From 1980 to 2005, many U.S. bishops addressed different aspects of marriage through pastoral letters, articles, and speeches. Although they published a few pieces that focused specifically on the union of man and woman in the sacrament of matrimony, for the most part the bishops either wrote about concerns closely related to the sacrament (annulments, cohabitation, contraception, marriage preparation, sexuality), or they discussed marriage in the larger context of family life.
If the statement was published in Origins (Documentary Service of Catholic News Service), the reference is provided below.
Marriage / Marriage Preparation:
The pieces in this section address marriage and/or marriage preparation broadly.
- “The Sacrament of Matrimony” by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle September 23, 1982, Vol. 12: No. 15. pp. 229-238.
- “The Good News of Christian Marriage” by Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre February 8, 1996, Vol.25: No. 33.
- “The Heart of Marriage Preparation” by Archbishop Harry Flynn of St. Paul and Minneapolis February 19, 1998, Vol. 27: No. 35.
- “A clear understanding and vision of the sacramental nature of Christian marriage, including but not limited to: a Christian understanding of the human person, a redemption of man and woman in Christ, how marriage is a reflection of Christ’s love for the church, a practical understanding of the canonical promises – fidelity, permanence, openness to life.”
- “A clear understanding of the church’s teaching on human sexuality, including: instruction on natural family planning – at least two introductory classes, understanding of the morality of various reproductive technologies.”
- “Marriage preparation will begin at least one year and not less than six months prior to the wedding date. A minimum of five sessions with a priest, deacon or other qualified person or couple. This should include a marriage inventory and subsequent discussions of the results.”
- “Encourage parishes and current marriage-preparation providers to develop ongoing programs and support for newly married couples, especially in the first three years. This may include a series of classes or parish day of reflection.”
- “The Gift of Marriage: A Union Most Sacred” by Archbishop Alexander J. Brunett of Seattle, October 13, 2005, Vol. 35: No. 18.
Audience: This letter was written in connection with the national convention in Seattle of the Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
Purpose: “Today the Catholic community hears much about family life, the responsibilities of parents and the religious formation of children within the home. Fundamental to each of these concerns and encompassing them all, is sacramental marriage. Our purpose here is to explore the riches of matrimony, the sacrament of Catholic married couples.”
Summary: Archbishop Hunthausen explores the sacramental meaning of marriage, identifying marriage as “a commission from Christ to enrich the church in a singularly important way.” He explains that married couples’ fundamental witness to the church “has to do with what is fundamental to marriage: intimacy and belonging. These qualities are integral to the life of the church.”
He also discusses the integral role sexuality plays in the spirituality of married couples and how that “sexual spirituality. . . impacts the life of the church in a way which is fundamental and comprehensive; it calls the church, under whatever model or dominating image, to become a loving people in the Lord.”
Hunthausen then considers how “matrimony relates specifically to each of the five models of the church: as institution, as communion, as sacrament, as herald and as servant.” He concludes, “Matrimony impacts the church in a variety of ways. . . our married couples have an integral role to play in the church’s wellbeing. Above all else, sacramental couples continually remind the entire people of God that no value is more fundamental or more comprehensive than authentic love.”
Pastoral Implications: “Married couples can no longer be overlooked or excluded from influential leadership roles. . . Our ways of doing things, our systems of decision making and even our structures of leadership must change to include married couples so that the couple perspective can be clearly spoken. Precisely how this is to happen is not yet clear. However, we cannot be kept from present action because the final answers lie in the future. We have to begin.”
Audience: Bishop McGann writes the faithful of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and in particular to the married among them.
Purpose: The introduction to this letter in Origins explains: “Two years ago McGann established a task force to coordinate a diocesan consultation on marriage and sexuality. A diocesan spokesman said one result of the work by the task force was that McGann decided to write on the positive nature of church teachings on marriage and to urge a renewal of marriage and the relationship of married couples to the church.”
Summary: McGann celebrates the gift of Christian marriage by urging couples to see their relationships as holy, by affirming the goodness of sexuality, and by exhorting couples to truly make their homes the domestic church. He calls them to be faithful to each other, to the church, and to all their commitments. He also celebrates the way couples in his diocese give life by welcoming children and by carrying out acts of charity. McGann urges couples to “take time to be alone together.” He makes clear that he recognizes the difficulties of family life, and assures all those who are undergoing those struggles that God is with them.
