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In Defense of Marriage

Bishop Tartaglia's Homily at Red Mass

EDINBURGH, Scotland, OCT. 22, 2006 (Zenit) - Legislative measures in Scotland and elsewhere have jeopardized family life, according to Bishop Philip Tartaglia.

The 55-year-old bishop of Paisley defended marriage and family in this homily to members of the legal profession during the annual Red Mass on Oct. 8 in St. Mary's Cathedral.

* * *

In today's Gospel, Jesus talks of man, woman and children. In fact he talks of husband, wife and children, which we have come to call the family.

The family constituted by parents, a man and woman married to each other, and their offspring, has been the basic cell of society in pre-Christian, Christian and non-Christian cultures for millennia. Until now.

Now a raft of legislative measures here in Scotland as elsewhere has jeopardized, recklessly I think, family life as intended by God's purpose for human beings created in his image and likeness.

As men and women of the legal profession, these legislative measures will be well known to you. Some of them are these: The Family Law Act which makes divorce even quicker and gives quasi-marital status to de facto heterosexual unions. Civil Partnership legislation allows homosexual couples to register their relationships and enjoy a civil status analogous to marriage. The Gender Recognition Act allows people to choose to be male or female irrespective of their sex.

The Catholic Church's view of these kinds of developments here and elsewhere is well known. We have protested all of these measures. Our reaction to civil partnership legislation is typical of our stance. The social teaching of the Church could not be clearer: "By putting homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and family life, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties" [Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, No. 228].

This may seem hard on legislators. Yet I have some sympathy for them! They are making provisions for a very diverse, pluralist, secular society, which is being encouraged to become intolerant of and even hostile to the Christian patrimony of this country. They have to respond to pressure groups and focus groups and all kinds of well-organized, well-financed and very determined alliances. And, while the Catholic Church speaks clearly enough on these matters, the Christian voice is sadly muffled, so legislators can more easily set our opinions aside.

As I say, I have some sympathy for legislators, but not a lot. They should know better what is good for society, and in some cases they do know better but ignore it in the interests of power. For instance, all reputable research shows that children do better with two parents who are husband and wife. But political correctness, very often the enemy of right thinking and freedom of speech, practically forbids this to be said because it will offend some group's sensitivities.

But the main reason I do not have sympathy for the legislators who have enacted these laws is because the truth of marriage and of the family is not just a mystery of faith but belongs to the natural law and is accessible by reason. Even many non-Christian societies have recognized this. Unfortunately, in our times, the minds of many have been so darkened by hubris and by the selfish pursuit of their own gratification that they have lost sight of the natural law which God has written into his creation so that even those who do not believe in him may reach out for the truth and so be disposed, however inchoately, to God's presence in the world. Even if they cannot be blamed for not having faith, I suspect that God will call them to account for ignoring the promptings of their own right reason. They are fortunate that he is more merciful than they are!

So in this context it is more than ever necessary for us to be strengthened, enlightened, consoled and inspired by the Word of God. In today's Gospel, Jesus makes it clear that divorce and remarriage is not the way he wants his disciples to live. Divorce may have been possible to some extent in his time under the Mosaic law, just as it is possible, very much more possible, almost to the point of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, in our society. But it is decidedly not what God wants.

Jesus appeals to the mystery of creation. God made them male and female, man and woman, as the first form of communion between persons. "This is why a man must leave father and mother, and the two become one body. They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has joined together, man must not divide." This is the wonderful vision of marriage which the Catholic Church offers to her children and to all men and women.

It is the vision of marriage which still basically unites Christians, Jews, Muslims and adherents of other respected religions. It is the vision of marriage too which basically inspires any man and woman who marry with true love in their hearts. They want lasting, enduring, faithful love. This vision of marriage is the hope of right reason as well the gift of faith.

Sadly, however, lasting, enduring, faithful love is not always what happens. The Church knows this and, while upholding the sanctity of the marriage bond, has developed a compassionate pastoral attitude to people whose marriages have broken up, encouraging them to remain part of the life of the Church and offering them the things that only the Church can offer to help them to lighten their burden. As you know, there is also the possibility of an annulment appeal to a Church tribunal. As you know, the Scottish Catholic Tribunal investigates among other things serious defects in the original consent exchanged by the couple such as to render that consent null, and so carries out an essential obligation of the Church to bring justice in a timely manner to its appellants.

As you know too, marriage breakdown often ends in a civil divorce. Divorce settlement is bread and butter to the legal profession. Here, Catholic lawyers are in the unenviable position of having to facilitate a legal procedure, civil divorce, which is a grave offense against the natural law because it claims to break the contract to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church gives a chilling but completely realistic description of the pernicious effects of divorce on spouses, children and society: "Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes it truly a plague on society" (CCC, No. 2385). So no one, my dear brothers and sisters, should ever get blasé about divorce.

At the same time, we know that a civil divorce may be the only way to tidy up what is already a tragic mess for spouses and children. In these circumstances, civil divorce may be the only possible way of ensuring certain legal rights, the safety of one of the spouses, the care of the children or the protection of inheritance. And in these cases, divorce does not constitute a moral offence (CCC, No. 2383). Remarriage is another matter, but that is not usually the concern of lawyers.

So I would hope that Catholic lawyers will bring to this situation their Catholic principles and conscience about the sanctity of marriage which means that saving the marriage is always a possibility and that divorce is never going to be a quick-fix solution to a problem. I am told that good lawyers nearly always first put the case for staying together to their clients who are in the throes of marriage breakdown.

They will, of course, carry out their work to the best of their professional ability in the best interests of their clients and their children. And in the context of the legal profession and in dealing with politicians, legislators and civic leaders, they should not hesitate to defend the sanctity of marriage and to underline the nefarious consequences of a divorce mentality on the common good of our society.

Lawyers are also well placed to bring to the attention of legislators and others the value of public funding for programs of marriage preparation and of marriage counseling which give a high priority to safeguarding and preserving the marriage bond. This would be a worthwhile contribution to creating a social capital of stable family life. This, my dear brothers and sisters, is the kind of witness to which Catholic lay people are called through their baptism, confirmation and membership of the Church.

Finally, my dear brothers and sisters, let me conclude by affirming our faith that Christian marriage is a holy mystery and a noble vocation. It signifies the union of Christ and the Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with which Christ loved his Church. It is based on the consent of a man and woman to give themselves to each other mutually and definitively, in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love. Marriage in Christ gives rise to the Christian home where children receive the first proclamation of the faith. The family home is rightly called "the domestic Church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human virtues and of Christian charity.

May you who are married have the joy of living in such a union. May you all, in your professional lives, find the strength in Christ to uphold the sacredness of marriage in your work and in the public square, for the common good of our society and of our country.

[Text adapted]

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