Mission: promoting church’s teaching on marriage

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, October 9, 2011

Deacon Richard Hudzik is a father and husband, a lawyer for 35 years who now has a doctorate in ministry and runs the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House in Mundelein.

He knows about marriage from the legal side, from the pastoral side and from living it for 36 years. His desire to share his experience and insights led him to jump at the chance to join the Catholic Conference of Illinois’s new Defense of Marriage Department as the Archdiocese of Chicago’s representative.

“I think that the conversation about marriage, particularly samesex marriage, proceeds without attending to all the ramifications of that social movement,” he said. “I wanted to be part of that conversation.”

The Illinois bishops — who form the Catholic Conference — created the new department to promote the church’s teaching about marriage and defend against public policy encroachments after the state enacted a civil union law in January. Several other states, most recently New York, have changed their laws to allow same sex couples to marry, and CCI’s Director of Government Relations Zach Wichmann believes same-sex marriage advocates will try to advance their cause in Illinois soon.

‘Good intentions’

Hudzik understands why the argument that same sex couples should be allowed to marry resonates with people, he said, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

“I think people’s good intentions of wanting to be inclusive and generous and open-hearted are admirable,” Hudzik said. “We want to encourage those qualities. But when we say that gender has no significance to marriage, generosity has swallowed everything we know about male and female in marriage.”

Hudzik joins Wichmann, who heads the new department, and representatives from the five other Illinois dioceses. They are: Laurie Edwards, Diocese of Belleville; Michael Brummond, Diocese of Joliet; Tim Roder, Diocese of Peoria; Mary O’Grady, Diocese of Rockford; and Carlos Tejeda, Diocese of Springfield.

Wichmann said the new department reflects the bishops’ intention to keep the church in the public square and in line with the Catholic faith’s mission. The Defense of Marriage department will advocate marriage as the proper home for human sexuality, as it serves as an expression of love and cooperation in God’s creative design.

He noted the new civil unions law seems to be the beginning of the erosion of a historically cooperative relationship between the church and the state of Illinois.

The recent decision by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to cancel contracts with Catholic Charities because of the organizations’ refusal to place children with cohabitating couples — including those in civil unions — reflects a growing tension between the Church and state. Catholic Charities is suing to retain the contracts, citing religious discrimination and a 40- year partnership with the state to provide loving homes to the neediest of children.

Beyond state borders

The attack on marriage, is not confined to Illinois, Wichmann said. “You see it in a lot of areas, first and foremost, in President Obama’s refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act,” he said. The Defense of Marriage Act affirms that the federal government recognize marriage as between one man and one woman and allows states not to recognize marriages performed in other states that fall outside that definition.

Last year, an amendment to the Illinois state constitution was introduced that would define marriage as between one man and one woman, but it has yet to make any progress, Wichmann said. Illinois constitutional amendments must be approved by three-fifths of both the house and senate, so supporters are now speaking with representatives and senators, trying to win support.

“Right now, we don’t have the votes,” Wichmann acknowledged.

But he believes the battle for the definition of marriage can be won, because so far, every time the question has come to a vote of the people, the traditional understanding of marriage wins out.

Hudzik points to one of the successful messages of California’s Proposition 8 campaign, which amended that state’s constitution to say only a marriage between a man and a woman will be recognized.

“People really understood the message that marriage is good for children, and children are not a private option for people to choose or not to choose,” he said. “They are inherent to the marriage, and children deserve to have both a mother and a father.”

To help educate people about the church’s teaching on marriage, the department plans to offer educational conferences, bulletin inserts, homily suggestions and other materials.

“There’s no shortage of resources,” Wichmann said, pointing toward the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ National Marriage Initiative. “We want to get the material into people’s hands.”