How the U.S. bishops are reaching non-Catholics on issues of marriage and sexuality 

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The U.S. bishops announced a new initiative last week designed to “bring clarity and compassion” to issues surrounding love, marriage, and sexuality by addressing “hidden assumptions about love.”

The Love Means More (LMM) initiative is meant to reflect the foundational principles of the Catholic understanding of love in a way that anyone — even those who are against Church teaching — can understand.

The initiative is based on a new website, Love Means More, which organizes hot-button issues “around one basic question: What is love?” explained Andrew Buonopane, the assistant director for marriage and family life for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Misunderstanding love 

Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, who heads the committee leading the initiative, noted in a press release that conversations on these issues can be “confusing and polarizing” but hopes that LMM will bring “clarity and compassion.” 

“Cultural narratives tell us love is mostly about feeling good,” Barron continued. “True love is deeper than that, calling us to follow Christ’s example of sacrificial love so we can live in union with him forever.”

LMM leads with “common experience” so as to be “intelligible to Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” Buonopane explained. 

The initiative “addresses common objections and points back to God’s distinctive, total self-gift,” he continued. 

“If someone dives straight into the middle, say, at the question about contraception, they’ll see that it’s situated within a larger treatment of chastity, sexual relationship, marriage, eros, agape, and love in general,” Buonopane noted.

“That way, there’s a better chance that the reader’s hidden assumptions about love, prior to any resistance to Church teaching on contraception, can be addressed too,” he said. 

Preventing alienation 

The bishops hope to reach two groups of people, Buonopane said: those who are “wounded” and “alienated from the love of Christ” but also those who, in their “attempts to defend a particular truth … cause more harm than good.” 

“If your personal experience is anything like mine, you probably have people in your life that fall into both of these camps,” he said. 

“I’ve sat with friends who were living unchastely or who experienced gender discordance, and they had certain expectations about what someone coming from a Catholic perspective would say,” he continued. “Those expectations didn’t align with the approaches that Jesus, Aquinas, or recent popes would actually take, largely because of unproductive encounters with fundamentalists or misguided Catholics.”

“I’ve also had conversations with people from that side, where I thought there was more agreement, until I heard how they arrived at their position,” he continued. “The strange thing is that the encounters between these two sides are simultaneously too confrontational and not direct enough.”

Buonopane said that these kinds of discussions “only address the point of disagreement indirectly” and often cause “each side” to “become more convinced that the other hated them.” 

Building off the past  

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The approach builds on Christ’s approach as described in the 1965 Vatican document Gaudium et Spes (“Joy and Hope”), Buonopane noted.

Buonopane pointed out a key quote from Gaudium et Spes: “By the revelation of the mystery of the Father and his love, [Christ] fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”

Christ is “truly universal and truly distinctive at the same time,” and so “he’s the only one that can make it possible for us to receive and give the Father’s agape love,” he explained.

“That love is so universal that it can enter into any other kind of love in any human relationship and bring out its full character,” he said. 

Buonopane pointed out that Christ is direct when questioned by the Pharisees. 

“Because he’s truly universal, when he disagrees with his hearers, he’s not coming out of left field,” he said. “He’s able to use reasoning that they understand on their own terms (even if they don’t always end up agreeing).”

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