Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Full Text of Pastoral Letter:

The text of the Pastoral Letter on the redefinition of marriage by the Archbishops of Westminster & Southwark to be read in their diocese this weekend: 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,
This week the Coalition Government is expected to present its consultation paper on the proposed change in the legal definition of marriage so as to open the institution of marriage to same-sex partnerships.
Today we want to put before you the Catholic vision of marriage and the light it casts on the importance of marriage for our society.
The roots of the institution of marriage lie in our nature. Male and female we have been created, and written into our nature is this pattern of complementarity and fertility. This pattern is, of course, affirmed by many other religious traditions. Christian teaching fills out this pattern and reveals its deepest meaning, but neither the Church nor the State has the power to change this fundamental understanding of marriage itself.
Nor is this simply a matter of public opinion. Understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, and for the creation and upbringing of children, marriage is an expression of our fundamental humanity. Its status in law is the prudent fruit of experience, for the good of the spouses and the good of the family. In this way society esteems the married couple as the source and guardians of the next generation. As an institution marriage is at the foundation of our society.
There are many reasons why people get married. For most couples, there is an instinctive understanding that the stability of a marriage provides the best context for the flourishing of their relationship and for bringing up their children. Society recognises marriage as an important institution for these same reasons: to enhance stability in society and to respect and support parents in the crucial task of having children and bringing them up as well as possible.
The Church starts from this appreciation that marriage is a natural institution, and indeed the Church recognises civil marriage. The Catholic understanding of marriage, however, raises this to a new level. As the Catechism says: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, by its nature is ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptised persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.” (para.1601)
These rather abstract words are reflected however imperfectly in the experience of married couples. We know that at the heart of a good marriage is a relationship of astonishing power and richness, for the couple, their children, their wider circle of friends and relations and society. As a Sacrament, this is a place where divine grace flows. Indeed, marriage is a sharing in the mystery of God’s own life: the unending and perfect flow of love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We know, too, that just as God’s love is creative, so too the love of husband and wife is creative of new life. It is open, in its essence, to welcoming new life, ready to love and nurture that life to its fullness, not only here on earth but also into eternity.
This is a high and noble vision, for marriage is a high and noble vocation. It is not easily followed. But we are sure that Christ is at the heart of marriage, for his presence is a sure gift of the God who is Love, who wants nothing more than for the love of husband and wife to find its fulfilment. So the daily effort that marriage requires, the many ways in which family living breaks and reshapes us, is a sharing in the mission of Christ, that of making visible in the world the creative and forgiving love of God.
In these ways we understand marriage to be a call to holiness for a husband and wife, with children recognised and loved as the gift of God, with fidelity and permanence as the boundaries which create its sacred space. Marriage is also a crucial witness in our society, contributing to its stability, its capacity for compassion and forgiveness and its future, in a way that no other institution can.
In putting before you these thoughts about why marriage is so important, we also want to recognise the experience of those who have suffered the pain of bereavement or relationship breakdown and their contribution to the Church and society. Many provide a remarkable example of courage and fidelity. Many strive to make the best out of difficult and complex situations. We hope that they are always welcomed and helped to feel valued members of our parish communities.
The reasons given by our government for wanting to change the definition of marriage are those of equality and discrimination. But our present law does not discriminate unjustly when it requires both a man and a woman for marriage. It simply recognises and protects the distinctive nature of marriage.
Changing the legal definition of marriage would be a profoundly radical step. Its consequences should be taken seriously now. The law helps to shape and form social and cultural values. A change in the law would gradually and inevitably transform society’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. It would reduce it just to the commitment of the two people involved. There would be no recognition of the complementarity of male and female or that marriage is intended for the procreation and education of children.
We have a duty to married people today, and to those who come after us, to do all we can to ensure that the true meaning of marriage is not lost for future generations.
Most Reverend V. Nichols
Most Reverend P. Smith


credidi propter quod locutus sum said...

Too weak and too late!
We need a general, not a politition!

FrBT said...


The letter is to be read in all dioceses, according to my understanding, at all Sunday Masses this weekend.


Freddy said...

Thank you, your Graces, for a clear and courageous letter defending marriage


Fr Ray,
Thank God these two Archbishops have now made this Pastoral letter "Redefinition of Marriage" following in line within the steps of the good Cardinal North of the Border!

God Bless,


Miles Mariae said...

Wordy, wordy, wordy. Worthy but wordy. What I want is plain speaking a la H.E. Cardinal O'Brien. These proposals are evil and destructive. No good can come from them. If parliament decreed that Lead was a valuable as Gold, it wouldn't make it so. This is amoral alchemy and what we need is leadership not sophistry.

The Bones said...

A thoroughly well reasoned letter.

Anonymous said...

A clear and positive exposition of the benefits of marriage to society.
Does a redefinition of secular marriage in the way proposed by the ggovernment imply that the church might no longer recognise such marriages - was this an implication of the Archbishop's hopeful hymn for marriage?

GOR said...

