An ecumenical group of clergy, concerned about the ongoing threats posed by abortion, attempts to redefine marriage and encroachments on religious liberty in the United States, are preparing to release a statement pledging their commitment to defend human life, traditional marriage and the rights of conscience.
The statement, titled the “Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience” and set to be released Nov. 20, also invites Christians and others to a deeper reflection on these issues.
It is the result of a meeting of Evangelical, Orthodox and Catholic clergy who gathered in late September in New York for a one-day seminar organized by Charles Colson, author and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Professor Robert George of Princeton University; and New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan.
About a dozen Catholic bishops were present, according to Archbishop John Nienstedt, who also attended.
Facing many challenges
“We are in a crisis today,” Archbishop Nienstedt said during a Nov. 12 interview with The Catholic Spirit, during which he highlighted the particular challenges facing the institution of marriage.
Too many marriages end in divorce and the rate of cohabitation outside marriage continues to increase, he said. The number of children under the age of 18 living with a single parent rose from 6 million in 1960 to 19 million in 2000.
Want to learn more?
Archbishop Nienstedt recommends the following book to learn more about the issue of marriage and society: “The Meaning of Marriage: Family, State, Market, and Morals,” edited by Robert George and Jean Bethke Elshtain (Spence Publishing Company, 2006).
The mass media and some self-interest groups promote views of human sexuality — particularly among the young — that are unhealthy spiritually, physically and psychologically. The challenge, Archbishop Nienstedt said, is to readjust society’s perspective on the role of sexuality in human relationships and get back to a view of sexual behavior as something that is properly expressed within the context of lifelong marriage between one man and one woman.
“It’s not just a question that church leaders are concerned about,” he said. “It’s a question that I think anyone who takes a look at the future of our country has to be concerned about.”
Two clergy days were organized last year within the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis concerning marriage and how priests and deacons can preach about the topic. In addition, a study day was held this fall at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul to focus on what the local church can do to support traditional marriage.
“What they’re trying to do with this [“Manhattan Declaration”] is light a fire,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “Hopefully that fire will catch on and touch the troops in the rank and file.”
The “Manhattan Declaration” and perhaps a future local statement on issues related to marriage is something the archbishop said he would like to see sift down to the level of parishes and parish programming.
“The church, by her very nature, is not a political animal,” Archbishop Nienstedt said. “But the church has to continue to teach and to educate people in these very essential issues.” Catholic Spirit