Pastoral Implications: McGann pledges to “share the good news of Christian marriage with the leaders of our church in an attempt to develop a more pastoral understanding of your needs.” He also plans to continue strengthening marriage preparation and enrichment programs and providing “worship experiences which adequately address the racial and ethnic diversity among married couples today.”
Audience: This letter is intended for the people of St. Paul and Minneapolis and those involved in marriage preparation there and throughout the church in the United States.
Purpose: Archbishop Flynn wishes “to focus on those means by which our church can provide a truly useful and Catholic program of preparation for marriage.”
Summary: Here Archbishop Flynn discusses “certain elements which form the core of an authentic preparation for Catholic marriage.” Although he recognizes the importance of programs that instruct couples in the “sociological aspects of marriage,” he wants to emphasize “specifically religious and sacramental elements involved” in the marriage vocation. He also stresses the importance of post- wedding help to newly married couples, and he offers his encouragement to those suffering from a troubled marriage or divorce.
Pastoral Implications: Flynn wants all of the marriage preparation courses in his archdiocese to address the following:
Audience: This letter is intended for the faithful of the diocese of Seattle and all those who have an interest in upholding the sanctity of marriage.
Purpose: Archbishop Brunett is writing this letter “because of challenges to the understanding of marriage commonly held in our society.” He intends to “deepen [the reader’s] appreciation for the gift of marriage and to help [the reader] know the Catholic Church’s care and support for this special sacrament.”
Summary: Archbishop Brunett enumerates the importance of marriage from different perspectives, focusing on the foundation of marriage, the challenges to marriage, the supports for marriage, the need to uphold marriages and the future of marriage. He makes clear that the church understands sacramental marriage as a vocation which the couple strives to live out through all “its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures. . . its joys and sorrows.” Also, as a ruling from Washington’s Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage was awaited, Brunett said that “support for marriage as a sacred union between a man and a woman is an urgent priority for our church and for our culture.” He urges both couples and parishes to do their part to promote marriage.
Pastoral Implications: Archbishop Brunett suggests that couples and parishes take steps to support marriage. He hopes married couples will prayerfully reflect on their vocation, participate in marriage and family movements, and take advantage of the sacraments, among other suggestions. He advises parishes to celebrate anniversaries publicly, announce marriages prominently, create mentor programs to assist younger married couples, and pray for divorced and separated persons, among other suggestions.
- “Annulment Is Not a Divorce” by Bishop Sean O’Malley of Fall River, MA June 19, 1997, Vol. 27: No. 5.
Bishop O’Malley’s article aims “to help people have some understanding of the concept of annulment, which is different from a divorce.” He dispels misunderstandings about annulments and strongly emphasizes the permanence of Christian marriage.
- “Pastoral Letter on Cohabitation” by Bishop George Speltz of St. Cloud October 18, 1984, Vol. 14: No. 18.
- “Cohabitation Before Marriage” by Kansas Bishops June 4, 1998, Vol. 28: No. 3.
- “Couples Living Together Before Marriage” by Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, TX June 12, 1997, Vol. 27: No. 4.
- “Before You Say ‘I Do’” by Bishop D’Arcy of Fort Wayne-South Bend October 1, 1998, Vol. 28: No. 16
- “Cohabitation and Marriage in the Church” by Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe September 16, 1999, Vol. 29: No. 14.
- “Marriage: Foundation of Social Life” by Bishop James Griffin of Columbus February 10, 2000, Vol. 29: No. 34.
- “Pastoral Guidelines on Cohabitation” by Bishop Michael Pfeifer of San Angelo, TX August 16, 2001, Vol. 31: No. 11.
Bishop Speltz outlines the policies regarding cohabitation in his diocese, saying that pastors should not witness the marriage of a couple who refuses to stop cohabiting. “The policy promulgated by Speltz includes guidelines for cases in which a priest. . . deems it advisable that a marriage take place even though a couple is living together.”
“A series of questions to assist engaged couples who cohabit and those involved in their marriage preparation ‘to jointly discern whether the couple is ready for marriage’ are found in a pastoral letter issued by the Kansas bishops.” Along with discussing the pastoral needs of cohabiting couples, the bishops “examine nine points identified in recent studies as reasons why engaged couples cohabit.”
