To Defend Her Children & The Divine Plan
On behalf of our children who have no voice and who suffer the most, may we ask our Church to elevate the sacrament and living expression of our faith, marriage, to share in our Church’s defense of human life and the Divine Plan?
For forty years, America has been ruled under civil law and judgments that remove state protection of rights to life and of marriage according to our contracted religious promises. No doubt, our culture is devolving, our civil liberties vanishing, and our lives more at stake than we ever could have imagined in our beloved America, land of the free, home of the brave. The ever-accelerating pace of the attack on life, liberty and the practice of faith has brought us to the precipice of martyrdom where we may soon face suffering much like what our sisters and brothers in Christ endured up until the fourth century.
Jesus assured us that with faith the size of a mustard seed, we could “say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Surely, the mountain is higher than ever and flanked by another built on fear. Do we believe Jesus’ promise that with faith like this we could tell a mountain to move? In a nation where 55% of American teens grow up in broken homes, where nearly 45% of children are born without marriage (53% of children born to mothers thirty and younger), where civil law makes it impossible for husbands and wives to persevere in their promises to share their lives together, and where lack of courage leads so many to reject marriage and follow the gospel of fear, do we even have a mustard seed of faith?
We the sheep continue to look everywhere for answers. Rarely do we embrace our Lord’s simple solutions in Mt. 7:7 & 11:28. Christ is the answer. He leads us by example from Baptism to the desert to Cana. He gives us His Mother, ours too, who leads us to Him. Marriage blesses us with children and family so our shepherds may better lead us through the narrow gate. This is true today, as when Christ first revealed himself at the wedding just as His mother alerted him, “They have no wine.”
How does our Church, the living body of our Lord, manifest the love of her Spouse, the One Shepherd to the world (John 10:16)? In November 2004, the U.S. Bishops publicly declared marriage a priority launching its multi-year National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage to communicate the meaning and value of married life for the Church and for society. Five years later, they released the fruit of this effort, their Pastoral Letter, “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan.” Detailing in wondrous prose, the Pastoral Letter offers a definitive first line of defense by illuminating the essential points of Catholic teaching on marriage as a natural gift, as a sacrament, and as a unique public commitment between a man and a woman that manifests God’s love.
Outlined is a proposed Catholic strategy to establish an institutional line of defense within our church, the larger faith community, and the public square for safeguarding and defending the Divine Plan by the way we structure our lives and lead by living example. We pray the Holy Spirit inspires a Marian ‘Yes’ from the spouse of Christ to sow these seeds, to water and till the garden, to ask our Father for the increase of a civilization of love.
We ask that this Covenant Call may be shared throughout our Church and the ecumenical community of faith with an invitation to join together to restore our reverence for the Divine Plan and the integrity of marriage in our houses of worship and in the public square.
Pastoral Leadership From US Bishops
I. US Bishops Collaboratively Formulate a Catholic Strategy to Establish an Institutional Line of Defense for Safeguarding and Defending the Divine Plan
1. Pastoral Letter as First Line of Defense
i. Articulate specific, prioritized, and enumerated principles of Catholic teaching that inform pastoral decision-making and diocesan administration regarding marriage
ii. Promulgate a firm foundation of principles for civil law to safeguard the common good, religious civil liberties, marriage, family, spouses and children (See VII. Section1.) These principles will specifically promote and support marriage, and reduce divorce, cohabitation and non-wed births.
2. Formulate a Catholic Strategy to Safeguard and Defend Marriage
3. Develop Implementation and Communication Plans for Strategy
i. Identify specific Catholic and Christian institutions, organizations, groups, apostolates, ministries and leaders who will embrace strategy and assist
ii. Identify specific non-Christian religious institutions, organizations, groups, ministries, and leaders who will collaborate and assist with aspects of efforts
iii. Identify specific secular stakeholder institutions, organizations, groups, and leaders who will collaborate and assist with aspects of efforts
iv. Consider Manhattan Declaration as a resource
v. Consult Catholic law schools, advocacy groups, and matrimonial law authorities to offer leadership (See VII. Section1.)
vi. Make direct appeals to join effort
4. Provide Leadership Guidelines to Dioceses
i. Creating a Pastoral Structure to Safeguard Marriage and Family Life within Systems and Operations for Prayer, Diocesan and Ecumenical Communication, Evangelization, Education, Stewardship, Ministry and Service
ii. Mobilizing resources
5. Develop a Plan for Catholic Education
6. Enlist Catholic Colleges, Seminaries and Universities
i. Design research to assist and track progress of efforts
ii. Publish findings
iii. Provide necessary expertise and knowledge
iv. Identify federal and state incentives in law and policy that discourage marriage, encourage divorce, cohabitation, and non-wed births.
