Thursday, April 11, 2013

I finally finished it.

OK, I just had to finish it.  I've had lots of other things on my mind but didn't want to quit this project.  Here's the letter (and it's not open for corrections or changes!)  It's done.

April 11, 2013

Most Reverend Salvatore J. Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way 
San Francisco, CA 94109  

Your Excellency:

As a married Roman Catholic, I have been following the news of the United States Supreme Court’s consideration of gay marriage closely.  I believe strongly in and find great comfort in my marriage not only as a perfect union between a man and a woman but also as a Sacrament of the Church.  You have my appreciation and great respect for leading as chairman the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage.

While I in no way reject the view that marriage is the best place to raise and nurture children, I do not believe that the argument against gay marriage hinges on procreation.  I was pained to read your words justifying the manner in which you defend traditional marriage in the March 25, 2013 edition of USA Today.  You stated, “To legalize marriage between two people of the same sex would enshrine in the law… that marriage is essentially an institution about adults, not children; marriage would mean nothing more than giving adults recognition and benefits in their most significant relationship.”

You further state when asked how this view applies to elderly or infertile opposite sex couples:
Infertility is, as you point out, part of the natural life cycle of marriage (people age!), as well as a challenge and disappointment some husbands and wives have to go through. People who have been married for 50 years are no less married because they can no longer have children.

Adoption can be a wonderful happy ending for children who lack even one parent able or willing to care for them. But notice, when a man and woman cannot have children together, that's an accident of circumstances, the exception to the rule. When a husband and wife adopt, they are mirroring the pattern set in nature itself....

As a non-elderly infertile woman (I am 35 years old), I cannot disagree more with this view.  However, I firmly believe you did not intend to hurt infertile married couple through your comments.  For some of us, infertility is not just a part of the natural life cycle, it’s a permanent status.  If I may, let me take you briefly through our infertility journey. 

In 2008, in preparation for our wedding, my husband and I learned the Natural Family Planning method through our local parish in the Los Angeles Archdiocese.  After one year of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, we went through every diagnostic test outlined by the NaPro Technology system including laparoscopic abdominal surgery by a Catholic surgeon 135 miles from my home.  Three years since that surgery and additional Church-sanctioned fertility treatments, my husband and I have never conceived a child.  We have always been open to new life.  We have never used artificial contraception or Assisted Reproductive Technology treatments. 

We have further discerned that we are not called to adopt a child.  Adoption is a complicated legal process and can be very costly.  Not only that, because many states allow birth parents a period in which they can change their mind about the adoption, children are sometimes taken away from a loving adoptive family in a heart wrenching process.  To view adoption as an easy remedy or quick alternative to infertility is simply not true.

My husband and I are struggling to live a full life in Christ as a committed, loving, childless Catholic couple.  I hope you will understand that our infertility journey has been much, much more than a “challenge and a disappointment.”  This journey has been at times heartbreaking, isolating, and has profoundly changed the course of my life. 

In a faith community where families are large and many people assume that if you don’t have children you’re not a good Catholic and are using artificial contraception, the community can feel unwelcoming and judgmental.  Many times I’ve shared with friends that the only way I’ve been able to accept my situation is because I lean totally on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for strength and fortitude.

You labeled infertile couples as “an accident of circumstances” and an “exception to the rule.”  I firmly believe that in a loving Christian community, infertile married couples cannot be considered inconvenient statistical outliers that get in the way of the accepted argument against gay marriage.  We are not tools or convenient anecdotes.  We are committed Catholics struggling like every other believer to uphold our values and live out God’s commandment to us: to love one another. 

It is exactly because we are exceptions to the rule that I believe infertile couples, are worthy of compassion, respect, and attention.   

My prayers are two-fold.  One, I pray you and the Church leadership will emphasize the unique and special qualities of opposite sex marriage beyond procreation.  My husband and I recognize our marriage as the greatest opportunity for ministry.  We are complete as a man and a woman living together in a Christian home.  Many sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Sacrament of Marriage, if fact, support the holy mystery of marriage without emphasis on children or family.

