by Cindy Wooden
VATICAN CITY (CNS) – The U.S. bishops’ attempts to defend religious freedom and the traditional definition of marriage must be accompanied by stronger efforts to educate Catholics about the Church’s real teaching on sexuality and marriage, several of the bishops said while at the Vatican.
“The church doesn’t say ‘no’ because she’s trying to be authoritarian or she’s trying to make life difficult for us. She’s saying ‘no’ because in her wisdom through all these ages, through these 2,000 years of experience, she knows what is best for us and how best to call us to Christ,” said Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Several archbishops from the Midwest spoke to Catholic News Service in early March during their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican. They were asked about Pope Benedict XVI’s March 9 speech about marriage and sexuality to bishops from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The pope told the bishops that permissive attitudes toward sex, cohabitation before marriage and acceptance of same-sex marriage can damage individuals and are harmful for society.
“It is in fact increasingly evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost,” the pope told the bishops.
Pope: Children Are Key Concern
Concentrating his remarks on the need to promote and explain Church teaching on sexuality, the pope said the Church’s key concern is “the good of children, who have a fundamental right to grow up with a healthy understanding of sexuality and its proper place in human relationships.”
Archbishop Nienstedt said that when he and other bishops from his region met for a more open-ended discussion with the pope March 8, he told the pope “we have a tremendous way to go to educate people in a proper understanding” of sexuality from a religious, philosophical and anthropological point of view. People need help looking at questions like who is the human person, “what does God intend for me to do, what does God intend for us as sexual beings?”
The fact that the media and the general public are watching how the bishops react to the Obama administration’s recent ruling on contraception as a part of health care, and to political campaigns to give legal recognition to same-sex unions, means the bishops have a greater opportunity to be heard when they try to preach or teach about sexuality and marriage, he said.
St. Louis Archbishop Robert J. Carlson said that especially in his group’s meeting at the Vatican Secretariat of State, the bishops affirmed their “total commitment to deal with what is a real attack on religious freedom” in the Health and Human Services ruling on providing insurance coverage for contraceptives, “but also to share with the Catholic people what the teachings of the church are.”
“This has given us a great opportunity to share the faith” and talk to Catholics “about the need for conscience formation,” the archbishop said.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kan., said his group also spoke to Vatican officials about the fact that some members of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the Catholic Health Association welcomed a revision to the HHS mandate, which the bishops said would still violate the rights of the Church.
“Those efforts are really undercutting the church and trying to divide it again by setting up two teaching authorities when there’s only one within the church,” the archbishop said.
“It’s a very serious issue, I think, particularly when religious try to insert themselves in the role of trying to be the teachers within the church. They have important roles to play but they are not the ones to teach on these matters,” he said.
In his speech March 9, Pope Benedict explained the Church’s insistence that marriage was a life-long union between a man and a woman, open to having and raising children.
Archbishop Naumann said, “The secular media immediately tried to reduce what the Holy Father said to bashing gay marriage and there was so much more – it’s true the church has serious objections to the redefinition of marriage – but there was so much more that was part of that catechesis. It showed on the Holy Father’s part a rich understanding of the pastoral challenges that we face.”