7. Enlist National Association of State Catholic Conference Directors
i. Promote and coordinate the legislative strategy
ii. Prepare a status report concerning legislative and political issues affecting local environment in each state regarding marriage and family issues.
iii. Suggest implementation strategies to Catholic legislators and lay organizations as well other organizations and individuals of different faiths or secular outlook that support these principles.
Pastoral Care Diocese By Diocese
II. Every Diocese Offer Basic Pastoral Care for Marriage in Its Community:
The Pastoral Letter provides the foundation, inspiration and direction for creating a Catholic culture and economy married to Christ. It is crucial that this be integrated into the life of the church from homilies, to announcements at Mass, in bulletins and other publications, and into the life of the congregation in the public square.
- Education in Marriage & Family: The Pastoral Letter provides a good starting point to integrate with our church’s commitment to educating the community. This education should include practical topics such as Home Economics (how to manage a marriage and a household), Ecology (how one’s marriage, household, and work lives contribute to the common good) & Counseling (how we help spouses, children, and family members to recognize the truth and embrace the Divine Plan in the way they live their lives). This could extend anywhere from parish, vicariate and diocesan classes (even marriage videos with curricula, publications and books, exercises, & hands-on experiences or clinical placements in Churches, universities, etc.) to various certificate programs for professionals, clergy, religious and couples, to academic high school and college courses, to college and post graduate degree programs.
- Brief 1-2 day marriage mentor training programs: These programs prepare married couples to witness their spousal and family trials & triumphs to other couples within their faith community, parishes and dioceses. Such programs will encompass the entire life cycle of marriage from discernment about engagement to birth/death of a child or spouse, to surviving the dark night of the one-flesh union, still growing much closer to God. With this living, institutional witness to marriage, congregations will become more solidly wed to Christ and better prepared to bring this witness to the public square.
- Regular, marriage specific rosaries: This prayer is linked to traditional rosary prayer methods at least weekly in every parish:
- Each Hail Mary of the first decade contemplates the specific, individual marital prayer petitions for this rosary, e.g. for one couple, one community or one challenge, etc.
- Each Hail Mary of the second decade remembers specific missionaries, priests, deacons, religious, and seminarians in their call to Christ.
- The third decade is for marriage worldwide and specifically remembers a specific marriage couple for each Hail Mary.
- The fourth decade is for girls and women. Each Hail Mary remembers a young girl or woman in relation to the vocation of marriage, motherhood, religious vocation or consecrated life.
- The fifth decade is for boys and men. Each Hail Mary remembers a young boy or man in relation to the vocation of marriage, fatherhood, and religious vows or consecrated life.
- A specific Marriage Evangelization program: This is intertwined within the New Evangelization and extends across the public square to other faiths, non-faiths and stakeholders. It may be integrated with the effort to form Community Marriage Policies in the public square in collaboration with the community of faith ecumenically. (See VI below)
- Web-based listings of pre-screened, major professional services: These are common services in the community that are needed by the congregation and which have important aspects that interface with Catholic values in fundamental ways. Each diocese can identify Catholic professionals who have been screened for fidelity to magisterial teaching/practice behavior with links to basic info and information sources by category & topic, to CVs, service details, contact info and testimonials. One Catholic behavioral health therapist created a nice model that demonstrates how this works (See www.Catholictherapists.com):i. Medical, allied health care, rehabilitation and behavioral health professionals across all disciplines;ii. Health care systems, hospitals and other health care facilities and services (e.g. nursing homes, skilled nursing, ambulance companies, etc.)
iii. Related health care services such as elderly, adult and child respite services for those with disabilities
iv. Pastoral counselors
v. Insurance professionals of all kinds especially health care insurance
vi. Financial family planners, brokers, wealth advisors and investment counselors, accountants, CPA’s and tax attorneys, etc.
