WASHINGTON (October 28, 2004) — America's Catholic Bishops will be asked to approve a National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage when they hold their fall meeting here, November 15-18.
More than 250 bishops from throughout the country will attend the meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) at the Hyatt Regency Capitol Hill.
The proposal for a National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage comes from the Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life, chaired by Bishop J. Kevin Boland.
It envisions a multi-year and multi-faceted project to strengthen marriage, primarily within the Catholic community but also as a service to society.
The proposal originated with a varium from Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of Steubenville who requested the development of a pastoral letter on marriage that would be similar to previous pastoral letters on peace and on the economy. "A wide-scale consultation process would be as important as the letter itself," Bishop Conlon explained. "It would give wider publicity to the project and would engage people over a longer time."
In order to prepare the proposal, the Committee on Marriage and Family Life met with its members and advisors. It sent a survey inquiring about the possible intent and content of a pastoral letter to the bishops who are regional representatives and to the board of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers. Those actions, coupled with a supportive discussion by the Administrative Committee in September, led to the conclusion that a pastoral letter would be opportune and valuable.
"The current debate about marriage and same-sex unions has produced a heightened level of public interest in questions about the nature, purposes, and value of marriage," the proposal states. "For nearly ten years a social movement in favor of marriage has been growing within various sectors of U.S. society, including the religious sector. At the same time, the marriage rate, in the general population and among Catholics, continues to decline. These and many other factors create a timely, teachable moment for the Church. A pastoral letter at this time could deliver a needed, positive, pro-marriage message—one that is oriented more toward affirming and strengthening marriage than toward countering certain threats."
Moreover, the proposal continued, the initiative would allow bishops to engage a variety of people, especially married couples themselves, in a fruitful conversation about marriage. "The very process of consultation itself could spark new energy, particularly at local levels, for promoting marriage, preparing couples for it, strengthening all who live it, and helping those who are in difficulty."
"We propose a multi-year and multi-faceted project, which combines a teaching component and other pastoral activities, to strengthen marriage as a human institution and as a sacramental reality—primarily within the Catholic Church but also as a service to society," the Committee said. "The centerpiece of the initiative would be a pastoral letter or message from the U.S. Catholic Bishops addressing various audiences within the Church (e.g., engaged and married couples, church ministers) about certain realities in marriage and in the culture, interpreted thorough the eyes of faith and situated within the Church's doctrinal tradition and pastoral practice."
If approved, the marriage initiative, to be carried out in three phases, would begin in January 2005 and extend at least through 2007. A preparation and development phase, including a process of consultation and research, would occur in 2005 and 2006. The writing and approval phase, dealing with the pastoral letter itself, would come in 2006 and 2007. Beginning in 2007, an implementation and follow-up phase would include publication of the pastoral letter and further implementation activities based on the main themes of the letter, carried out by various Conference committees and other groups, e.g., revision of marriage preparation national guidelines, models for parish ministry, specific resources and applications for different cultural groups, and TV/radio spots.
This strategy is a graduated approach, says the proposal, with the outcomes of one phase directly forming the basis for what occurs in the next phase. Each phase would produce one and maybe more outcomes or public "products" so that over the total time period the Bishops Conference would be continuously learning, teaching, and serving the Catholic community in regard to marriage.
Approval of the proposal to undertake the National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage will require a majority of the members present and voting.