.- As the British government considers a proposal to institute same-sex âmarriage,â the leaders of the Catholic Church in England and Wales have warned that it will lead to further social breakdown.
âWe have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations,â wrote Archbishop Vincent G. Nichols of Westminster and Archbishop Peter D. Smith of Southwark, in a letter released March 8.
Current law, they said, âdoes not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognizes and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.â
A change in the legal definition âwould be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now.â
Archbishops Nichols and Smith, the president and vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales, distributed the letter to 2,500 parishes for reading at Sunday Masses over the weekend of March 10-11.
Britain's coalition government was expected to present a consultation paper the following week, on the proposed change to the concept of marriage. Prime Minister David Cameron believes the move would strengthen society, by encouraging individuals to âmake vows to each other and support each other.â
In their letter, Archbishops Nichols and Smith countered that society depends on a concept of marriage that goes beyond the commitment of two individuals. True marriage, they said, has an essential connection to family life, and is oriented toward the raising of a new generation.
âUnderstood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity,â the archbishops explained.
âIts status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation.â
It is this institution, and not the mere commitment of two people, that is âat the foundation of our society.â
The law, they observed, recognizes the distinction and interdependence of the two sexes â by defining both a man and a woman as necessary for the institution that grounds family life.
âMale and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility,â the archbishops wrote, describing a truth accessible to reason and confirmed by faith.
âChristian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the state has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself. Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion.â
A legal redefinition, they warned, âwould gradually and inevitably transform societyâs understanding of the purpose of marriage.â
âIt would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.â
As they encouraged the faithful to preserve the complementarity of the two sexes in civil law, the archbishops also called U.K. Catholics to embrace the fullness of the Church's teaching on marriage and sexuality.
Marriage, they reminded the faithful, âis open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.â
âWe understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognized and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space.â
Archbishops Nichols and Smith observed that âno other institutionâ can support society's âstability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future,â in the way that authentic marriage can.
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