Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saying “No” to Violence in the Home

By Most Reverend Richard J. Malone

In his 2016 Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis returns again and again to the sad theme of violence in families. In this “love letter to families,” our Holy Father is very conscious of the toll – emotional, physical, and spiritual – that domestic violence takes on the women, men, and children who experience it.

Examining “the actual situations of families” (no. 6), Pope Francis acknowledges that “there is no family that does not know how selfishness, discord, tension and conflict violently attack and at times mortally wound its own communion” (no. 106). Speaking even more directly, he calls domestic violence “shameful” and, referring to violence of men against women, calls such actions “craven acts of cowardice” (no. 54).

As we bishops did in our statement about domestic violence, When I Call for Help, the Holy Father addresses various forms of abuse, including verbal, physical, and sexual (no. 54). When I Call for Help also listed psychological and economic abuse in this sad litany (p. 3). Violent, abusive behavior strikes at the heart of what the marriage covenant is meant to be: a loving, mutually respectful communion of persons.

What lies at the heart of domestic violence? While there are many ways to answer that question, drawing on various fields of study, Pope Francis invites us to go to the roots of the problem. His incisive commentary on what he calls “throwaway culture” is one way of describing the environment in which domestic violence flourishes. In a particularly fervent paragraph, he writes, “We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye” (no. 39).

The Holy Father also flags the inability to control one’s anger as another root cause of domestic violence. “It is one thing to sense a sudden surge of hostility,” he writes, “and another to give into it, letting it take roots in our hearts.” He concludes, “We must always say ‘no’ to violence in the home” (no. 104).

Creating families of peace, where all family members say “no” to violence, is the responsibility of all of us. During October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, in addition to Respect Life Month, we have a special opportunity to draw attention to the tragic fact that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one in three women and one in four men have been victims of rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by a boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse at some point in their lifetime.[1] These numbers are startling, and represent real sufferings experienced by everyone in the affected family, including the children who witness adult violence or are victims of abusive behavior themselves.

In addition to raising awareness about the high incidence of domestic violence and the effects it has on people’s lives, we need to bring a message of hope and healing. Christ is the Prince of Peace! He desires all families to be places of kindness, love and safety for all family members. Trained professionals and compassionate volunteers around the country work diligently to educate the public about domestic violence and provide emergency and long-term support for those experiencing violence at home.

In his closing prayer to the Holy Family at the end of Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis writes:

Holy Family of Nazareth,
may families never again experience
violence, rejection and division;
may all who have been hurt or scandalized
find ready comfort and healing.

That is my prayer as well. May all of us work toward a culture where all families live in peace.

Further resources:

Bishop Malone is Bishop of Buffalo and Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth
[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention, The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2010 Summary Report (2011). Quoted in the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence fact sheet, “What Is Domestic Violence?” (2015).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

(CNS/photo/Esteban Biba, EPA)
By Bishop Eusebio Elizondo

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.

The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

 We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.
Bishop Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Church’s Teaching on Contraception: Renewed Witness is Needed

By Most Reverend Richard J. Malone

What do men and women want? What do all of us yearn for? Certainly, love and happiness would be at the top of the list. We were made to love and to be loved. Unfortunately, today our culture is awash with multiple false messages on love and happiness, especially when it comes to sex and marriage. This confusion is not only present in our society, but has taken a toll within the Church for numerous decades. Catholics need help to understand and live the full Gospel of Christ.

This is why it is so encouraging to see a broad group of Catholic scholars standing up to promote and defend the Church’s teaching on married love and responsible parenthood and the fact that contraception and sterilization are morally unacceptable and cannot lead a couple to the happiness they desire. On September 20, 2016, at The Catholic University of America (view press conference here), the scholars released a statement entitled, Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality. Among other things, the statement is a resounding affirmation of Blessed Pope Paul VI’s Encyclical On Human Life (Humanae Vitae) issued in 1968.

The Church’s teaching in this area is sometimes caricatured and maligned—more often, though, it is simply unknown or not understood well. The Affirmation statement beautifully and clearly summarizes the Church’s teaching. I encourage you to read the statement, to learn more about the Church’s teaching, and to pray about where the Lord might be calling you to witness further to His truth.

