BALTIMORE | The nation's Catholic bishops approved a pastoral letter on marriage Tuesday as their pivotal effort in their battle to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The letter, "Love and Life in the Divine Plan" passed by 180 votes to 45, with three abstentions. It is part of a multipronged effort to educate the nation's 67 million Catholic faithful that already includes an English-language Web site: ForYourMarriage.org, which was started in June 2007.
The effort will include a Spanish-language Web site to debut in early 2010, a TV and radio ad campaign in 2011, a series of booklets on "Living Your Catholic Marriage," and a church-wide "World Marriage Sunday" on Feb. 14, 2010.
Although the voting total did not reveal who voted against the document, several bishops floated unsuccessful amendments, such as Orlando, Fla., Bishop Thomas Wenski's suggestion that the document stress more strongly that Catholic youth should date only Catholics. He was told the document already had nearly a full page stressing the difficulties of "mixed marriages" between Catholics and other Christians.
And retired Anchorage Archbishop Francis T. Hurley urged the entire document be rewritten, saying it should be based on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "God Is Love."
Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl called the letter a "good document," saying it's been worked on for the past two years and that he, as a member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine, had already studied it for any possible errors.
"The document itself is solidly theological," he said. In response to some bishops' criticisms that it leaves out critical areas, "It's not intended to be used to address every pastoral application," he added. "There will be smaller publications dealing with pastoral issues."
Bishops overwhelmingly voted to approve another document "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology" by a 220-4 margin, with three abstentions. The document gives guidelines to infertile Catholic couples about in-vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogate motherhood, sperm donation and cloning. The Catholic Church deems immoral any conception that bypasses sexual intercourse.
"Children have the right to be conceived by the act that expresses and embodies their parents' self-giving love," the document says. "Morally responsible medicine will assist this act instead of substituting for it."
Philadelphia Cardinal Justin Rigali said bishops wrote the letter because, "any method of 'making babies' is considered by many to be 'pro-life.' "
The document does not rule out embryo adoption, whereby a woman is impregnated with embryos left over from IVF, but does say there are "moral concerns" about the act.
When asked to for a definite decision, "The conclusion [in the Vatican] is that it's neither outlawed nor accepted," Cardinal Rigali said.
"Certainly it's a matter undergoing further study," said Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn. "But the guidance would be not to do so until there is greater clarity."
The document seems to lean toward such "adoptions," though as an act of mercy in saving a life that would otherwise be destroyed, a situation that only exists because a behavior condemned as immoral is legal and widespread.
"The terrible plight of abandoned frozen embryos underscores the need for our society to end practices such as IVF," it said, "that regularly produce so many 'spare' or unwanted human beings."
Julia Duin is the Times’ religion editor. She has a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...
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