U.S. bishops launch campaign urging couples to strengthen marriages

DENVER – Public service announcements for television and radio launched by the U.S. bishops June 27 feature couples from around the country candidly talking about what they did that day for their marriage.

The advertisements, sponsored by the U.S. bishops’ committees on Marriage and Family Life and Communications, highlight on-the-street interviews with couples in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, and Providence, R.I. The ad campaign was unveiled during the annual meeting of the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministers in Denver.

The couples, who are different ages and come from a variety of cultural backgrounds, give a range of candid responses in the television and radio spots about what they had done just that day for their spouse, including making coffee or a meal, sending a note, buying flowers, planning a date night, taking care of the baby or listening sincerely.

The ads end with a message, “Small changes can make a world of difference,” and urge viewers or listeners to go to the Web site www.foryourmarriage.org for suggestions on little things they could do to help strengthen their marriage.

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, recently name to head the Archdiocese of Louisville, Ky., said the public service announcements are “lighthearted and fun and yet provide a clear message.” He is chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life.

In an e-mail to Catholic News Service June 21, he said the spots provide “a clear message that the Catholic Church is interested in promoting healthy and sound marriages.”

He also said they show that “marriage commitment is not simply a feeling but a decision – in fact, many little decisions – for love each day.”

The archbishop said the Web site “will do more of the same” by encouraging visitors to “learn more about marriage and its potential.”

The public service announcements, funded by the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign, are just one part of the multiyear National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage approved by the bishops in November 2004 and directed by the bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family Life.

The initiative, officially launched in 2005, highlights the meaning and value of married life for the church and society. The first part of the initiative has focused on research and consultation that will be used for a pastoral letter on marriage scheduled for next year.

The bishops’ marriage and family life committee has surveyed pastoral letters on marriage and diocesan marriage preparation policies. It also has consulted with marriage tribunal staffs, leaders of national marriage ministry groups and theologians and has conducted focus groups with married couples, separated or divorced people, single adults and couples in a second marriage.

The committee has also put together a series of backgrounders for priests, bishops and pastoral leaders on key issues related to marriage.

Archbishop Kurtz said the church holds all marriages as sacred, not just Catholic marriages, and as a result it has a great desire to do all it can to help marriages succeed.

He said the church sees marriage as “the bedrock of a solid society” currently under attack by modern society’s emphasis on marriage as a “private affair” primarily for personal fulfillment and also perpetuating the notion that intimate love is separate from having and raising children.

“Social research is showing these tendencies are working against vibrant and loving families and so we hope that the pastoral initiative, of which the PSAs are a part, will foster a recommitment to strong marriages and families,” he said.

When he introduced this initiative to the bishops in 2004, Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah, Ga., then-chairman of the Committee on Marriage and Family Life, called it a “pastoral moment we should seize upon.”

He said the recent debates about same-sex marriage have shown that while most Americans agree that marriage should be defined as a lifelong union of a man and a woman many struggle to connect that ideal with what they encounter in daily life. He also noted that many people still turn to churches and faith communities to help them prepare for, to be sustained in and to heal marital relationships.

Bishop Boland said the development of a pastoral letter could address such issues as why the U.S. marriage rate has declined by more than 40 percent in the last 30 years; the consequences of delayed marriage and the increase in the number of people who never marry; the effects of divorce; the effect of cohabiting relationships on marriage; and the beliefs and behaviors that contribute to strong, happy marriages.

On June 22, the Boston Archdiocese launched its own campaign to strengthen marriages as the first part of an overall initiative being developed by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and the bishops of the four Massachusetts dioceses.

The campaign’s launch came one week after the Massachusetts Legislature voted to reaffirm same-sex marriage. A statement from the Boston Archdiocese said the vote about same-sex marriage “energizes the Catholic Church in its efforts to promote the vocation of marriage to better serve families and society in future generations.”

As part of the educational aspect of the campaign, parishes in the Boston Archdiocese will be distributing prayer cards about the vocation of marriage this summer and pastors are being urged to incorporate the support of marriage in their homilies.

In letters sent to pastors, Boston Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley noted that “the vocation of marriage is in crisis,” referring to the 60 percent decline in the number of marriages in the archdiocese over the past 20 years.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.