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The USCCB Pastoral Letter On Marriage…zzzzzz

This post was originally posted 10/12/2009 on my personal blog.  This ‘pastoral’ letter was one of those times when it became really apparent to me that I did not live in the same Catholic world this USCCB letter strongly suggests I live in……

I really did try to make it through the whole pastoral draft, but I admit, it was beyond my patience and tolerance level. In an effort to save readers some time, I’ll paraphrase the entire draft.

Everything is intrinsically evil when it comes to sex, unless sex is discretely engaged in for the purposes of procreation in a sacramental marriage.
That about sums up the entire message. No need to read the fifty or so pages which expand this basic concept–unless you want to subject yourself to excessive verbiage on the intrinsic evils of not understanding this basic concept.

The pastoral begins in the garden with Adam and Eve where we are informed that Eve is made to be Adam’s help meet and they are to be fruitful and multiply, and yes indeed they are made equally in God’s image with COMPLIMENTARY roles. This leads directly to the first of numerous cut and paste statements from one or the other of our last two popes. Oh yea, and the often stated but completely erroneous idea that the Church has always recognized marriage as between one man and woman for ever and ever amen–except for when it hasn’t, which was more or less it’s first 1100 years, which for some reason isn’t mentioned.

By the time I quit reading this pastoral it had more or less condemned 97% of American Catholics to hell if they don’t mend their ‘intrinsically evil’ ways. Which leaves about 3% of American Catholics saved and pastorally directed. A reasonable person might wonder what a Church actually has to offer when it’s leadership wipes out 97% of it’s membership in one pastoral letter.

A reasonable person might wonder if this statistical fact might just indicate that said leadership is completely out of touch with the real lived experience of their flock. Or maybe this is just an attempt to rally the true believing base, ala Rush Limbaugh. Judging from the comments on the NCR itself, it is not rallying the 97% it condemns to potential hell.

I personally agree with the NCR editorial board that the USCCB should just let this one quietly die, exactly as they did their ‘pastoral’ letter on women. At least with the pastoral letter on women they actually consulted women. Some people feel the disconnect this consultation presented between the teaching on women and women’s real experiences of the teaching is why that letter was dropped. Too much truth I guess.
This current pastoral letter most certainly didn’t consult anyone but JPII and Benedict. In my book, that’s kind of a definition of a cult when only one or two voices are consulted. This letter actually reads like most Opus Dei letters which constantly reference the thoughts of St. Escriva. I imagine a lot of members of Opus Dei are in that 3% and so they will be quite supportive of this letter. I wonder how many of them secretly wonder where God is when they sit at the kitchen table and try to balance the bills.
In this pastoral letter God is much more concerned with creating children than providing for them. In fact I don’t believe this pastoral letter even deals with any of the ‘providing for” aspects of creating the children we are to ‘raise and educate’ as our primary marital duty. Kind of like the abortion debate. There’s nary a word about providing the post birth care those potential humans will require.
I guess we are to trust in the providence of a God who lately has seemed quite indifferent to providing post birth care. Or maybe He is trying to provide–health care reform comes to mind–but His erstwhile leaders are too busy accepting provision for themselves from the very folks who aren’t interested in bringing God’s providence to fruition for the rest of us. Just a thought.

In any event, save yourself some serious frustration. Don’t attempt to read the whole thing. The NCR article and editorial has it about right. This letter is intended to be read by the Vatican for a pat on the back and career advancement. It’s not a useful or meaningful communication for American laity.

4 Responses

  1. You may be right that 97% of us aren’t in exact compliance with the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics.

    But I wonder, what percentage of us are in exact compliance with her other precepts–love your enemy, give what you have to the poor, take no care about tomorrow, turn the other cheek. I suspect our non-compliance rate there probably exceeds 97%. But does that make us want to modify the Sermon on the Mount?

    • The notable difference here, Rick, is that the sermon on the mount comes directly from the Gospels – i.e the clear teaching of Jesus Christ himself. The teaching of the Church on sexual ethics is just that- the Church’s own creation, with remarkably little foundation in Scripture, and almost none in the Gospels – much as they like to claim otherwise.

    • But I wonder, what percentage of us are in exact compliance with her other precepts–love your enemy, give what you have to the poor, take no care about tomorrow, turn the other cheek. I suspect our non-compliance rate there probably exceeds 97%. But does that make us want to modify the Sermon on the Mount?

      Apples and oranges Rick.

      Loving your enemy is a direct teaching from Jesus; the Vatican’s teachings on marriage, homosexuality and and birth control mostly come from an non-evolved, thirteenth century understanding of natural law.

      If Jesus didn’t address it, then it’s open to good faith debate.

  2. What a shame. 60 meaty, thoughtful pages of material to fuel a blog discussion, and you post this instead!

    It looks like you’re pretty proud of your original posting, so much so that you post it here months later!

    Maybe some of the more definitional aspects and philosophical distinctions (unitive, procreative) put you to sleep. (thus, your “zzzzz”).

    Maybe the length and depth of the letter couldn’t hold your atrophied attention span.

    Maybe the letter didn’t have the entertainment factor that you had hoped for, or wasn’t salacious enough.

    You say “paraphrase” and then you post alternatively in italics and then in plane text the following:

    (in quotes and italics” > “Everything is intrinsically evil when it comes to sex, unless sex is discretely engaged in for the purposes of procreation in a sacramental marriage.
    That about sums up the entire message. No need to read the fifty or so pages which expand this basic concept–unless you want to subject yourself to excessive verbiage on the intrinsic evils of not understanding this basic concept.”

    For more curious readers check out what it actually says here:

    http://www.usccb.org/laity/LoveandLife/MarriageFINAL.pdf

    To your odd point about Opus Dei, most members would probably realize concretely that God is right next them as they are paying bills. They take to heart the Bible (pray wtihout ceasing)

    From the Bishops’ letter:

    “A man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife serve as a symbol of both life and love in a way that no other relationship of human persons can.”

    Elsewhere:

    Conjugal love expresses the unitive meaning of marriage in such a way as to show how this meaning is ordered toward the equally obvious procreative meaning. The unitive meaning is distorted if the procreative meaning is deliberately disavowed. Conjugal love is then diminished. This love is, by its nature, faithful, exclusive, and intended to be fecund. As Pope Paul VI says,

    ―It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being.‖19 Without its ordering toward the procreative, the unitive meaning of marriage is undermined.
    Likewise, the procreative meaning of marriage is degraded without the unitive. If someone were to view his or her spouse simply as a way of producing offspring, with no loving attentiveness to the spouse‘s own good or fulfillment, this would offend against the human value of the procreative meaning.
    The procreative meaning of marriage involves not only the conception of children, but also their upbringing and education, including spiritual formation in the life of love. This formation can take place only within a human community formed in love. The loving communion of the spouses is the primary context in which children are both conceived and brought up in love.”

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