Shift in public opinion makes release of conference’s marriage toolkit timely

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, December 2, 2012

If you get uncomfortable having to explain Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage to friends and acquaintances, the Catholic Conference of Illinois has something to help.

The conference’s Defense of Marriage department has released its “Toolkit on Marriage,” including a 12- item question-and-answer section on why the Catholic Church has consistently taught that marriage can only exist between one man and one woman.

The kit also includes help for priests and deacons who are developing homilies about marriage or catechists who are teaching about it, suggestions for deeper research and information about Courage, the church’s ministry to people who are attracted to individuals of the same sex.

“The timeless impetus is to teach Catholics what the church believes about marriage,” said Zachary Wichmann, the conference’s director of government relations, who works with the diocesan representatives to the Defense of Marriage Department. “But it is also a time of public debate about the nature of marriage.”

Deacon Richard Hudzik, the Archdiocese of Chicago’s representative to and chairman of CCI’s Defense of Marriage Department, said the group worked on the toolkit for many weeks, refining the wording and making sure it accurately reflected church teaching before getting approval from the Illinois bishops.

Now the group will turn its attention to how best to distribute the toolkit and encourage pastors and other Catholics to make good use of it, he said.

In the November election, voters in three states approved same-sex unions at the ballot box and those in a fourth state defeated a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. Those results came after 32 previous referendums that defeated same-sex unions — including some in states that approved it this year.

“There definitely is a shift in public opinion,” Wichmann said. “We want to make sure Catholics know what the church teaches, but more important, that they know why the church teaches that.”

Marriage, he said, is more than a private, personal arrangement. It is an institution that exists in nature and provides the best family structure for raising children and for the good of society. It is so important that Jesus and the church made it a sacrament, he said.

“Marriage is for the good of individuals, but more important for society and for children,” he said.

Wichmann said he hopes that the toolkit will be put to a wide variety of uses, from sparking discussions in schools and RCIA programs and other classes to giving clergy some support if they want to talk about marriage from the pulpit.

The release takes place against a background of growing signs that Illinois could approve same-sex unions in the near future. The state first approved civil unions — which carry most of the legal privileges of marriage — in 2010, and public opinion has moved to be more in favor of same-sex unions since then, Wichmann said.

What’s more, the state legislature will have a higher proportion of Democratic members in the coming session — although not all Democratic members are in favor of same-sex unions, Wichmann said. In any case, it seems likely that a bill allowing for same-sex unions will be introduced.

“It was introduced last year, and the year before that,” Wichmann said.