Holy Father, Eminences, and Excellencies,

 

We rejoice that the Holy Father has captured the world’s attention and so much good will for the Christian faith! Like others we are deeply moved by his expressions of love and mercy, echoing the love and mercy of Christ, especially for those who are defenseless and abandoned.  

 

It is in this context that we welcome the decision to convene an Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to examine the challenges to marriage and the family.  Like each of you, we believe the family is, with the Church itself, the greatest institutional manifestation of Christ’s love.  For those who wish to love as He would have us love, marriage and the family are indispensable, both as vehicles of salvation and as bulwarks of human society.

 

Recent popes have made these points abundantly clear.  For example, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that, “Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society.” And, in Evangelii Gaudium, Your Holiness wrote that “the indispensable contribution of marriage to society transcends the feelings and momentary needs of the couple.”

 

This Synod is an opportunity to express timeless truths about marriage. Why do those truths matter? How do they represent true love, not “exclusion” or “prejudice,” or any of the other charges brought against marriage today?  Men and women need desperately to hear the truth about why they should get married in the first place.  And, once married, why Christ and the Church desire that they should remain faithful to each other throughout their lives on this earth.  That, when marriage gets tough (as it does for most couples), the Church will be a source of support, not just for individual spouses, but for the marriage itself.

 

You have written so powerfully, Holy Father, of the importance of a new evangelization within the Church: “An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others.”

 

May we humbly suggest that in the context of marriage and family life your words are a call to personal responsibility, not only for our own spouses and children, but for the marriages of those God has put by our side: our relatives and friends, those in our churches and in our schools.

 

The stakes are high.  According to a 2013 Child Trends international report: “Dramatic increases in cohabitation, divorce, and nonmarital childbearing in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania over the last four decades suggest that the institution of marriage is much less relevant in these parts of the world.”  In the United States the marriage rate is the lowest ever recorded, unmarried cohabitation is rapidly becoming an acceptable alternative to marriage, and more than half of births to women under 30 years of age now occur outside marriage. Among countless other negative associations, each of these trends has been linked to lower net worth and economic mobility, poverty, and welfare – for women and children, in particular.

 

Among existing marriages, many are fragile and strained. Between forty and fifty percent of all first marriages in the U.S. are projected to end in divorce. This rate rises sharply with each successive remarriage and research suggests the reason is not low marital quality, but weak commitment.  

 

The consequences of divorce and cohabitation for children and adults are many and diverse – from poverty and lower educational achievement to poorer physical health; from lower marital commitment in adulthood to earlier death.  And while every nation is unique, studies show that the impact of these trends spans the globe. A small sampling of such studies: China,  Finland, Sweden, Uruguay, Mexico, Greece, Africa, and East Asian Pacific nations

 

The costs of pornography to societies are significant. Studies of pornography’s impact on relationships suggest it is a major contributor to the destruction of marriages. Unfortunately, long-term research on pornography’s effect on marriage is virtually nonexistent.

 

So called “no fault divorce” laws in the U.S. and many other nations have licensed a system in which judges and lawyers facilitate the dissolution of marriages, often against the will of spouses who stand firm in their marital commitment.

 

Despite the bleakness of these trends, we are encouraged and made resolute by the Holy Father’s exhortation: “Challenges exist to be overcome! Let us be realists, but without losing our joy, our boldness and our hope-filled commitment.”

 

Perhaps the boldest new way we can evangelize married couples (and by extension their children’s future marriages) is to build small communities of married couples who support each other unconditionally in their vocations to married life. These communities would provide networks of support grounded in the bonds of faith and family, commitment to lifelong marriage, and responsibility to and for each other.

 

Here we offer some practical ways to create and sustain such communities:

 

  • Commission the Pontifical Council on the Family to conduct cross-discipline, longitudinal research on the role of pornography and “no fault” divorce in the marriage crisis.

 

  • Educate seminarians. Provide mandatory courses covering social science evidence on the benefits of marriage, threats to marriage, and the consequences of divorce and cohabitation to children and society.

 

  • Train priests to showcase in their homilies the spiritual and social value of marriage, contemporary challenges to it, and parish help for troubled marriages. A recent study found that 72% of American Catholic women say the weekly homily is their primary source for learning about the faith.

 

  • Create small, vibrant networks of strong married couples as mentors at the parish level, available to give spouses the tools to sustain healthy, lifelong marriages.

 

  • Educate parishioners on the extraordinary influence they can have on the marriages of friends and family. Social science data show that the presence of divorced family and friends increases one’s own risk of divorce. Alternatively, the data suggest that family members and friends can increase commitment and satisfaction within marriages of those they love through their example and support.

 

  • Encourage and support the reconciliation of married couples who are separated or have been divorced by civil courts.

 

  • Request bishops worldwide to initiate regular prayers during Sunday Mass for strong, faithful marriages.  

