As we continue this series of columns exploring the pastoral priorities established at the Archdiocesan Pastoral Assembly and refined by the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, we turn next to the priority of marriage and family life. In the wake of two synods of the world’s bishops on this topic, this is clearly a major priority for the whole Church throughout the world.

It may surprise many that an overwhelming concern that came out of the pastoral assembly was the issue of same-sex attraction and how to address the LGBTQ culture so prevalent in our archdiocese. Related to this is the growing concern over gender identity issues.

How does this relate to marriage and family life? Many families struggle with this very sensitive issue since beloved family members experience same-sex attraction, and many of them are tempted to give in to the prevailing culture and adopt an acceptance of this as an alternative lifestyle, including civil marriage between persons of the same sex. This is a painful and difficult reality for Catholic families to deal with.

Responding with love

We must respond with love, respect and sensitivity to these persons and their families. The Church must do a better job of educating and forming young people and adults according to the teachings of Christ, Scripture and the moral doctrine of the Church. Even very recently Pope Francis affirmed the teaching of the Church that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

One of the most effective avenues the Church has in place to minister to persons who experience deep-seated same-sex attraction and their families is the ministry of Courage and Encourage, recently established in the archdiocese. Courage provides a support network for same-sex attracted persons who desire to live a chaste life according to the teaching of the Church. Encourage is a ministry of support for their family members.

Most of our efforts in this area will focus on this direct ministry to people, and on formation regarding human sexuality, marriage and gender identity according to the natural law and the Church’s teaching. Unjust discrimination and a lack of charity are to be excluded from the Church’s response, even as we uphold the doctrine of the Church.

Marriage preparation

The second initiative under this heading is for our local Church to do a better job of preparing people for marriage. Marriage preparation does not begin when an engaged couple is knocking on the rectory door to begin preparations for their wedding. It must begin in an age-appropriate education and formation that starts in the youngest years of our children’s religious education, through high school and college, and into young adulthood.

We will evaluate existing programs of marriage preparation and recommend best practices for parish and vicariate-level preparation programs. This will be done under the general heading of vocational awareness and discernment. This will require cooperation and coordination between various offices of the pastoral center, parishes, vicariates and especially families, where primary religious formation must occur.

The third initiative to help marriages that are struggling will involve providing sound resources to Catholics seeking out the services of mental health professionals that will support their life of faith. This will mean developing and promoting awareness of a list of mental health professionals and counselors who respect the Church’s teachings and can faithfully assist Catholic families that are struggling with issues such as depression, addiction or other emotional or psychological challenges.

Stronger familie

The fourth initiative will be aimed at strengthening marriages and family life in a broader sense. We would like to see the Office of Marriage and Family Life become a true “go to” resource for materials and programs that will help maintain and build solid marriages and help parents raise children in a faith-filled family environment. The communication of these resources to parishes and families will be a key to our success in this initiative.

It is widely recognized that the first five years of marriage are critical for the building of a solid foundation for life-long marital commitment. Under the fifth initiative, we would like to evaluate and make available resources, programs and a support network for couples in these important years, helping them navigate the beginning of their common life in marriage. We have a similar program for priests in their first five years of ordained ministry. It is no less important for married couples.

If we are successful in building all of these initiatives in our Catholic schools, religious education programs, adult faith formation, parishes, vicariates and especially in our families, we will go a long way toward addressing this critical need as identified by the universal Church in our times. It will be a challenge, but with your prayers and moral and financial support, we can make it happen.