That is, more than likely, an incorrect heading, as I don't think the editors of the National "Catholic" Reporter are so much clueless as they are simply (and knowingly) contrary to Catholic doctrine and commonsense when it comes to the U.S. bishops' proposed pastoral letter on marriage, "Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan" (PDF document). The first clue, as obvious as lip syncing at an Ashlee Simpson "concert", is the heading of the October 12th NCR editorial titled, "On marriage, the bishops should start over." What follows in the editorial vacillates between silly snobbishness, ideological huffinesss, and thinly veiled dissent. Here goes:
• "The primary problem with the draft, obtained by NCR and available for viewing on our Web site ... is that it is not, as advertised, pastoral. In fact, it reads as if it was written by someone who has never once engaged in a marriage preparation program, let alone actually ever been married."
It comes down to what is meant by "pastoral'." If you think that coddling, avoiding tough issues, ignoring essential theological principles, turning a blind eye to sin, downplaying or mocking Church teaching, and treating adults like bottle-sucking dimwits is "pastoral," then, yes, this document won't appear to be "pastoral." But if you think, as the Catechism states, that the "whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends" (par. 25), and that the bishops, as shepherds and teachers, are to make sure "that the People of God abides in the truth that liberates" (par. 890), and that they "have as their first task 'to preach the Gospel of God to all men,' in keeping with the Lord's command" (par. 888), then the document will strike you as being quite pastoral.
Whining about bishops not ever being married is an obvious red herring. If the editors of NPR are so concerned that only those with a certain position or state in life should be able to talk authoritatively about that position or state, why should anyone listen to them when it comes to knowing and adhering to Catholic doctrine? (Much more beyond the "fold".)
• "The bishops should demand a text that is specifically useful in helping young people prepare for marriage."
Having read the document, I'd say the text is quite useful, both for young and old, as well as for those getting married and those already married. The only requirements are taking the time to read the document and really ponder what it says. Is that so hard? (That is a rhetorical question, by the way).
The text, to briefly summarize, provides some theological context for the Church's teachings about marriage ("We intend this pastoral letter to be a theological and doctrinal foundation"), expresses concrete concerns about challenges to marriage, defines and defends marriage (with references to Pope John Paul II, Scripture, Vatican II documents, etc.), discusses the purposes and ends of marriage and how they are related, takes on fundamental challenges to marriage found in today's culture (contraception, same-sex unions, divorce, co-habitation), reflects on the sacrament of marriage (with an emphasis on Christological and Trinitarian connections), talks about family as "domestic church," marriage as a vocation, growth and virtue in marriage, marriage and the Eucharist, marriage as a sign of the Kingdom of God, and marriage as a preparation for eternal beatitude.
You might be thinking, "Well, that sounds pretty good!" If so, you aren't an editor for NCR.
• "The document should be something a pastoral minister or parish priest can hand to a couple during their first meeting for marriage preparation, a sort of guide to what they are actually asking of the church and the mystery the church is about to celebrate with them. Instead, the first section of the draft spends too much time talking about the threats to modern marriage, such as high divorce rates, cohabitation, same-sex unions and, of course, contraception (an 'intrinsic evil')."
Oh no!—a document by Catholic bishops about the sacrament of marriage that discusses (gasp!) morality and threats to marriage (the horror!), But why wouldn't a "pastoral minister" or priest be able to hand out the document described above? Are they embarrassed by it? Don't understand it themselves? Think it's too heavy and demanding of people who are making one of the most important decisions of their lives?
The draft spends 210 lines (333-543) out of 1152 total lines discussing the threats to marriage. That is too much time? Really? In a culture shot through with climbing divorce rates, adultery, abuse, etc., etc.? How clueless can you be?
Oh, you had to ask. Fine, there's more:
• "The lack of pastoral solicitude that characterizes the entire document is most prominently on display in the discussion of cohabitation, another 'intrinsic evil.' The draft states: 'At the heart of cohabitation lies a reluctance or refusal to make a public, permanent commitment.' Perhaps the drafters could have put the sentiment in a more positive light."
It's not "intrinsic evil", but intrinsic evil ("The sexual act must take place exclusively within marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes one from sacramental communion." [CCC, 2390; see par. 2391 for more]). Nearly everything about the above statement—save the quote from the document—is so wrong. First, since "solicitude" means "attentive care and protectiveness; an attitude of earnest concern or attention," it makes complete sense for pastors to focus on situations and issues that undermine, harm, or obstruct a healthy marriage. Shacking up is one such significant issue and situation. Any pastor (or parent, for that matter), who doesn't have the guts and love to talk to a couple about cohabitation has failed to do their God-given duty. And if you don't get that, well, you're probably an editor for NCR:
• "Like it or not, many (most?) Catholic couples do cohabitate prior to marrying, and when they come for marriage preparation, the pastor can and should lead them to grasp the church's teaching in its fullness. But that is not normally achieved by hitting them over the head."