Sexual relations belong to marriage. Marriage is a unique and total gift of self between one man and one woman. By its very nature it speaks a language of love that is life-long, exclusive, and fruitful. In marriage, a husband and a wife give themselves totally to each other, not partially. This is the reality of married love, which is also a constant call to spouses to grow deeper in their love, as Pope Francis has taught so eloquently in The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia).

Couples who use contraception or resort to sterilization may not realize that such actions contradict the very nature of their marital love and God’s plan for them. They may not realize that, in addition to spiritual and relational consequences, such actions can be accompanied by harmful and unhealthy side effects to the body. They may also not realize that the birth control pill can at times operate as an abortifacient.

The so-called sexual revolution—erupting particularly in the 1960s by means of wide access to contraception through the birth control pill—was promised as a panacea to the challenges faced by men and women in marriages and relationships, especially women. But has it really made the world better? Do men and women truly see each other as gifts? The surge of sex outside of marriage, the proliferation of the “hook-up” culture, broken marriages, pornography use, ever increasing numbers of STDs in the U.S., absent fathers, relational wounds—all of these are signs pointing to the failure of the sexual revolution.

Another revolution is called for, one which has already been underway and given renewed impetus by the prophetic teaching of Blessed Pope Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II and the recent, incisive teaching of Pope-Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. This is the revolution of authentic love. Here, we need look no further than Christ on the Cross, who has given us the enduring meaning of true love—unselfish and seeking the true good of others, that they might have life. Love and life were inseparable on the Cross, and they are inseparable in marriage, which itself has become the very sign of the mystery of Christ and the Church.

All of us can grow in our witness to the love which Christ has poured out upon us through His Church.

To any Catholics who have chosen to contracept, I invite you to reconsider the Church’s teaching, to pray for light and mercy, and to meet with a priest and someone trained in the methods of Natural Family Planning (NFP) (or Fertility-Based Awareness Methods) to discuss what steps can be taken to follow God’s plan for your marriage. Your parish or diocese should have information on NFP contacts and education opportunities in your area. If you are unable to find information, please contact the bishops’ NFP Program at nfp@usccb.org, and staff will be happy to help you.

To Catholics who have embraced the Church’s teachings, even when difficult, I thank you for being—and encourage you to remain as—joyful and merciful witnesses who invite others to the fullness of the truth. Your witness is an inspiring light for your brothers and sisters and is needed now more than ever.

Lastly, to all those in positions of leadership in the Church, especially those with responsibility for catechesis, education and ongoing formation, thank you for all you do. May our efforts truly help all we encounter to embrace the full truth of the Gospel, which includes the Church’s teachings on human sexuality, marriage, and family life.

Even when following the Church’s teaching on married love may be difficult, no couple should feel alone. The Lord Jesus is here to carry our burdens and the Church is here to accompany us in our struggles. May our renewed witness to the Church’s teaching on human love in the divine plan help bring greater peace and joy to our families, parishes, communities, and nation.

For more information on the Church’s teaching and other resources, see the following:

Bishop Malone is Bishop of Buffalo and Chairman, Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.


Friday, August 5, 2016

Faithful Witness to Marriage

By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski

Questions revolving around marriage and human sexuality are deeply felt in our homes and communities. We join with our Holy Father Pope Francis in affirming the inviolable dignity of all people and the Church’s important role in accompanying all those in need. In doing so, we also stand with Pope Francis in preserving the dignity and meaning of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The two strands of the dignity of the person and the dignity of marriage and the family are interwoven. To pull apart one is to unravel the whole fabric.

When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of two people of the same-sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics. What we see is a counter witness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth.

Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the Church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered “in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family.”1 Laws that redefine marriage to deny its essential meaning are among those that Catholics must oppose, including in their application after they are passed.2 Such witness is always for the sake of the common good.

