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BRIGHTON — In a push to rally Catholics across the Commonwealth, the four Massachusetts bishops convened publicly Jan. 16 to announce the launch of a campaign to mail nearly 1 million leaflets to Massachusetts Catholics championing traditional marriage. The bishops hope their monumental effort will encourage citizens to voice their support for marriage before a scheduled marriage amendment vote Feb. 11.
The mailer, titled “Marriage in Massachusetts: Crisis and Challenge,” explains the Church’s position on marriage and instructs citizens on how they can help defend it.
At the press conference, held at St. John’s Seminary, each of the bishops read a portion of a prepared statement in defense of marriage. It was the first joint appearance of the bishops of the four dioceses since 1999, when state’s bishops decried attempts to reinstate capital punishment in Massachusetts.
The Supreme Judicial Court’s Nov. 18 decision to legalize same-sex marriage dictates law and usurps the role of the Legislature, said Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of the Diocese of Springfield. He went on to state that the federal government and 37 states have passed laws affirming marriage.
The SJC’s decision “does not represent the majority view of people in the country or state,” Bishop Dupre said. “Just because the SJC made this decision doesn’t mean it’s right.”
The informational mailing, which includes an individual message from each bishop and a statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is a key component of the bishops’ efforts to protect marriage.
Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley of Boston described the endeavor as a “critical stage in the educational efforts” of the Church on the issue of same-sex marriage. The Church’s and the bishops’ stance on marriage, he stated, does not represent a prejudicial or strictly religious view, but one that is directed towards strengthening the institutions that form the basis of society — marriage and the family.
"Sadly, in recent years we have witnessed the breakdown of family life, especially in Western society, due to no-fault divorce and the generalization of the acceptance of cohabitation," said Archbishop O'Malley. "The campaign to redefine marriage will only accelerate this negative trend by making the institution indifferent to the absence of either a mother or a father, regardless of the impact on children.
The archbishop went on to state that “all studies” reveal that the best environment for children is with a mother and father who are in a committed relationship.
Marriage has become more “adult-centered” rather than “child-centered,” Worcester Bishop Daniel P. Reilly said, quoting the results of a recent study by Rutgers University.
The SJC’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage will continue this trend, he said.
Since marriage became an issue of debate and controversy, the four bishops have made their voices heard and encouraged citizens to uphold the definition of marriage. They have written two joint statements opposing same-sex marriage — in June and November 2003 — which were to be read to parishioners throughout the state.
However, at the press conference, the bishops said that not enough people are contacting their legislators to express their support for marriage. Bishop Dupre said their inaction may be caused by the “fear of being falsely labeled as bigots or intolerant.” He cited the media for fostering the impression that being against same-sex marriage is an act of discrimination.
"We do not see this as an act of bigotry," added Archbishop O'Malley. "We see it as an act of love for families."
Despite claims by same-sex marriage proponents, marriage is not “a question of civil rights,” Bishop Dupre said. Only recently has marriage between one man and one woman, an institution which predates civil society, been seen as a denial of civil rights he continued.
"We are defending and promoting what has always been accepted ... we are not the ones changing anything," he said.
"These developments have spurred the Catholic Church to expand its efforts in a way that encourages citizens to be more informed and to be involved to an even greater degree in this crucial public debate," stated Bishop Dupre. "To meet this challenge, we have committed ourselves to do all we can."
The four-page mailer tells citizens how to contact their legislators through personal visits, telephone calls or written correspondence. Making legislators aware of popular support for marriage is crucial to achieving a positive vote on the Marriage Affirmation and Protection Amendment (MA and PA) at the constitutional convention Feb. 11., said the bishops.
"This historic endeavor reflects the seriousness with which we take the need for legislators to give initial approval to the marriage amendment on Feb. 11," said Bishop George W. Coleman of Fall River. "The people should have the right to vote on restoring the definition of marriage as the union between a man and a woman."
The mailer also suggests that Catholics write a letter to the editor of their local newspaper in support of traditional marriage, participate in marriage rallies or other pro-marriage events, organize local marriage discussions, stay informed on the issue and pray that traditional marriage will be upheld.
"Will our efforts inspire more people to talk to their legislators, which in turn may encourage legislators to do the right thing? We hope so," Bishop Coleman said. "The stakes are too high, and we will have to answer to God for anything we fail to do."
Catholic legislators have a “moral obligation” to vote in favor of the amendment, stated Bishop Dupre. However, non-Catholic representatives should also uphold marriage because it is “fundamental to all of society,” he continued.
An amendment to the constitution requires affirmative votes at two constitutional conventions, with the first scheduled for Feb. 11. Should the marriage protection amendment win the vote at two conventions, the next opportunity for the amendment to make the ballot for a popular vote is November 2006.