Minnesota's bishops have taken a new step to reach Catholics in their dioceses with the Church's teaching on marriage - by sending out copies of an educational DVD that reaffirms the unchangeable nature of marriage and opposes attempts at redefinition. Archbishop John Nienstedt spoke to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) on Wednesday about the issue's urgency and the bishops' reasons for speaking out.
“The bishops of the state have an obligation, by ordination, to be teachers,” the Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis told MPR's Tom Crann. “And we all know the state of marriage in our society today,” he continued, citing divorce rates of up to 50 percent, and recounting the exponential growth of fluid arrangements like cohabitation and unwed parenthood. “The state of marriage is not very healthy in our society.”
Archbishop Nienstedt indicated that attempts to redefine marriage contribute significantly to this already rapid breakdown of family structure throughout society. In such a perilous climate, he told MPR, it is especially urgent to affirm what marriage is –in his words, “a commitment for life, a life-giving commitment that is open to the procreation and the raising of children”-- and what it cannot be.
The archbishop's remarks to MPR this week expanded upon a previous statement he made in August, when he explained that the redefinition of marriage by the state represented an overreaching effort by the government, to redefine an institution over which it had no such power.
Archbishop Nienstedt returned to that theme on Wednesday, reminding MPR that marriage “isn't something that we create as human beings.” Rather, marriage is “already a given,” ingrained in the “work of creation by almighty God.” The institutions that define human beings, he implied, are not themselves subject to redefinition by a vote.
He therefore described same-sex “marriage” as “a dangerous risk to society,” not only according to the dictates of Christian faith, but according to “what we call the natural law,” which “precedes any government.”
Rather than giving the name of “marriage” to virtually any kind of sexual arrangement, Archbishop Nienstedt argued, “government is meant to support marriage between a husband and a wife,” to provide social support for “the raising … and the protection of children.”
The prelate likewise reaffirmed the Church's opposition not only to same-sex “marriages,” but also to divorce, which he described as a “risk to our society today.” Divorce is also regarded by the Catholic Church as a serious violation of the natural law.
Asked whether the bishops' suggestion of a constitutional amendment defining marriage was strictly a “political statement,” Nienstedt said that in the context of the video it was simply an exercise of the bishops' authority to teach on matters of reason and faith.
“We need to remind our people,” he said, describing the bishops' mission in mailing the video, “what it is we believe, why it is we believe what we believe, and thirdly, why it's so important.”