On the final day of their annual meeting, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a pastoral letter on marriage titled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” which restates and clarifies the Church's teachings to empower those seeking to defend marriage against the cultural currents of cohabitation, contraception, divorce and same sex unions.
“Thank goodness this is out there, clearly stated, with ample documentation and very reasonably put forward,” Baltimore's Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien told the Baltimore Sun. “I think it's going to be a very positive document.”
The pastoral letter does not represent any new teaching on the part of the Catholic Church or the USCCB. Instead, it strives to be a definitive source used as a reference for those defending traditional marriage.
Noting that “couples too often reflect a lack of understanding of the purposes of marriage,” the document states that “marriage is a lifelong partnership of the whole of life, of mutual and exclusive fidelity, by mutual consent between a man and a woman, and ordered towards the good of the and the procreation of offspring.”
“Marriage is not merely a private institution,” the bishops wrote. “It is the foundation for the family, where children learn the values and virtues that will make good Christians as well as good citizens,” which demonstrates the integral nature of marriage in society.
The letter emphasizes that “male-female complementarity is essential to marriage.” This is because “man and woman are two different ways of being a human person.” “They are different as male and female, but the same as human persons who are uniquely suited to be partners or helpmates for each other.”
Also important to the complementarity aspect of marriage is the fact that “marriage does not exist solely for the reproduction of another member of the species, but for the creation of a communion of persons.” Thus, the document asserts, marriage has two ends or purposes. It is both unitive and procreative. This means it is oriented towards the good of the spouses as well as the raising of children. These two goods of marriage cannot be separated.
The pastoral letter also addresses the sanctity of marriage as a vocation and gives encouragement in dealing with the threats of contraception, cohabitation, divorce, and the call for legal recognition of same sex unions.
"People are entering into marriage probably without an adequate appreciation of the beauty of marriage and the gift that it is," Archbishop O'Brien said. "The document is meant to strengthen Christian marriage, to prepare people who are going to be married before they enter that bond to appreciate what the commitment is, and also to open a discussion in our culture as to what the differences are today and to try to reach some common ground."