Yes, nice words indeed, but where are the deeds to back up the words? What is needed is a strong condemnation of the government’s agenda. No mincing of words. No pious platitudes. No going along to get along. But a strong condemnation of what is proposed.

“We will not put up with this invasion of the religious sphere by the secular authorities!” “We will not abide by any redefinition of marriage!” “We will not allow the government to infringe on our Catholic consciences and compel us to immoral conclusions!”

Get a spine your excellencies! As we say here in the US: “Talk is cheap, but it takes money to buy whiskey.”

Physiocrat said...

Yes and now let us hear him speaking for reforms of the economy which would make the kind of family shown in "Harmony at Parsonage Farm" a commonplace.

GuidoM said...

It is a good letter thank God, but comes far too late.

H E Card O Brien was the only one who had the gutts to stand up and complain and he did very very well.

+Vincent is just jumping on the bandwagon as usual and trying to fit in. It came too late +Vincent.
Get your act together!

Jacobi said...

A clear statement of the Catholic position on, and the advantages of, marriage, which complements the letter in the Telegraph earlier this week by Cardinal O’Brien.

One thing it doesn’t dwell on however is morality although since this letter is aimed primarily at the political and secularist world, it is perhaps not the best vehicle to clarify this most important aspect of Catholic teaching. However clarified it must be.

The two principle reasons why same sex marriage would be illicit and immoral, are, that it is not a union between a man and a woman, and secondly, that it is sinful and grievously so. It would be, as Cardinal O’Brien has said, grotesque, i.e., distorted.

Michael Telford said...

As if it really matters in our shambles of a 'democracy', the Conservative Party will never, ever have my vote again.
(And I never have voted Lib Dem; there's political sophistication for you!)
Michael Telford

Delia said...

Why is it too late? The consultation in England and Wales is just about to start, so the timing seems pretty spot on to me. (Scotland had their consultation months ago, hence the Scottish bishops were ahead of the game.)

And why is it weak? This is a pastoral letter to be read out to the faithful at Holy Mass on Sunday; it's not an email to Stonewall or an article in the Daily Mail. It seems to me to be very well considered, reflective and sensitive - saying what needs to be said in a clear and positive way without banging on about it. Much more likely to convert people than a rant, surely. It also encourages everyone to sign the petition.

There seems to be a really unpleasant undercurrent in some sections of the blogosphere, constantly carping on about the bishops and not giving them a chance to act in their own time and in their own way. Agreed, some things that they have done are regrettable, but I do think they should be supported as much as possible, and given credit when credit is due.

Thank you, Your Grace.

Sitsio said...

I’m glad to see some action from the leadership on this issue. I would imagine it will make some priests feel uncomfortable and put them in a difficult position: they’ll be the ones who have to deal with the immediate ramifications of reading out this letter; are they up to the challenge of defending the Church’s position on this issue?

My feeling would be that the majority of Mass goers are, at best, fairly ambivalent about the changes on the face of them. They do not understand the profoundly radical nature of the proposed changes. Live and let live, I imagine they’ll say. Why is the Church picking on gay people? The trouble is we have let so much slide now that no one really even understands the argument, or knows what marriage is really about any more. Too little, too late?

FrBT said...


When you have been on the 'front line' for as long as some of us Older priests have been, you would have seen an succession of Bishops come and go.

We - and I do speak for some of the older Clergy - looked to Westminster for clear leadership. Strength, fidelity to Rome, courage and dependency.

The Seat of Westminster is the Guidance of The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.

If the Holy Mother Church is under attack or the priesthood is under attack - we EXPECT Westminster to act quickly and expediently and may I add efficiently.

What we don't want to see, is a long period of silence and then receive a weak statement which causes further problems.

Long are the days gone, where one can sit back and hope things 'blow over' or 'go away'.

Action and clear words are justifiable.
Let us see then being implemented.


Lawyeratwork.com said...


I think we should give this letter a chance and see what the reaction is from the faithful, the media and those who fall into many other catergories.

I personally would have liked to see something a bit more stronger in words.

I rang my PP and asked him if he had received the letter. Then I asked him if I could see it on my way home.

He was somewhat amused that I was so eager to hear what was being said for the Homily this Sunday.

In my home, we have had has several family discussions about same sex marriage. All my children who are over the age of 18, say that they would decline an invitation to a gay marriage or a lesbian marriage.

The doctors in my family think that to redefine marriage - the author is playing God.

The lawyers in my family, we say that legal rights have protection in civil partnerships and marriage is not necessary for same gender couples.The Sacraments must be protected by us, the people, and are not open to variation by Governments.

The vet in my family says - bring the politicians to his surgery and he will deal with them accordingly.

We all have to listen to the words of the letter and understand then fully.

Then the comments will begin.

I hope you are ready Your Graces.


Mundabor said...

Nothing more than the official meowing Nichols is expected to stage at this point.

Disagreement is merely whispered, in the end of a boring letter, when everyone is asleep.


KimHatton said...

Simply not strong enough or clear enough. We need much firmer leadership. Incidentally the letter was never read out in my Parish Church.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...