- Each Diocese develop local guidelines for moral investing:
i. Dioceses seek direction from the Vatican and from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops
ii. Guidelines instruct Catholic investors how to avoid investments that support businesses that promote or advance policies, activities, and/or behavior that contradict Catholic teaching or that hurt marriage, family, or children (i.e. abortion, euthanasia, pornography, human trafficking, homosexuality, immoral or fraudulent operations, etc.)
iii. Urge parishioners to have their retirement programs and investments reviewed by a financial planner or wealth advisor who has specific expertise in Catholic moral investing and adjust their portfolios and investments accordingly.
iv. Alert parishioners how to locate financial planners and wealth advisers who are knowledgeable about Catholic moral investing.
v. Have qualified Catholic moral investing professionals listed on the Catholic website portal for locating professional services.
vi. Encourage and sponsor diocesan training programs for professional wealth advisors, financial planners and other investment and retirement professionals.
7. Offer easy ways to find reliable parish/vicariate service providers:
This could include baby-sitters, sitters for seniors, house sitters, pet sitters, and similar service providers, etc.
8. Offer opportunities for sheep to volunteer their gifts:
i. List easy, life-fulfilling ways to find and join a ministry
ii. List where assistance may be obtained from others in the diocese, vicariate, or parish on how to start a ministry.
The Curia & Tribunal
III. Dioceses Reexamine the Processes and Procedures that Administer the Curia and Tribunal
Church operations must respect and manifest the authority and unbounded love of Christ for His people by integrating His teaching and mercy for our human struggles and spiritual life needs along the life cycle of marriage.
- Is there an objective understanding of the meaning and obligations of marriage that prospective Catholic spouses are expected to possess prior to entering marriage?
- Are individuals properly educated and prepared about Catholic marriage prior to entering marriage?
- Is there an objective instrument to assess couples’ understanding of marriage as prospective spouses, that assists deacons and priests in assuring the proper discernment of the couple about marriage?
- When and under what circumstances are spouses who experience divorce educated about annulment processes and procedures?
- How should prospective petitioners be counseled before initiating the process?
- What should they understand about any decisions that conclude the process?
- Should petitioners sign a statement of understanding?
- Should there be prescribed pastoral counseling and education about Catholic marriage and the core magisterial understandings of the Catholic walk with respect to marriage and family following a divorce?
- Should every tribunal decision be accompanied by a prescribed course of pastoral counseling and education pertinent to the specific case that must meet certain requirements as a condition for consideration of Catholic remarriage?
- Should there be a diocesan process integrated with the activity of the larger Church for keeping data about the rates of marriage and divorce within each Church?
A care pastor of a Metro Detroit non-denominational Christian congregation, one of the largest nationally, described the experience of couples within their congregation over a seven year period who had inquired about marriage, including those who opted not to marry there, those who took pre-marital classes and counseling, those who were declined for marriage because of perceived concerns of the pastor, and those who married within the congregation. He reported a single digit rate of divorce after seven years, less than one third the five-year divorce rate in the United States, 23%. His congregation uses a variety of pastoral systems such as marriage mentor couples, even ‘emergency marriage technicians’ (EMTs), couples who volunteer for this ministry.
Families Forced Into Divorce
IV. Minister to Spouses, Children and Families Who Are Involuntarily Forced into Divorce
Recognizing the extraordinary suffering and vulnerability for spouses, children and families that accompany divorce, our Church can:
- Establish guidelines, safeguards and procedures for how spouses experiencing involuntary divorce should be educated and counseled by their Churches as to how this affects their marriage and family life and the way they continue to live in fidelity with their faith as they endure the process and continue life in the aftermath of the divorce.
- Help Catholic laity in collaboration with clergy to create a Catholic infrastructure for pastoral and educational services for spouses, children and families in these situations.
- Identify other needs of spouses and families that would be appropriate to consider for development of Catholic services.
Cohabitating Couples, Parents & Families
V. Minister to Cohabiting Couples, especially those with minor children
Cohabiting couples have an overall relationship failure rate of ninety percent that can be improved if the couple moves apart and receives pastoral counseling within our Church. This is an area of great opportunity for evangelization, leadership and service and of imperative importance to safeguard children.
Leadership & Community Marriage Policy
VI. Spur the Laity to Lead Community Marriage Policy® Drives in Each Diocese
These ecumenical community marriage covenants are signed in the public square by area houses of worship across faiths and denominations agreeing to serve the common good using proven methods, particularly married mentor couples, without need for divisive discourse about dogma, to safeguard married spouses across the alpha & omega life cycle of marriage within their congregations. The Knights of Columbus in concert with various apostolates could be asked to help mobilize a committed team to organize this effort.
