An immediate practical challenge for the church following the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage is presented in “the new definition of ‘spouse’ and its legal ramifications,” said Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl in a four-page letter to his priests.
Released today, the letter states that while the ruling “in effect redefines the civil definition of marriage nationwide,” it does not alter the church’s understanding of marriage. The communication to his priests is moderate in tone, devoid of the combative language and perceived threats to religious liberty of some other bishops. It was sent, he said, “with the hope that we try clearly to respect the law of the land and its implications” while simultaneously being “equally clear” on the church’s understanding of marriage.
“The revealed Word of God is still what it was before the Supreme Court decision. Marriage is the life-long union of a man and a woman given for the purpose of their mutual good and for the procreation and education of children,” he wrote. At the same time, he asks, “Are people who share our faith but struggle with the church’s understanding about marriage still welcome at church?” And he answers, “Because Jesus came to save all people, all are invited to be a part of god’s family – his church.”
The welcome, he said, “is extended to everyone: married couples with children, unwed mothers and fathers, the single unmarried, couples who struggle with infertility, men and women with same-sex attraction, individuals facing gender issues, those whose marriages have broken down and suffered the trauma of divorce, people with special needs, immigrants, children born and unborn, the young, seniors, and the terminally ill, sinners and saints alike. If the church were to welcome only those without sin, it would be empty.”
Accepting the person, however, doesn’t mean accepting everything one does. “Church teaching and common sense make a distinction between who a person is and what that person does.” Condemnation of sin doesn’t mean condemnation of the person, writes Wuerl. “The church has and always will meet people where they are to bring them closer to Christ.”
The new definition of marriage presents a corresponding new definition of spouse. The practical challenge for the church and its agencies, he said, is the need “to balance two important values, the provision of appropriate health care benefits for all church personnel including their spouses, and the avoidance of the perception that by doing so we accept a definition of marriage and spouse contrary to faith and revealed truth.”
He asked that the letter’s contents be shared “in whatever manner you feel appropriate … with those entrusted to your pastoral care.”