Two, I would respectfully ask for greater understanding and outreach by the Church towards infertile married couples.  To illustrate just how marginalized the infertile community can be, a infertile woman who moved to Los Angeles in 2011 called the Family Life Coordinator of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest diocese in the United States and discovered that although there were support groups for widows and separated/divorced people, there were none for couples suffering from infertility.  Just as I believe Christ has been my constant, faithful companion throughout this painful journey, more recognition by the Church could ease the suffering of many couples who now feel they are pushed aside in a world where fertility is taken as granted.

I believe God has given me and my husband the cross of infertility in part to make others aware of a problem most people don’t give a second thought.  You can imagine my surprise when the topic of infertility was suddenly a critical companion to a national debate about gay marriage.  If you would like, I can discuss my concerns and ideas with you further.  I can be reached at [my email address] or by phone at [my phone number].  You and your critical work in the Archdiocese of San Francisco and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are in my fervent prayers.




  1. Wow, I am speechless. This letter is amazing, I am almost crying. You put into words what my heart wants to say but lacks the words! Thank you for writing this and I hope he sees it and contacts you :)

  2. Um, wow. I tried to explain this to a priest once in confession - and I totally failed. Do you mind if I copy and paste it and share this with that priest? I will give you credit (if you'd like credit by name, send me an email :) - other wise I'll just say a dear sister-in-Christ who carries a similar cross).

    And, again, wow.

  3. I believe you totally misunderstand what the Archbishop was saying. He never in any way devalued the marriage of an infertile couple.

    He is specifically answering the arguments put forth by gay "marriage" advocates that if infertile couples are married and valued, then they should be, too. His point is laser-focused, addressing those critics and that specific (common) argument that gay activists use. He was not writing a comprehensive piece on the beauty of martial love. That's been done often and elsewhere, and I have no doubt he is completely on board.

    The marital act, whether it produces children or not, is valuable and beautiful, and it brings a couple together in a "one flesh" union. The act of union is ordered toward procreation, no matter what the outcome. It's ordered toward procreation, even when children do not result. If it weren't ordered toward the begetting of children, we wouldn't have or need the institution of marriage at all.

    There is no less value in your marriage than in anyone else's, the archbishop never implied that, and the Church doesn't teach that, but to say that children and procreation are not part of the meaning of marriage doesn't make sense. There is only one reason that your union with your husband is different fundamentally than a union of homosexuals, and that is because it's ordered toward creating new souls (even when it can't or doesn't).

    Please forgive me if I have offended with these thoughts or misunderstood you, but I really felt like I had to defend the archbishop, as he never even implied that your marriage is not on par with others.

  4. Leila accurately states church teaching here. I don't think you are going to get the response you are looking for, because the Church is not going to change its understanding of marriage, rooted in the natural law.

    Whether the Church can be more pastorally sensitive to infertile couples is a completely different issue. I'm all for that, but you seem to have muddled the two.

    I definitely get that emphasis on large families makes you feel uncomfortable, and for that reason, I choose to worship at an urban church where single people, childless couples, biracial couples, and adopted children who don't look like their parents are the norm.

  5. I'm fascinated by Leila's and Sarah's comments. Obviously Leila is correctly stating the Church's position on marriage and family. But you make a really arresting point in your letter that both of them ignore: the Church is DEAD SILENT on the issue of infertility until or unless it's dragged out in some great national debate - in which we're a pawn. (Granted, we're attemptedly being used as pawns by the OTHER side, and the Church is just defending the point. But still - that defense would be a lot easier for infertile Catholics to take if it weren't the very first time they had ever heard the Church publicly discussing the experience of infertility!)

    I'm sure it goes without saying that I share the Church's view that marriage is by its nature a state recognizing the union between a man and a woman, and that it cannot by definition exist between a man and a man or a woman and a woman (or a woman and three men, or a man and a walrus, or a woman and her shoe collection. Or a 45-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy. This discussion will be there in the blink of an eye).

