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Archbishop challenges priests to defend marriage

By Meghan Dorney
Posted: 12/19/2003

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Speaking to priests Dec. 16, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley strongly urged them to publicly defend traditional marriage and impress its importance upon their parishioners. He also expressed disappointment that a number of priests had chosen not to read a letter written by Massachusetts bishops on the issue to parishioners.

Last month the four bishops of Massachusetts sent a letter defending marriage to all pastors. The letter was to be read at all Masses the weekend of Nov. 30; however, a number of pastors chose not to act on the archbishop’s request.

"I realize that not all of our people would be happy to hear the letter," the archbishop stated. "In part that is due to our failure, yours and mine, to catechize our own people whose values are shaped more by TV sitcoms than by the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Archbishop O’Malley, himself, has spoken in defense of marriage on a number of occasions since his installation. At the meeting, he mentioned an October summit on marriage organized by the Massachusetts Family Institute in which he spoke before Protestant and Jewish religious leaders.

Although the religions differ on their reasons behind supporting traditional marriage, the talk was “very well received by the ecumenical community,” he said. He also noted that the full text of his remarks was reprinted in The Boston Globe the following day.

The archbishop said that, after receiving a positive response from non-Catholics and from a secular newspaper on the issue, he was disheartened by the lack of support from some of his own priests.

"I know that the timing was difficult being the first Sunday of Advent and the weekend of Thanksgiving, still I was disappointed to hear that a message that was so warmly received by the ecumenical community and left uncensored by the Globe went unread by some of our priests," the archbishop stated.

Archbishop O’Malley stressed that Gospel values, including traditional marriage, must be conveyed to Catholics even when they are seen as counter-cultural.

The archbishop recalled an instance many years ago when he celebrated Mass on the Independence Day of Argentina before a cathedral full of diplomats and military personnel. He chose to give his homily on the Church’s social Gospel and the immorality of torture, kidnappings and other violations of rights that Argentinean officials were employing at the time.

"The entire church got up and rushed to the doors ... that was probably the most difficult sermon I have ever given, but I have never regretted it," Archbishop O'Malley said.

"We must preach the Gospel in season and out of season," he continued. "If a redefinition of marriage is enshrined in the law of the commonwealth, it will be a tragedy for the entire country. And if that happens because of our cowardice or inertia, we shall have to answer before God."

He urged the priests to commit themselves towards the defense of marriage in the weeks leading up to a February vote in the legislature that is critical for the passage of a marriage amendment.

"It is crucial that we encourage our people to call on our elected officials to defend the institution of marriage," he stated.

"In no way should this be seen as promoting homophobia or cruel prejudices against members of our community, but we must call on all Catholics to be Catholic and to do the right thing -- to safeguard the institution of marriage," the archbishop continued.

Speaking after the meeting, Father Robert Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Sharon, was encouraged by the archbishop’s words on same-sex marriage.

"We have a theology of marriage and that theology has to be made clear to Catholic people," said Father Bullock. "We have to make our case to parishioners."