The U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions on gay marriage will make it harder for the Church to teach Americans about the nature of marriage, the archbishop of San Francisco has said.
"It's going to be harder to teach this truth, which is very basic and obvious, that to form a marriage you need a man and a woman," Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone told CNA June 28.

Despite this, "I've told people many times that regardless of how the Supreme Court decides, our role as pastors is the same: we need to educate people about marriage."

In separate rulings on June 26, the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act, limiting federally recognized marriages to those between a man and a woman, unconstitutional, and dismissed an attempt to uphold California's Proposition 8, which prohibited "gay marriage" in the state.

The Church has "a huge task to help our people understand what the real purpose and meaning of marriage is," Archbishop Cordileone reflected, "and how it fits into God's plan."

"And for married couples," he added, "how it fits into their own sanctification and eternal salvation."

CNA spoke to the archbishop in Rome, where he was preparing to receive a pallium from Pope Francis. The pallium is a white vestment which signifies an archbishop's fidelity to Rome, where Saints Peter and Paul both were martyred for their own faithfulness to Christ's Gospel.

Archbishop Cordileone recognizes that as a successor to the apostles he is called to be faithful in teaching about the true nature of marriage and human dignity, rooted in the complementarity of the sexes, even in a culture hostile to this message.

"My responsibility is to say the truth and I have to find the most effective way of teaching in the current circumstances," said the archbishop.

Regarding the Court's decisions, he stressed that he is "a pastor of souls," and said that "as pastors of souls, our job remains unchanged."

While he was still an auxiliary bishop of San Diego, Archbishop Cordileone was a leader in the effort to pass Proposition 8.

The Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the attempt to uphold the legislation was based on the fact that state officials declined to support the law when it was challenged. The court said that the law's proponents, who took up the burden of defending it in court, did not have the legal standing, or right, to do so.

"A lot of citizens worked very hard, some people made great sacrifices, especially financial sacrifices," to defend the measure, Archbishop Cordileone said. "Seven million people voted to approve this, and now there is no one to defend the law of the state."

"They now have no right to defend the law that they worked so hard to get passed; so it's very, very worrisome about what the future of our democracy" is, he reflected.

The court's ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act referred to the federal law as an attempt to "disadvantage" and place a "stigma" on those who enter into same-sex marriages.

Archbishop Cordileone said that the nature of marriage has been obscured, "now that the law has enshrined the principle that marriage is not about uniting children to mothers and father but is about giving affirmation to adults."

He underscored that the proper understanding of marriage has not been popular for some time, and affirmed that the reason many Catholics accept the push for same-sex "marriage" is because "they don't know their faith."

"Catholics first need to better formed in their faith before they can become more active in the public sphere and to be witnesses of the truth of marriage and the sanctity of human life," he reflected.

"They need a strong conviction and a clear Catholic identity."

Improving catechesis is one way to achieve this, he suggested.

"The formation of our priests is also extremely important," Archbishop Cordileone noted.

"We have a seminary in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and for me it's the most important thing, because they are the pastors of souls and it's they who will form their people well in the faith."