    BUT. I think frankly that Catholic IFers have mostly common ground with Catholic homosexuals, in that, assuming members of both groups adhere to the teachings of the Church and wish to live lives following Christ, the Church is offering them NO resources or support in doing so (in the face of very significant challenges). If you tell your confessor you are infertile, if he responds in any coherent way at all, he will tell you not to use IUI or IVF. I am pretty sure that if you tell your confessor you're gay, he will tell you not to engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex. While certainly this is important information, most people already have it; it's about the most superficial response possible. "Thanks, Father! I'll be sure to avoid that. Now. I assume that God has a good purpose for my life, something that makes my existence on the planet VALUABLE, and not just an object lesson in misery for the people around me. How would you propose I go about living that worthwhile life?" I'm guessing the answers are about equally empty for infertiles and homosexuals. "Well, as I said, make sure you don't..." "Yes, I heard, Father. But what should I DO with my life?" Other than being told that God will 100% certainly make me pregnant if I have faith (don't worry, I set that confessor straight immediately, and he actually apologized), which probably is the equivalent of being told that if one prays, God will simply take away the same-sex attraction, that seems to be where the road ends. Another Catholic infertile (who comments around here sometimes!), who worked for the Church and discussed the issue with priests frequently, said that priests were always telling her, "There's so many good things you have the opportunity to do that you wouldn't be able to do if you had children!" When she asked them to name even one example, nobody could.

    Avoiding sin is a tiny, superficial fraction of living the Christian life. Living a concrete vocation in love, pursuing virtue, finding a path in one's own individual circumstances by which to use one's earthly life to serve God - that's the game. That's what we need our religious institutions and communities for - not to help us avoid mortal sin (that's important, but, again, that's kind of the training wheels version of the Christian life), but to help us live fully Christ-like lives. Or, you know, to browbeat us into becoming invisible so we don't burden emotionally those who are trying to live MAINSTREAM Christlike lives.

    1. It is such a failure of the imagination that the priests couldn't even name one way that she could live a worthwhile life that didn't include motherhood. I guess this is what happens when you repeatedly emphasize women's vocation to motherhood at the expense of all her other capabilities.

      I would suggest that women who are in need of support for these questions find role models of other childless women who are doing worthwhile things with their lives. Yes, religious communities need to be better at doing this, but a religious community that pigeonholes women into vocations of motherhood aren't going to be much help. Fortunately, the Christian tradition is broader than that.

  6. The misfit continued to say it so well.

    I want to add two more things.

    First, in a bit of reply to Leila, who is spot on as usual, in stating what the Church teaches. And yes, in this instance, the archbishop was speaking directly to a specific point. While I'm sure his intent was not to cause harm, but to answer the point succinctly and directly.

    However, and second, in a bit of reply to Sarah, I agree wholeheartedly that the Church can be more pastorally sensitive to infertiles, however I disagree that Airing has muddled the two. I disagree because I feel like we cannot, nor should we separate the two. When we, as Catholics speak the Truth, as we must, we must also do it in Love. That is not to be confused with watering down the Truth, not at all.

    I have heard the Archbishop speak in person and have much respect for him. He is well-versed in the debate at hand in our country. However, before he is a political advocate for the Church, he is a shepherd to God's people. To use words as "challenge and disappointment" and "accident of circumstances" to describe a pain that is so deep, so cutting is not the way to go about that. Never would such words be said about a family who had experienced the death of a child - never would it be merely a "challenge and disappointment" nor would a child born with developmental delays be termed an "accident of circumstances." In both circumstances, the pain and struggles would be honored, as they should be.

    So, while we must speak the Truth and while the Archbishop is doing that well in regards to Church teaching, we cannot separate Truth from Love and care and concern for all people.

    1. It muddles the issue because ATC implies (and has said directly in previous posts) that it is wrong to emphasize the role of procreation in marriage. As Leila points out, this is standard Catholic teaching on marriage. Saying that the teaching itself is wrong is very different from saying that the teaching is being insensitively applied. If the letter were clear that the issue is one of pastoral insensitivity, Leila wouldn't have needed to spell out Catholic teaching on marriage and natural evil in comments.

      It is true that being right is worthless without charity, or as you put it, truth and love go together, but when it comes to understanding arguments and communicating one's own position, it is critical to sort out different kinds of arguments to prevent misunderstandings--of one another and of the Church.

    2. Yes, I see your point there Sarah - thank-you for clarifying.