By James Tillman

BALTIMORE, MD, November 18, 2009 (—Yesterday the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops approved a new document that strongly affirms the Church's traditional teaching on marriage by condemning contraception, divorce, same-sex marriage, and cohabitation as dangers directed “at the very meaning and purpose of marriage,” while affirming marriage both as the foundation of society and as a path to holiness.

“The whole culture, I think, is in a kind of confusion right now,” said Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore, the diocese which is hosting the general assembly of the USCCB. “We have to put our face forward, our foot forward and say, 'Here's what we've inherited as to what marriage is, what human life is, and what the context of human life is,' and be proud of it and be willing to be defend it.”

The document, entitled “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” was approved by a vote of 180 to 45 with 3 abstentions.  According to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, a member of the committee that wrote the document, it is intended to “serve as a foundational document as we seek a direction and a strategy to defend marriage over these coming years.”

Kurtz says that although the document attempts to be “pastorally sensitive” it will also be “pastorally challenging.”  The USCCB attempts to address sensitive issues carefully, he stated, but people may not like to hear what they have to say.

The letter keeps the firm affirmations of Catholic teaching present in a previous draft that had been leaked prior to the Baltimore meeting.  This draft had caused some critics to say that the document should be entirely rewritten.

The causes of such controversy for some of the more liberal factions in the Church are easy to locate.

The document says that marriage, even considered as natural and not as elevated by Christ, “has two fundamental ends or purposes towards which it is oriented, namely, the good of the spouses as well as the procreation of children. Thus, the Church teaches that marriage is both unitive and procreative, and that it is inseparably both.”

It argues, therefore, that contraception and other activities that break this link have “the potential to damage or destroy marriage.”

It continues: “Conjugal love is diminished whenever the union of a husband and wife is reduced to a  means of self-gratification. The procreative capacity of male and female is dehumanized, reduced to a kind of internal biological technology that one masters and controls just like any other technology.”

The letter then addresses the inherent flaws of in vitro fertilization and how it causes spouses to see children “less as gifts received in a personal communion of mutual self-giving, and increasingly as a lifestyle choice, a commodity to which all consumers are entitled.”

It speaks yet more strongly, however, about same-sex “marriages” and their legal recognition.

“Attempting to redefine marriage to include [same-sex] relationships empties the term of its meaning,” it says.  Thus, “It would be a grave injustice if the state ignored the unique and proper place of husbands and wives, the place of mothers and fathers, and especially the rights of children, who deserve from society clear guidance as they grow to sexual maturity.”

“Indeed,” the letter continues, “without this protection the state would, in effect, intentionally deprive children of the right to a mother and father.”

Thus, it argues that “the legal recognition of same-sex unions poses a multifaceted threat to the very fabric of society, striking at the source from which society and culture come and which they are meant to serve.”

“Such recognition affects all people, married and non-married: not only at the fundamental levels of the good of the spouses, the good of children, the intrinsic dignity of every human person, and the common good, but also at the levels of education, cultural imagination and influence, and religious freedom.”

In the same section it addresses divorce and cohabitation and how they violate God’s plan for marriage. 

But the document is certainly not purely negative; it also attempts to outline how marriage will best succeed when the moral law is followed.  “All who seek to find meaning in their marriage,” it says, “will do so when they are open to  accepting the transcendent meaning of marriage according to God’s plan.”

The document is part of a larger push by the USCCB to help strengthen marriages, including both ads and a website.