What I Have Seen and Heard
Published: April 26, 2012
The Quinquennial Report on the state of the Archdiocese of Atlanta that I recently submitted to the Holy See amounted to over 220 pages in length. It was filled with many statistics and significant data about the extraordinary growth and development of this local Church since the last report was submitted in 2004. I am deeply grateful to all of my colleagues at the Chancery who helped me to prepare such a fine document.
The Offices of the Holy See provided an outline and guideline questions for the preparation of the report with the details that they sought to obtain as part of this document, and we complied as accurately as we could. In general it was an exceedingly positive report on an archdiocese that is in full-fledged growth and expansion. Ours is a community that is benefiting from many graced sources of development and increase. Our people, of course, are the main reason that we have such a positive perspective on the future. Whether they come from another country or from another region in the United States, they are the most important source of our blessings and the promise of our bright future.
In spite of the many wonderful things that I reported in that document, I was similar to most other U.S. bishops in testifying that the number of marriages (between Catholics and between mixed religions) had declined significantly during the time since the last Quinquennial report. This troubling phenomenon is indicative of changing attitudes about marriage that involve all Americans. Catholics are not immune to these changes. My administrative colleagues and I have had several candid conversations about the issue of the altered attitudes regarding marriage that are reflected in the statistics of our report. There have been a number of studies and statistical surveys directed at this issue in American life, and they reveal that more and more Americans are simply not getting married or are more tolerant of couples living together without benefit of marriage, and are willing to alter the very definition of marriage itself. We soon will be designing some responses and strategies for parishes and couples to respond to these very problematic realities.
One of the ways that we can support the institution of marriage is to recognize and to honor those who have lived successful and committed marriages, such as our annual celebration for those who are celebrating 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries. These wonderful couples are the real marriage success stories that are rarely told as the media and public attention seem to be captivated by unions that fall apart or are never even officially begun.
We Catholics seem to spend a lot of time focused on the shortages of priests and men and women in consecrated life—and these are serious concerns to be sure. But even more problematic is the state of marriage in our society and world where half of marriages end in divorce and increasingly many young people never even bother to engage in a union that is publicly recognized and respected. A healthy and stable family life is an irreplaceable treasure for society and an essential requirement for the wholesome rearing of children. If family life is weakened or absent, the impact on future generations will be catastrophic.
Many of the available studies that treat the issue of marriage in contemporary society were conducted by reputable and respected institutions and organizations, and they all seem to suggest that these changing attitudes regarding marriage are widespread and increasing in acceptance. I know from my conversations with many of you here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta that this is a real concern for parents as they watch their children drift from the values that have sustained civilized society and that were once widely accepted as a shared common legacy of Christian-Judeo culture. First, we must all continue to pray that we can reverse this trend. Second, we must listen to and try to understand the reasons that are set forth as the causes of this disturbing trend. Finally, we must articulate and witness in persuasive and plausible ways why marriage remains one of the bulwarks of a truly healthy society. And that will take patience and courage on all of our parts.