Sunday, 26 August 2012

Scottish Bishops announce establishment of a Commission on Marriage

If one wishes to characterise in a headline the message being read today in the Catholic churches of Scotland, Scottish Catholic priests' letter condemns gay marriage would not be quite it. Neither would one report, as the BBC do, the establishing by the Scottish Bishops Conference of a National Commission on marriage as:
The letter also announces the launch of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family to co-ordinate a campaign against gay marriage.
Cardinal O'Brien's remarks in the press release do quite robustly address the current political situation:
"The Church's teaching on marriage is unequivocal, it is uniquely, the union of a man and a woman and it is wrong that Governments, politicians or Parliaments should seek to alter or destroy that reality.".... "While we pray that our elected leaders will sustain rather than subvert marriage, we promise to continue to do everything we can to convince them that redefining marriage would be wrong for society"
But they cannot justify the misrepresentation of the nature of the Commission :
"With this letter we will announce the creation of a National Commission for Marriage and the Family, a body which will be charged with promoting the true nature of marriage, it will develop an online prescence and produce materials and organise events which will help Catholic families to support and sustain marriage"
The major part of the message to be read in churches (full text at the end of the press release) describes the establishing of a Commission of the Bishops Conference, and the tasks that it will undertake. Rather than campaigning against the proposed legislation - something that does not feature in the Commission's terms of reference at all - the Commission will be tasked as follows:
... in the forthcoming Year of Faith we have decided to establish a new Commission for Marriage and the Family. This Commission will be led by a bishop and will be composed mostly of lay men and women. The Commission will be charged with engaging with those young men and women who will be future husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, and with those who already live out their vocation to marriage and parenthood in surroundings which often make it hard to sustain and develop the full Catholic family life we cherish.

We wish to support too, those who are widowed, separated and divorced and all who need to feel the Church’s maternal care in the circumstances in which they find themselves. The new Commission will promote the true nature of marriage as both a human institution and a union blessed by Jesus. The Commission will be asked to develop an online presence so that prayer, reflection, formation and practical information on matters to do with marriage and family life can be quickly accessible to all. It will also work to produce materials and organise events which will support ordinary Catholic families in their daily lives. During the course of the coming year we will ask for your support for these initiatives.

Our faith teaches us that marriage is a great and holy mystery. The Bishops of Scotland will continue to promote and uphold the universally accepted definition of marriage as the union solely of a man and a woman. At the same time, we wish to work positively for the strengthening of marriage within the Church and within our society.
What is striking about the message itself is the way in which it confirms Catholic teaching on marriage as being a life long union of a man and woman, and at the same time outlines a pastoral initiative to support the knowledge and practice of that teaching. It is being read on a Sunday that the Catholic Church in Scotland is marking as National Marriage Sunday, itself a pastoral initiative on behalf of marriage properly understood. All perfectly proper, and well within the role that would be expected of Catholic bishops.

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