US Catholic Faith in Real Life

What the U.S. bishops don't know about marriage

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Since 2004 the U.S. bishops have been working on a pastoral letter about marriage, which they are scheduled to vote on at their November meeting. The National Catholic Reporter scored an advance copy of the document, and one has to notice what's missing: The voice of lay Catholics, especially married ones.

It's not that the bishops misrepresent the church's teaching on marriage, but the draft is so heavy on the "ideal" of marriage--don't miss "Marriage as a reflection of the life of the Trinity"--that it has almost nothing to do with actual married life. In fact the bishops focus so much on sex and procreation that one might think that's all there is to marriage--no dinners to make, no bills to pay, to chores to divide, no kids to drag out of bed in the morning and force into bed at night.

Even with the bishops' insistence on the necessity of the "procreative" dimension of marriage, their message remains completely ignorant of the emotional, financial, and sheer physical challenges of raising children. I'd like the Committee on Marriage and Family Life to spend a single Saturday--as I did last weekend--with my brother, sister-in-law, and their 3-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter. After five minutes--the amount of time it would take for Baby Kirsten to spit up on their suits--one of them would have to say, "Well, Bishop Ed, guess we need to go back to the drawing board."

Unfortunately this "pastoral letter" is as much a political one, directed at combatting same-sex marriage, divorce, and cohabitation rather than at fostering healthy Catholic marriages. You can read the draft at the NCR website yourself. But it's hard to disagree with that paper's editorial on the topic that the bishops should start over.