Defense of Traditional Marriage

Doug Oldmixon, IPSD, State Historian

In my March article, I remarked at length about Father McGivney’s belief that the preservation of the family was vital to future of the nation, and I wrote about what the Knights have done to strengthen the cause of the family throughout its 138 plus year history, especially in the face of ever-present pressures of the modern, secular worldview.

The winding down of the Fraternal Year coincides with national holidays celebrating Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. It provides a perfect time to reflect on the pillars of a traditional family, the husband and wife. Marriage is any culture’s most basic institution because it is the foundation of the family, and the family is the fundamental building block of society. Because of this, efforts to weaken this “most basic institution” have a lasting and detrimental impact on the society at large.

The Church has responded to these pressures in various ways over the last 50 years, and the Knights of Columbus has been their aid in this response. The 1980 Synod of Bishops, a gathering of bishops that act as an advisory body to the Pope, was devoted to the family. At that Synod, it was determined that there was a need for the creation of theological centers devoted to the study of the Church's teaching on marriage and the family.  In response to this need, Pope John Paul II established the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family and the Pontifical Council for the Family in Rome.

In 1987, the Supreme Knight at that time, Virgil C. Dechant, and Cardinal James Hickey of Washington, D.C. asked permission from the Vatican to establish an English-language campus of the Institute in the United States.  Permission was granted, and as a result of financial and administrative support from the Order, the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family was founded in Washington, D.C. the following year. The Institute’s primary mission is to provide a comprehensive understanding of person, marriage and family faithful to the Catholic tradition in light of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II. The Order continues to be actively involved in the Institute’s mission; current Supreme Knight Carl Anderson serves as the Institute’s Vice President.

The Vatican routinely recognizes the Knights’ steadfast efforts in the defense of traditional marriage. Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, conveying a message from Pope Benedict XVI at the 130th Supreme Convention, thanked the Knights for helping Catholics “recognize and respond to the unprecedented gravity of … new threats to the church's liberty and public moral witness.” Cardinal Pietro Parolin wrote to the Knights at the 133rd Supreme Convention on behalf of Pope Francis to express the Pope’s deep appreciation for the “public witness which [the] Order has borne to our Christian understanding of marriage and the family.” Cardinal Parolin explained why the Order’s efforts are so vital:

Elevated by the Savior to the dignity of a sacrament, marriage is, in the Creator’s plan, a natural institution, a life-long covenant of love and fidelity between a man and a woman, directed to their perfection and sanctification, and to the future of our human family.  Today, when the institution of marriage is under attack from powerful cultural forces, the faithful are called to bear witness to this basic truth of biblical faith and natural law, which is essential to the wise and just ordering of society.  In meeting the moral, social and political challenges of the present hour, great wisdom and perseverance will be required of them

The Knights have not been viewed favorably in some cultural circles for its public support of the doctrine that the ideal marriage is one between a man and a woman. The Order is often derided by secularly focused organizations for its public defense of traditional marriage, and accused of being anti-gay, ignorant, and intolerant.  Franciscan Media, publisher of one of the most read Catholic family magazines in the nation, the St. Anthony Messenger, weighed in on this anti-gay accusation. “As an organization, [Knights of Columbus] accept the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexual people are to be respected and not discriminated against. Their public policy link at reflects this.”  It continues “Not every marriage will be blessed with children, but every child benefits from having loving parents of each gender. In certain circumstances, others may substitute for a child’s biological parents, but being raised by a mother and father is clearly ideal. It is neither hatred nor bigotry to point this out [emphasis added].”

The Order’s defense of traditional marriage is inseparable from our Founder’s belief that strong families are the foundation of parish, of Church and of society. Father McGivney understood that the Knights of Columbus could (and should) be a means to help Catholic men be better husbands and fathers by encouraging Brother Knights to be men of deep faith and “self-giving love.” This in turn strengthens our family life. As Supreme Chaplain Archbishop William Lori explained in Marriage and the Common Good, “When a husband and wife give themselves completely to one another in love, they are by that very fact open to the gift of new life. Children are brought into a peaceful and stable home where they learn fundamental human values, skills and knowledge.” He explains that by “raising a new generation of such citizens, the family contributes in a basic and profound way to the common good.”  And the family is able to serve the common good because at its “root” (i.e. the union of a husband and wife) is self-giving love.

While important work continues to be done by the Order on the state and national levels, it is through our own personal relationships with our spouses and children that we, as individual Knights can make the most impact in defending traditional marriage. By committing ourselves to strengthening the “root” of the family and embracing Father McGivney’s goal of becoming better husbands and fathers, we defend traditional marriage by our deeds and example.

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