Pastoral Letter By Most Reverend Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V., President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, To the Canadian Catholic Community on Marriage
On 7 November 2002 the Minister of Justice issued a discussion paper entitled Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions. The Minister has asked the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights to study this issue, to hear from Canadians and to produce recommendations.
In releasing the discussion paper, the Honourable Martin Cauchon said: “I believe strongly that Canadians as a society should be encouraged to thoroughly consider, in an open and respectful way, what all of the implications of either maintaining or changing the opposite-sex legal requirement for marriage in Canada might be.”
As President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), I encourage the Catholic community, especially married people, to accept the invitation from the Minister of Justice to become involved in this important public debate about marriage, which is a social institution essential to the future of society.
Married people have a lot to contribute to this national dialogue because they know from experience the central role that marriage plays in the creation and nurturing of children and the stability of the family. This experience is confirmed by recent data from Statistics Canada which overwhelmingly establishes that marriage is the most stable environment in which to raise children. Statistics released in July 2002 establish that common-law unions are twice as likely to end in separation compared with marriages.
Marriage is a profound personal commitment between a man and a woman who love each other. It is also a profound social commitment by the couple to society, and by society to the couple. Marriage as a union between one man and one woman has existed across all cultures, in all civilizations, in all countries and in all religions for all of recorded history. It is the basic unit of society, the social nucleus in which most children are born and raised. In exchange for the irreplaceable role of the married couple in the upbringing of children, society in turn makes a commitment to them. Mr. Justice Pitfield, in a decision of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in October 2001, expressed this social dimension of marriage in a particularly compelling way:
The state has a demonstrably genuine justification in affording recognition, preference, and precedence to the nature and character of the core social and legal arrangement by which society endures.
We know that not every married couple has children, that not all children are born in marriages, and that with the new technologies same-sex partners can have children. Exceptions, however, do not invalidate but prove the rule; individual practices do not determine the objectives of an institution like marriage which plays such a pivotal social role. The inherent biological fact remains that a marriage between a man and woman will usually produce children which no shift in the realm of ideas, social trends or new technologies can change.
We welcome the fact that the Minister of Justice has now involved the Canadian people in a debate that up until now has taken place in the rather narrow confines of the courts. We urge the Catholic community, especially lay people who have the experience of married life, to take up his challenge to express respectfully the gift that marriage has been in their lives and for their communities. Lay people are the best witnesses to the fact that marriage continues to be the most reliable and stable foundation for today and for future generations. Participation in the democratic process is a way of integrating faith and culture and is at the heart of the lay vocation.
The discussion paper suggests three ways in which Canadians can get involved in this debate: through the hearings of the Justice Committee, by writing to the Minister of Justice, and by writing to members of Parliament. The CCCB will ask to make a representation to the Justice Committee, and it is hoped that many other Catholic organizations will as well. Individual Catholics should take up the invitation to write to their member of Parliament. Together, as the People of God, we will be able to say:
We affirm that marriage is a unique and exclusive public commitment between a man and a woman whose love overflows in fruitfulness, and ultimately brings children into the world.
We believe that the transmission of marital love from generation to generation, communicated a thousand times over from one couple to another, from one family to another, is indisputable evidence of the greatness and grace of marriage. It deserves the support and protection of society and the Church.1
+ Jacques Berthelet, C.S.V.
Bishop of Saint-Jean-Longueuil
Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops
1. Catholic Organization for Life and Family, In Love for Life: A Reflection Paper on the Conjugal, Social and Religious Significance of Marriage, 2002.