Community Marriage Policies, now in 230 communities across the United States, have been implemented with documented, proven success by an independent research authority, of decreasing divorce and cohabitation and increasing marriage. The chief pastoral method enlists married spouses as mentor couples witnessing the fruits of their marriage across the life cycle of the Divine Plan from first discernment about becoming engaged, through the rearing of children, and the death, illness or other separation of a spouse. We Catholics are best situated to serve and defend the Divine Plan by implementing the Community Marriage Policy as a standard in every diocese and every community, including those without Catholics.
Ecumenical & Stakeholder Marriage Coalition
VII. Catholic Clergy and Laity Form a Marriage Leadership Coalition Across Faiths, Denominations and Stakeholder Groups:
This faith coalition would pool legal, financial, academic and organizational resources (e.g. academic and economic institutions, child, family and marriage advocacy and law groups, business institutions, etc.) to:
- Join together to declare a firm foundation of civil law principles to safeguard the common good, religious civil liberties, marriage, family, spouses and children. Included among these are:
i. That marriage is a unique, complementary union of a man and a woman that offers the only natural, human potential to create new life;
ii. That marriage serves the common good;
iii. That marriage as a natural human institution is so intertwined with human life that it warrants the same protections as life itself;
iv. That marriage lawfully contracted under a body of ecclesial law must be safeguarded from abridgment or undermining by civil law; under the US Constitution, Article 1 Section 10 and the 1st, 5th, 7th, 9th & 14th Amendments should hold particular authority for marriage contracted under ecclesial canons;
v. That spouses who fulfill their spousal vows and promises, including obligations as fit parents to offspring, serve the common good and should be recognized as ‘responsible spouses:’
vi. That responsible spouses deserve legal protections from divorce statutes that dissolve their marriage contracts, particularly those contracted under ecclesial law, or otherwise abrogate their Constitutional rights;
vii. That children deserve protections from civil statutes that abrogate their parents’ marriage and religious civil liberties.
- That when divorce is unavoidable, children should spend a minimum of one-third time with the other parent who is not the ‘responsible spouse’ if fit (fitness based upon current statutes for termination of parental rights)
- That laws and policies aiming to reduce poverty and domestic violence, collect child support, or achieve other purposes in the community should pass a scrutiny standard that ensures they do not decrease marriage, increase divorce, cohabitation or non-wed births, or undermine the sovereignty of fit parents and parent-child relationships.
- Request the Uniform Law Commission, the legislative drafting agency of the American Bar Association (http://www.nccusl.org), craft a model law [i] [ii] within a specific, expedited time frame to correct the systemic injustices and profound harm to children, spouses, the institution of marriage, the practice of faith, the Constitution, the rule of law and the common good that No Fault Divorce law imposes across the nation. The model legal framework undergirding No Fault Divorce law has had four decades of accumulated historical, scientific, economic, and developmental experience and evidence that substantiates vital circumstances warranting an urgent update to restore fidelity to our Constitutional requirements. Responsible Spouse Guidelines offer a sound starting point for accomplishing this while still preserving the original purpose of the statute’s design.
- Ask Christian legal authorities to research and consider whether the civil government under Constitutional law has legal authority to dissolve a valid Roman Catholic or other religious marriage without consultation with the Catholic Church or other religious body under the canon law structure that governs the contracted marriage. Given that marriage is the theological foundation upon which the Catholic religion is founded, and that the free exercise of this marriage-founded belief does not violate the Constitution, fulfilling one’s vows to an indissoluble Catholic marriage constitutes the practice of the Catholic religion.
i. Does Catholic Marriage qualify for protection with a concordat?
ii. What about religious marriages in general?
iii. Is this practice of faith protected under the 1st Amendment, and does the Constitution’s Obligations of Contracts under Article 1 Section 10, and the due process provisions of the 5th and 14th amendments assure a couple who have married under Catholic canon law that the state does not have authority to dissolve the marriage for either one of them?
iv. What about the rights to a jury trial on the issues?
- Request that the federal and state governments reform Social Security Title IV welfare programming, including its child support eligibility criteria, to remove incentives that discourage marriage and encourage divorce (See footnote for details).[iii]
- Encourage legislation at the federal level to incentivize states to increase marriage, reduce divorce, cohabitation and non-wed births.