During our Holy Father’s remarkable visit to us last year, he reminded us that all politicians “are called to defend and preserve the dignity of [their] fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics.”3 Catholic politicians in particular are called to “a heroic commitment” on behalf of the common good and to “recognize their grave responsibility in society to support laws shaped by these fundamental human values and oppose laws and policies that violate [them].”4

Faithful witness can be challenging—and it will only grow more challenging in the years to come—but it is also the joy and responsibility of all Catholics, especially those who have embraced positions of leadership and public service.

Let us pray for our Catholic leaders in public life, that they may fulfill the responsibilities entrusted to them with grace and courage and offer a faithful witness that will bring much needed light to the world. And may all of us as Catholics help each other be faithful and joyful witnesses wherever we are called.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo, New York, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth; and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami, is chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development. 

1 Amoris Laetitia (2016), no. 251.
2 USCCB, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (2015), no. 23; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (2003), no. 5 
3 Address to Congress, September 24, 2015. 
4 Faithful Citizenship, no. 39.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Count Down to World Youth Day: Lay Ecclesial Ministers Nurturing our Lives

By Bishop John M. Quinn of Winona, Minnesota

As preparations are underway for attending World Youth Day, I am wondering –how many vocations will be inspired during this year’s event? How many who attend will be ready to follow the Lord’s call.  For Bishops the time is an inspiration as we realize the many youth and young adults who truly care for their faith and for the Church who brought it them.

In my own role as chair of the Subcommittee on Certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, I wonder, how many participants will realize the role that lay ecclesial ministers, religious and priests have had in their faith formation and participation in this event?

How many will be inspired to follow their own call of the Lord through this event? Perhaps some will also meet and discover their vocation to marriage. Others will be inspired to consider leadership roles the Church – as priests, permanent deacons, religious and yes – lay ecclesial ministers.

What is a lay ecclesial minister?  The average person in the pew may honestly not know how to answer this question. However, many experience your parish lay ecclesial ministers every day. For example, have you been a participant in religious education? Then you have encountered your parish director of religious education – a lay ecclesial minister. Are you coming to World Youth day with your parish youth minister? If you so you are coming with a lay ecclesial minister?  Are you in college and coming with a group through campus ministry?  If so, you are likely coming with your Campus Minister – who may also be a lay ecclesial minister.

The term “lay ecclesial minister” is used to include many possible roles in Church leadership. In parish life—to cite only one sphere of involvement—the pastoral associate, parish catechetical leader, youth ministry leader, school principal, and director of liturgy or pastoral music are examples of such roles.  

Did you know that the U.S. Bishop’s Conference – the USCCB - has a document about lay ecclesial ministers?  It’s called Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord and offers a good description of what a lay ecclesial minister is:

The term lay ecclesial minister is a general term to describe those men and women, many whose roles, I mentioned above, whose ecclesial service is characterized by:
·         Authorization of the hierarchy to serve publicly in the local church
·         Leadership in a particular area of ministry
·         Close mutual collaboration with the pastoral ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons
·         Preparation and formation appropriate to the level of responsibilities that are assigned to them

I am sure that Pope Francis will remind us all to be enthusiastic be missionary disciples while we are gathered in Kraków.   I’m hoping that many of you who are gathered with us will consider what is God calling you to do. Perhaps you will talk with the trained leaders who came with you. Perhaps you will be inspired to follow them and consider offering your gifts and talents and become a priest, permanent deacon,  consecrated religious or yes – even a lay ecclesial minister!

If so I am grateful to know that, as chair of the conference, Subcommittee on certification for Ecclesial Ministry and Service, I have the opportunity to help see that you will be well prepared.

After World Youth Day, I hope to encourage members of our subcommittee and lay ecclesial ministers to share the stories of their call. Until our next update, if you would like to learn more – about the subcommittee, you might go to: www.usccb/certification   If you would like to learn more about lay ecclesial ministry in general, and current questions as we discern this development in the Church, see the USCCB web page on the Summit held last year.  www.usccb.org/lay-ecclesial-ministry-summit.cfm

Until then please let’s together join in prayer that many may be inspired to follow God’s call during their experience at Kraków. I look forward to seeing you there! May the Holy Spirit move you to discover what God is calling you to do, whatever your vocation may be. We all have one. The harvest is great!