The amount of clueless silliness and flippancy here is criminal. "Like it or not"? And how, exactly, do you lead someone to "grasp the church's teaching in its fullness" without believing in, expressing, explaining, and presenting said teaching? It's upside down and wrong in every way to think more damage is done to a couple by presenting Church teaching than by pussyfooting around their sinful, harmful behavior. Of course, if you are this confused about morality, you're likely to find implicitly homophobic elements in the document, right? How'd you guess!?
• "Similar sweeping denunciations of modern trends plague the discussions of other issues, such as same-sex marriage. In the section that treats gay marriage, the draft does speak of the dignity of all people, including gays and lesbians, but it does not lead with this insight. Nor does the current draft examine any approach beyond mere opposition to same-sex unions."
Yes, because the primary purpose of a document on traditional, authentic marriage should be to celebrate homosexuality. Got it. Funny how you never read things such as: "Nor does the current draft examine any approach beyond mere opposition to slavery," or "In the section that treats incest, the draft does speak of the dignity of all people, including incestuous adults, but it does not lead with this insight." Oh, wait—there's more:
• "This section will doubtless garner a great deal of media attention given the push in several states to enact gay marriage. The bishops have a real opportunity to differentiate their posture from the stance of those whose opposition to same-sex unions appears rooted primarily in bigotry."
I fear we have an impasse. The editors of NCR apparently think that any opposition to "gay marriage" is essentially bigoted. The bishops are opposed to "gay marriage." Thus, they have to be bigots. Why? Because opposition to "gay marriage" is rooted in what real marriage is (union between man and woman) and what homosexual actions are not (good, wholesome, morally upright, acceptable, etc.). But since the editors of NCR apparently think homosexuality is a good thing, they must conclude that opposition to "gay marriage" is bigoted. It really is that simple.
• "Our Protestant brothers and sisters do not usually celebrate Communion as part of the marriage ceremony."
Every—and I mean every—Protestant wedding I have ever attended (two dozen or more), including my own, involved the celebration of communion. Now, I'm not saying the editors of NCR are wrong on this point; I'm just noting that they seem to not be right about it.
So glad you asked. Having read the document (at 3:00 in the morning, no less), I can help you out here:
• "If this pastoral letter is not intended for couples preparing for marriage, to whom is it directed?"
We address the pastoral letter first and foremost to the Catholic faithful in the United States. In a spirit of witness and service we also offer our message to all men and women in the hope of inspiring them to embrace this teaching. We intend this pastoral letter to be a theological and doctrinal foundation. It can be a resource to help and encourage all those who are moving toward marriage, who are journeying in married life, and who are accompanying and assisting those who are called to the vocation of marriage. (lines 94-101; emphasis added because I'm such a nice guy)
• "Young people are coming to request the sacrament of marriage because some part of their heart is drawn to the faith. This is a moment to evangelize them, to help them flesh out their own aspirations for their marriage, and to unite their marital vocation to the vocation to holiness."
Sounds nice. But these things are tough to accomplish if you insist on ignoring what the Church teaches about marriage, put politically-correct carts before the horse, complain about responsible and necessary moral warnings and exhortations, and generally act as though anything with theological, moral, or relational substance is offensive, confusing, or otherwise repulsive. But, if that's how you do things, you are probably an editor for NCR.
• UPDATE: Dr. Ed Peters turns his canon lawyer gaze upon the NCR editorial and—surprise!—finds further errors.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
• The Challenge of Marriage Preparation | Dr. Janet E. Smith
• Marital and Family Commitment: A Personalist View | Monsignor Cormac Burke
• Focus Groups and Marriage: A Match Made for Heartache | Mary Beth Bonacci
• Entering Marriage with Eyes Wide Open | Edward Peters
• Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church | Donald P. Asci | Introduction to The Conjugal Act as a Personal Act
• Who Is Married? | Edward Peters
• Marriage and the Family in Casti Connubii and Humanae Vitae | Reverend Michael Hull, S.T.D.
• Male and Female He Created Them | Cardinal Estevez
• The Meaning and Necessity of Spiritual Fatherhood | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, MTS
• Practicing Chastity in an Unchaste Age | Bishop Joseph F. Martino
• The Truth About Conscience | John F. Kippley | An excerpt from Sex and the Marriage Covenant