- For child custody cases, encourage federal legislation to incentivize states to demonstrate a rising percentage of final custody judgments in which a minimal standard of one-third child custody time is granted each fit parent.
- Work with Catholic colleges and universities to review and identify federal and state policies, laws, and entitlements and tax code incentives that discourage marriage and encourage cohabitation, divorce and non-wed births and parenting.
- Consider how the Manhattan Declaration could become an important vehicle for;
i. Encouraging formation of this coalition in the public square to seek legal redress of the concern that our government, its judicial, legislative and executive branches have overstepped their Constitutional authority concerning fundamental rights that affect the free exercise of religious rights.
ii. Identifying collaborators with particular expertise, interests and resources for formation of marriage coalitions and work groups.
- Efforts should reach out to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, faith and non-faith groups as well as others who appreciate the common good of traditional marriage to our nation, and indeed to the world.
Marriage & Anti-Poverty Programming
VIII. Make Marriage the Center of Anti-Poverty Programming for Catholic Charities and Expand the Revenue Base by Serving Middle & Upper-Class Catholics as Well as the Poor:
This approach to community service would integrate the poor into the mainstream rather than marginalize them by operations strictly focused at society’s fringes. Resources can be better leveraged in this way so that Catholic institutions are not dependent on government funding to offer its services. By focusing on ministering charity in targeted service areas where Catholic marriage and family values are particularly vulnerable, such as behavioral health, pediatrics, ob/gyn, and family and internal medicine, to name a few, Catholic institutions can provide preferential care for the poor while caring for and safeguarding the larger population it serves regardless of income. Focusing on marriage and family ministry is the best way to serve children and elderly alike in combating the many tentacles of poverty.
Let us lead and teach our people and the larger community how to multiply the loaves and bring true life to the world by showing them how to wed and stay wed. Let us learn, too, from other faiths and denominations how God leads them to obey the call to marital covenant. Marriage to Christ must be the focus of unity in the practice of our Catholic faith at church, at home, and in the public square. This undertaking requires the full investment and participation of the laity. They must hear Christ’s covenant call to fidelity of word and action from those to whom our Lord entrusted His keys to the Kingdom. Homilies, prayers and Mass announcements provide a vital opportunity to inform and inspire each member of the congregation to reach beyond Sunday obligations to fulfill one’s spousal duties in marriage to Christ.
We are His Body, the hands, feet, and heart of the Lord. He calls us to His covenant to love as He loves.
In Jesus Christ Our Lord,
Michael T. Ross, MD
Defending Our Fathers House
This 3rd Millennium of Mercy
[i] A published marital law model based upon Responsible Spouse Guidelines[i] has been shared with Archbishop Vigneron, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Cardinal Raymond Burke as well as with other clergy and academicians such as Most Reverend Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone (USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage), Dr. Robert P. George (McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University), Dr. Pat Fagan (Opus Dei, Senior MARI Researcher, Family Research Council), Dr. Brad Wilcox (Opus Dei, Director of the National Marriage Project), and Dr. William E. May, (emeritus Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology, John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family).
[ii] Ron Grignol and Michael T. Ross, “Broken Family Law: Guidelines and Fixes,” FCS Quarterly, Summer, 2011, pages 39-43
[iii] Welfare reform in 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWORA), authored by Rick Santorum under House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s leadership, and signed by President Clinton, substituted new entitlement eligibility language, ‘non-custodial parent’ for ‘absent parent,’ the old appropriation language. This amended welfare reform assured prospective recipients, whether high-skilled workers, professionals, or former recipients that they could still conceive and care for children financially, whether they opted to forego marrying or to divorce their child-conceiving partners. This ended “welfare as we know it,” removing AFDC recipients off taxpayer-funded welfare rolls and created temporary assistance for needed families (TANF); however, this reform effectively qualified every middle class, indigent, and upper class mom in the entire child-bearing population to receive entitlement payments for conceiving a child (funded, not by tax receipts, but by child support collections taken directly from noncustodial parents’ wages). When a child’s parent becomes a non-custodial parent, the child’s other parent becomes immediately State-eligible for entitlement payments and other benefits from that parent; federal taxpayers appear to pay much less after reform, funding only the collaborative federal/state enforcement costs through the Social Security Administration for child support collections taken directly from noncustodial parents’ wages.