that help us verify that what the Church teaches about love, marriage and family is true. It is not intended to be a guide for merely winning an argument or changing the other guy, but a guide to help us peel away the corrupting influences of the culture to help us see the beauty and goodness of God’s plan for creation through the eyes of the child within us so that we can share it with others.
As Jesus prayed to the Father, many things are hidden from the wise and learned but revealed to the childlike (Luke 10:21).
Robert Brennan writes from Los Angeles.
To learn more about Catholics for the Common Good, visit CCGAction.org