Bishop Pfeifer’s letter discusses the pastoral care of couples who live together before marriage. He wants to ensure that those who prepare couples for marriage know how to address this “added complexity.” Although he emphasizes the importance of marital commitment and marital sexuality, he reminds his readers that all “couples have a natural right to marry, and baptized Christians have a supernatural right to the sacraments.”
This text was included in a brochure with a series of questions and answers on marriage and cohabitation. This brochure was given out to engaged couples in the Diocese of Fort Wayne- South Bend, Ind. The brochure says, “We expect couples to be attending Mass regularly (if Catholic), to be living apart and reserving sexual relations until after the wedding, and to be modeling the virtues of charity and justice in their lives. If a pastor evaluates that a couple is unable or unwilling to accept or work toward these expectations, then he may delay marriage in the church while continuing to minister to the couple in the hope of fostering their spiritual and emotional growth. Or he may ask that the wedding ceremony be small.”
Archbishop Sheehan speaks against cohabitation and urges couples who cohabit to separate. He espouses a properly ordered vision of spousal love and urges pastoral sensitivity towards those who are cohabiting.
Bishop Griffin introduces his argument against domestic partnerships, same-sex unions, and cohabitation by exploring the proper ends of spousal love and the special place marriage has in God’s plan and in society.
Bishop Pfeifer outlines the guidelines on cohabitation for the diocese of San Angelo, TX. He instructs pastors and pastoral leaders who interact with cohabiting couples to avoid “immediately confronting the couple and condemning their behavior” or “ignoring the cohabitation aspect of their relationship.” He reminds pastors that “cohabitation is not in itself a canonical impediment to marriage” and he calls for the whole faith community to reach out to cohabiting couples.
- “A Misunderstood Papal Intervention” by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver September 17, 1998, Vol. 28: No. 14.
- “Marriage: A Communion of Life and Love” by Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, FL October 2, 2003, Vol. 33: No. 17
- “Life-Giving Love of Husband and Wife in Light of the Teaching of the Church on Marriage and the Family” by Bishop John Steinbock of Fresno, CA January 1, 2002. This letter did not appear in Origins, click here to read it.
Archbishop Chaput discusses the importance of Humanae Vitae and its teaching on contraception. He speaks about the flaws in communicating the message of this encyclical, saying, “in presenting the nature of Christian marriage to a new generation we need to articulate its fulfilling satisfactions at least as well as its duties.” He continues, “if knowingly and freely engaged in, contraception is a grave sin. . . Nonetheless. . . teaching the truth should always be done with patience and compassion as well as firmness.”
Bishop Galeone addresses the problem of contraception and offers natural family planning as a properly ordered way of spacing children.
Bishop Steinbock’s letter reflects on the teaching of Humanae Vitae in light of the present culture. The heart of his message is that marriage entails “the reciprocal gift of exclusive, unending, and fruitful love.” He notes the scientific advancements concerning fertility and the low divorce rate among couples practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP) as two encouraging reasons for people to re-examine Church teaching on marital love. Bishop Steinbock also discusses how NFP cooperates with God’s creative power, fosters the spiritual lives of couples, and furthers respect and reverence for women. Finally, the Bishop addresses the relationship between personal conscience and Church teaching. The letter concludes by asking priests, teachers, parents, and all the faithful to “articulate it (Church teaching on marriage and NFP) well to the people entrusted to their care"
The pieces in this section are all focused more broadly on the life of the family. The amount of discussion of marriage varies among them.
- “Pastoral Message for the Family Year” by Bishop John McGann of Rockville Centre January 31, 1980, Vol. 9: No. 33. pp. 535-540.
- “The Treasure of the Family” by Bishop Bernard Schmitt of Wheeling-Charleston January 16, 1992, Vol. 21: No. 32. pp. 509-514.
- “Giving Justice a Family Base” by Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro, KY November 19, 1992, Vol. 22: No. 23. pp. 394-398.
- “Pastoral Action at Each Stage of Family Life” by Archbishop Francis Schulte of New Orleans January 12, 1995, Vol. 24: No. 30
Bishop McGann of Rockville Centre published his letter in anticipation of the Year of the Family. He speaks about the problems and mysteries of marriage and family life, the meaning of conjugal love, and the vocation of marriage. The letter introduces a plan for expanding ministries to families, emphasizing the pastoral care of pre-marrieds and singles, married couples (especially those in the first few years of marriage and those in their retirement years), separated and divorced people, and others.
