10 October 2011

Illinois Bishops establish Defense of Marriage Department

From the Catholic Times, with my emphases:

In light of ever-increasing threats to marriage, the bishops of Illinois have recently created a Defense of Marriage Department within the Catholic Conference of Illinois (CCI).

Zach Wichmann, CCI's director of government, heads the new department, with each diocese appointing advocates who seek to promote the church's love and solicitude toward marriage, families and children, and defend against public policy encroachments.

In the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois Carlos Tejeda, associate director of the Office for Marriage and Family Life, has been appointed the diocesan representative to the Defense of Marriage Department. He has begun attending quarterly meetings with Deacon Richard Hudzik from the Chicago archdiocese, Laurie Edwards from the Belleville diocese, Michael Brummond from the Joliet diocese, Tim Roder from the Peoria diocese, and Mary O'Grady from the Rockford diocese.

"The formation of the new department comes on the heels of Illinois' new civil unions law and same-sex marriage proposals in other states," said Mary Massingale, director of communications for CCI. "Additionally, the refusal of the Obama administration to defend the Defense of Marriage Act creates a sense of urgency in preserving the status of traditional marriage as outlined in USCCB President Archbishop Timothy Dolan's letter to (President Barack) Obama."

Massingale refers to Archbishop Dolan's 800-plus word letter, dated Sept. 20, that urged the president to keep the Defense of Marriage Act strongly in place.

"This past spring the Justice Department announced it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, a decision strongly opposed by the Catholic Bishops of the United States and many others," Archbishop Dolan wrote in his initial paragraph. "Now the Justice Department has shifted from not defending DOMA — which is problem enough given the duty of the executive branch to enforce even laws it disfavors — to actively attacking DOMA's constitutionality.

"My predecessor, Cardinal Francis George, OMI, and I have expressed to you in the past our strong disappointment about the direction your administration has been moving regarding DOMA," he wrote. "Unfortunately, the only response to date has been the intensification of efforts to undermine DOMA and the institution of marriage. ...

"The Catholic Bishops stand ready to affirm every positive measure taken by you and your administration to strengthen marriage and the family," he continued. "We cannot be silent, however, when federal steps harmful to marriage, the laws defending it, and religious freedom continue apace." Archbishop Dolan also attached an analysis prepared by his staff that detailed the various executive "activities of late" that have warranted the bishops' "increasing apprehension."

Wichmann said both the letter and the development of the new department reflect the bishops' intention to keep the church in the public square and in line with the Catholic faith's mission. In Illinois, the Defense of Marriage Department will advocate marriage as the proper home for human sexuality, as it serves as an expression of love and cooperation in God's creative design.

"The purpose of the quarterly meetings is to develop suggestions and action points for the bishops to consider ... how to generate organic grassroots efforts for the preservation of marriage," Tejeda said. "We have a very great need to catechize the faithful as well as explain conjunctly to those outside the faith why we believe what we do and why that's, in fact, good for society."

Wichmann acknowledged that the new department will be fighting an uphill battle against current social trends. "The teachings of the church are not overwhelmingly popular everywhere, nor are they always easily explained," he said. "But our message will be proclaimed for the sake of stronger families, secure children and enriched spiritual life."

He noted that the new civil unions law is really just the tip of the iceberg as the historically cooperative relationship between the church and the state of Illinois has begun to dissolve. The recent decision by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to cancel contracts with Catholic Charities because of the organizations' refusal to place children with cohabitating couples — including those in civil unions — reflects a growing tension between the church and state.

"The government is not obliged to embrace church teaching," Wichmann said. "But the insistence that Catholic organizations discard that teaching undermines our mission and severely narrows opportunities for public ministry."

However, the Defense of Marriage Department is not meant to deal solely with the civil unions law, Tejeda said. "In 2009, the bishops came out with the pastoral letter Marriage, Love and Life in the Divine Plan. The whole USSCB approved this pastoral letter in 2009. One of the threats to marriage specifically outlined in this document — it is the second one — is same-sex unions."

The other threats against marriage, according to the bishops, are contraception, divorce and living together without marriage. "So certainly any time we speak about threats to marriage we need not just to send this one issue of same-sex unions. We need to preach with charity about the threats that contraception, divorce and cohabitation are to marriage," Tejeda said.

"Once we realize that we can understand that we don't have an agenda against those who experience same-sex attraction. What we have is a desire to journey with everybody who is tempted in difficult ways," he said. "So when an engaged couple desires to live together to save money before marriage we have the same very strong things to say — why that is not good for them and why that is not good for society."

Tejeda says in today's "sound-byte culture," it is important that the general public understand the true meaning of the Catholic Church's thoughts about marriage. In other words, what lay people see on television or read in secular papers doesn't provide the entire explanation of what Catholics really believe.

"Inevitably, if all people hear us talk about is fighting same-sex union legislation then it is very reasonable for them to make that conclusion (that the church is solely concerned about same-sex unions). So, on our part, we need to do just what the bishop's did and say, 'Look, in contemporary America there are four very constant threats to marriage, one of which is same-sex unions.'"

Tejeda said he hopes good things will come with the creation of the Defense of Marriage Department. "This is new territory for everybody. Hopefully the faithful of the diocese will see more resources being brought to their attention about why we understand marriage to be a sacrament between a man and a woman open to new life," he said.

"And once they are exposed to more of those resources about our understanding about the sacrament of matrimony that they can in turn vote a certain way and have informed conversations with their family and friends. That's really our hope and desire. We have to help our own faithful understand the sacrament more so that in turn society can have leaven and salt in the midst of it."

Editor's note: The entire content of Archbishop Timothy Dolan's letter to President Barack Obama can be found at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/marriage-and-family/marriage/promotion-and-defense-of-marriage/upload/dolan-to-obama-doma-letter-sept-20-2011.pdf.

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