 

  • Support efforts to preserve what is right and just in existing marriage laws, to resist any changes to those laws that would further weaken the institution, and to restore legal provisions that protect marriage as a conjugal union of one man and one woman, entered into with an openness to the gift of children, and lived faithfully and permanently as the foundation of the natural family.

 

  • Support religious freedom in divorce courts. Many do not know that religious freedom is routinely violated by divorce judges who ignore or demean the views of a spouse who seeks to save a marriage, keep the children in a religious school, or prevent an abandoning spouse from exposing the children to an unmarried sexual partner. Begin a consortium of attorneys and legislators to combat this problem.

 

To accomplish any of these goals on an international scale would be a great step forward for marriages and families. To accomplish them all may turn the worldwide marriage crisis on its head.

 

With your leadership we will help marriages to succeed and flourish by placing the greatest value on marital commitment - at every level of society, in every corner of the world. We thank Your Holiness, Eminences, and Excellencies for taking up this vital task and you may be assured of our prayers for its great success.

 

 

Signed:

[Affiliations, where listed, are for identification purposes only]

 

Greg and Julie Alexander

Founders, The Alexander House Apostolate, Texas

 

Ryan T. Anderson

William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society, The Heritage Foundation,

Washington, DC

 

Erika Bachiochi, Esq., legal scholar and author, Massachusetts

 

Monsignor Renzo Bonetti

Founder and President, Fondazione Famiglia Dono Grande, Italy 

 

Gerard Bradley

Professor of Law, University of Notre Dame Law School

 

Ana María Celis Brunet

Professor of Law, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

 

Mary Eberstadt

Senior Fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, DC

 

Jason and Crystalina Evert

Founders, Chastity Project, Colorado 

 

Patrick Fagan

Director, The Marriage and Religion Research Institute, Family Research Council,

Washington, DC

 

Thomas Farr

Visiting Associate Professor and Director, The Religious Freedom Project

Georgetown University

 

Silvio Ferrari

Professor of Law, University of Milan, Italy

 

Richard Fitzgibbons

Director, The Institute for Marital Healing, Pennsylvania

 

Juan G. Navarro Floria

Profesor Ordinario, Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina

 

Matthew Franck

William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution

The Witherspoon Institute, New Jersey

 

Robert P. George

McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

 

Mary Ann Glendon

Learned Hand Professor of Law, Harvard University

 

Bruce and Jeannie Hannemann

Co-Directors, RECLAiM Sexual Health

Co-Founders, Elizabeth Ministry International

 

George A. Harne

President, The College of Saint Mary Magdalen

 

Mary Hasson

Fellow, Catholic Studies Program, Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington DC

 

Alan J. Hawkins

Professor of Family Life, Brigham Young University

 

Kent R. Hill

International Development leader, Washington DC

 

Byron Johnson

Distinguished Professor of the Social Sciences and

Director, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University

 

Thomas Lickona

Director, Center for the 4th and 5th Rs (Respect and Responsibility)

State University of New York at Cortland

 

John McCarthy

Dean, School of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

 

Rocco Mimmo

Chairman, Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty, Sydney, Australia

 

Gloria M. Moran

Professor of Law, Chair of Law, Religion and Public Policy, University of La Coruña Spain.

 

Jennifer Roback Morse

President, Ruth Institute, California

 

Melissa Moschella
Assistant Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

 

Rafael Navarro-Valls

Emeritus Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain

Secretary General of the Spanish Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation

 

Rafael Palomino

Professor of Law, Complutense University, Spain

 

Marcello Pera

Former President, Senate of Italy

Professor, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome, Italy

 

Vicente Prieto

Universidad de La Sabana, Bogotá, Colombia

 

Fr. Juan Puigbó

Diocese of Arlington, VA

 

David Quinn

Director, The Iona Institute, Ireland

 

Mark Regnerus

Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

 

Balázs Schanda
Professor of Law, Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary

 

Alan E. Sears

President, CEO, & General Counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom

 

Reverend Charles Sikorsky

President, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

 

O. Carter Snead

Professor of Law, William P. and Hazel B. White Director, Center for Ethics and Culture,

University of Notre Dame

 

Reverend D. Paul Sullins
Professor of Sociology, The Catholic University of America
Senior Fellow for Family Studies, Family Research Council
President, The Leo Institute, Washington, DC

 

Rebecca Ryskind Teti

Center for Family Development at Our Lady of Bethesda

 

Mervyn Thomas
Chief Executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, United Kingdom


Javier Martinez-Torron
Professor of Law, Chair of the Department of Law and Religion, Complutense University

 

Hilary Towers

Psychologist, Manassas, Virginia

 

D. Vincent Twomey

Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, Pontifical University, Maynooth, Ireland

 

Paul C. Vitz

Senior Scholar and Professor, The Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Virginia

 

Rick Warren,

Founder and Pastor, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California

 

Robert Wilken

William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity Emeritus, University of Virginia

 

Visit the official website at MarriageCommitment.com

 

Commitment to Marriage

 

A Letter to the Third Extraordinary General Assembly

of the Synod of Bishops