Bishop Schmitt’s pastoral letter in support of strong families is a product of many focus groups in his diocese. Although not primarily devoted to marriage, his letter acknowledges that family “proceeds from marriage” and does briefly comment on marriage. His plan of action includes the support of marriage at the parish level.
Bishop McRaith here stresses “the family as the place where church social teaching is learned.” The family, not the married couple, is at the center of this letter, though he does discuss married life briefly.
Audience: Archbishop Schulte addresses his pastoral letter the people of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. His suggestions for pastoral care of families are particularly relevant to pastors and to lay leaders at parishes.
Purpose: His letter comes at the close of the Year of the Family. In it, he hopes “to enable each of our families to extend and deepen the lessons learned during 1994.” In light of the many struggles families have to contend with, he wants to put the importance of the family in a theological context and offer pastoral advice for dealing with those struggles.
Summary of Relevant Topics: Although he focuses on the family more broadly, Archbishop Schulte does address the foundational role of marriage for family life. He writes about the damage that widespread divorce and the use of contraception has had on marriage, then goes on to reflect that this damage can be counteracted through a Christian vision of the loving commitment required of spouses. His theological reflections on the nature of the Trinity and of covenant theology leads to an affirmation of marriage as an image of the covenant God made with his people. The commitment to this covenant is his primary concern. He concludes that Christian marriage is indissoluble, the place for sexual activity is only within marriage, and sexual expression within marriage must be open to children.
Archbishop Schulte gives pastoral guidance to young married couples, urging them to have patience with each other as they build the foundation of their union. He addresses couples in their middle years, advising them to re-examine their priorities and take the time to deepen existing relationships. He also honors those in the later years of their marriages and consoles those who are grieving the loss of a spouse.
He reminds pastors that marriage “must be nurtured throughout its several stages” and that “the obligation of fostering successful marriages. . . does not end with the nuptial blessing.” To that end, he asks that pastors warmly welcome new families, support the work of marriage enrichment programs such as Marriage Encounter, and be attentive to the grief of bereaved spouses. He urges those wounded by divorce to contact the Family Life Apostolate for resources and referrals.
Archbishop Schulte particularly emphasizes the importance of the work of the Family Life Office in his archdiocese. He recommends that each parish establish a family life committee – forming a “permanent body to deal with marriage and family issues throughout the various stages of life.” He also encourages “neighboring parishes to pool their resources in forming a ministry to the separated and divorced and in assisting couples in their first five years of marriage.”
- “Human Sexuality” by Archbishop William Borders of Baltimore April 30, 1987, Vol. 16: No. 46. pp. 807-815.
- “Texas Bishops’ Statement on Sexuality” January 14, 1988, Vol. 17: No. 31. pp. 541-544.
- “Heritage of Love” by Florida Bishops January 21, 1988, Vol. 17, No. 32. pp. 552-553.
- “Pastoral Statement: Marriage, Sexuality and Chastity” by Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore January 25, 2001, Vol. 30: No. 32.
- “Catholic Teaching on the Human Body” by Archbishop John Myers of Newark January 9, 2003, Vol. 32: No. 30
- “Pastoral Letter on Chastity” by Bishop Joseph Martino of Scranton January 20, 2005, Vol. 34: No.31. pp. 500-504.
- “The Redemption of Our Bodies” by Bishop Robert J. Baker, S.T.D. of Charleston, October 6, 2005, Vol. 35: No. 17.
Archbishop Borders’ pastoral letter on sexuality discusses “the purpose of sexuality, its beauty, its sacramental aspect and the meaning of true chastity for persons in various walks of life.” He urges the proper integration of the bodily and spiritual aspects of sexuality and the proper pastoral care of those who struggle with sexual problems.
In a statement entitled “An Invitation to Love,” the Texas bishops consider the “moral and spiritual significance of human sexuality.” They discuss chastity, a theology of the body, and abuses of sexuality. The bishops also urge public advocacy of properly ordered sexuality.
The bishops of Florida explain that “the power and message of genital intimacy deserve enormous respect. In fact, its message of self-gift, commitment and fidelity has only one appropriate setting.” In marriage, sexual intimacy is shared “to build bonds of family and unity.”
Audience: The letter is intended to reach the people and pastors of Baltimore and the broader church.
