Story by S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - In January, Bishop James D. Conley began serving a three-year term as chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Subcommittee for the Defense and Promotion of Marriage.
Bishop Conley was appointed to the position by Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee for Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. The purpose of the subcommittee is to communicate the Church’s teachings on marriage, and to defend and promote this institution as God created it to be.
“I was very humbled by his invitation,” Bishop Conley said. “I have long admired the work of the subcommittee, and the good work of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone and Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, who preceded me as the subcommittee’s chairmen.”
Bishop Conley’s enthusiasm for serving on this committee is rooted in his understanding of the importance of the family and marriage in human society.
“Marriage models the Trinity, and expresses the incredible love of God,” he said, “but we need to do a better job of teaching that.”
Like many others, Bishop Conley is concerned about the secular influence over marriage in our culture.
“Today, the idea of tolerance masks a dangerously libertine social agenda, that sees unfettered sexual expression as a human right, and probably even a human need,” he said. “People think that we can define sexual and social morality according to our preferences or desires, that we can even define the meaning of our own existence, however we wish.”
He added, “Much of this took root in our culture with the rise of contraception, which began to distort the meaning of sexuality and separate it from its life-giving power.”
Bishop Conley cited some statistics that show an alarming trend: In 1970, there were 8.9 marriages per 1,000 American Catholics. In 2016, there were only 2.1 marriages per 1,000 American Catholics.
“People are delaying marriage, or not choosing to get married, and that has social, economic, political, and spiritual implications for our country,” Bishop Conley stated. “Our goal is to promote and defend the vital importance of marriage, which has been a part of God’s plan for humanity since our Creation, to all people.”
Many U.S. Catholics may have seen the subcommittee’s video series on marriage. These informative videos are shown in classrooms, CCD classes and other catechetical environments, and shared in social media.
“It’s amazing how well a message can get out when it is presented in a beautiful way, and shared organically between people,” the bishop marveled. “I hope we can continue to build on those efforts.”
In addition to its primary mission to educate and inform the culture, the subcommittee also does some work in the political sphere.
“It advises state Catholic conferences on issues pertaining to marriage, and works on issues pertaining to marriage at the federal level,” explained Bishop Conley.
In the past few years, the subcommittee issued statements on issues ranging from same-sex “marriage,” to conscience rights protection, to discrimination in the workplace and other topics.
As chair, Bishop Conley has invited bishops from across the country who represent a range of cultural backgrounds and experiences to serve with him on the committee.
“I’ve also asked lay consulters and advisers from different walks of life and different backgrounds to help the bishops in our work,” the bishop added, noting that he also has a number of USCCB employees assigned to the subcommittee, whom he called “very good and experienced.”
This support will enable him to chair the subcommittee without compromising his role of shepherd over the Lincoln diocese. Most of the meetings will happen in conjunction with USCCB gatherings, and a lot of the other work is done via email and Skype.
“A bishop’s first place is with his diocese, the souls entrusted to his care,” Bishop Conley said. “Pope Francis says we should be careful not to become ‘airport bishops.’”
The bishop welcomes the opportunity to spend the three years of his appointment doing “as much good as I can” while trusting “that God will use that for His glory.”
However, the bishop noted that the defense of marriage is something that all Catholics are called to, not just bishops.
“We have a long way to go to help restore our culture’s sense of marriage’s importance in this country,” he stated. “Lay Catholics belong on the front lines on these issues, hearing what the Church teaches, and taking up the call.”
He continued, “All of us, of course, need to pray for marriage and the family…The Church needs to transform the world through Christ—and that mission belongs to each one of us.”
Catholics can follow the subcommittee’s work by reading the Southern Nebraska Register, or following @mur_usccb on Twitter. They will also receive information about important issues through their parishes.
“Marriage is a beautiful thing,” Bishop Conley said, noting that he even enjoys playing matchmaker when he has the opportunity. “I think the proper response to the gift of marriage is wonder—awe at the great grace God has given the world through marriage.”
Expressing his gratitude for the opportunity to promote and defend marriage, he added, “I hope that we can continue to inspire people to receive that gift with joy, and to honor it—in their families and in the public square.”