Purpose: “The purpose of this pastoral statement on marriage, sexuality, and chastity is threefold. First it is offered to assist pastors in presenting a positive and wholesome Catholic vision of sexuality to their people. Second, it is written to articulate and encourage a convincing case for the value of chastity. And third, it is meant to address practical pastoral issues which point up the need for a positive and realistic sexual teaching.”
Summary: Cardinal Keeler begins by emphasizing the positive vision of sexuality that the church has and must espouse. He explains this positive vision by viewing it through the lens of both the teaching of scripture and the church on marriage and sexuality. He writes about the vocation of chastity: “The way back to a more reasonable and healthy sexual morality and behavior is through a renewed appreciation of chastity. Cardinal Keeler also addresses the pastoral treatment of couples who cohabit and persons with homosexual attractions.
Pastoral Implications: Pastors and lay people should convey the church’s positive vision of sexuality through preaching and catechesis.
“Cohabiting couples should be instructed to live apart before marriage for the sake of their own spiritual and marital integrity.”
“The pastoral challenge [with regard to homosexuality] is to stand with the person while at the same time making clear that homosexual acts, like other sexual activity outside the marital union of husband and wife, are not morally permissible.”
Archbishop Myers looks broadly at issues relating to the theology of the body, and a discussion of marital sexuality is included. He emphasizes the positive aspects of this theology and cautions that "denying the body's reality is dangerous, [and] so is its unreal glorification to excess."
Bishop Martino makes clear that “the great good of sex may not be separated from procreation, love, and marriage.” He discusses chastity broadly and within the context of married life.
Bishop Baker highlights the great resource of the theology of the body, which “has arrived just in time for us to be clear about the nature of the person God has created and as the way to wholeness and holiness." This theology "presents an understanding of the whole human person and thus provides a context into which specific behaviors can be seen." He says, "A central tenet of the theology of the body is that faithful, self-donative love, and the communion which results from the giving and receiving of that gift, is the creative dynamic which reflects the inner life of the Holy Trinity." Bishop Baker's pastoral letter discusses numerous specific issues, some of which are masculinity and femininity, homosexuality, contraception, celibacy, abstinence, chastity and marriage.
- Sexuality: “Sexuality and Church Teaching” by Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati October 9, 1980, Vol. 10: No. 17. pp. 260-262.
- Intimacy: “Toward a Spirituality of Marital Intimacy” by Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati October 16, 1980, Vol. 10: No. 18. pp. 286-288.
- Interfaith: “Ministry to Interfaith Marriages” by Auxiliary Bishop J. Francis Stafford of Baltimore October 23, 1980, Vol. 10: No. 19. pp. 292-294.
- Sacrament: “The Marriage Covenant” by Auxiliary Bishop J. Francis Stafford of Baltimore October 30, 1980, Vol. 10: No. 20. pp. 317-318.
- Family: “The Family and the Synod” by Auxiliary Bishop J. Francis Stafford of Baltimore December 25, 1980, Vol. 10: No. 28. pp. 446-448.
Archbishop Bernardin addresses the problem that “there is a significant gap between church teaching on sexual morality and the attitudes held by many laity and even priests.” He calls for a more positive theology of sexuality, “not to replace this moral teaching with a substantively different one, but to help people see more clearly why the tradition takes the positions it does.”
In this written intervention to the Synod of Bishops, Archbishop Bernardin discusses the meaning of marital intimacy, the challenges it brings, and the need for the development of an asceticism for married life, which would encourage detachment from things and from self, thereby emphasizing the virtue of having proper attachments to each other and to God.
In this written intervention submitted to the Synod of Bishops, Bishop Stafford explains that “even though we do not wish to encourage interfaith marriages, it is of the utmost importance that we recognize the special character of such marriages and propose an appropriate pastoral ministry for them.” He contends that with pastoral help, an interfaith couple “can be a great witness to the cause of Christian unity.”
“Marriage is a covenant in which partners ‘experience their conjugal and parental roles as sacramental,’ Auxiliary Bishop J. Francis Stafford of Baltimore told participants in the Synod of Bishops. . . The bishop’s basic point is his intervention, he said, was this: ‘It is not only the wedding but also the whole marriage that is a sacrament.’”
Bishop Stafford reports here on a White House conference on the family and on the Synod’s discussion of family life. He explains how the “synod had the working hypothesis – the operational wisdom – to see that in tiny groups people can be helped in ways that institutions cannot help. Just by their presence, Christian families and small groups of families can renew whole neighborhoods and villages.”