Friday, March 4, 2011

Letter to President Obama from Archbishop Dolan: "deep disappointment and alarm" on failure to defend DOMA

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Office of the President
3211 FOURTH STREET NE
WASHINGTON DC 20017-1194
Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President

March 3, 2011

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama,

I write to you today on two matters of great importance to the bishops of our country: the situation of religious minorities, especially Christians, in the Middle East, and your recent decision to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act in the courts.

As people in the Middle East seek to make their voices heard in calling for a better future, we welcome the Administration’s efforts to work with various governments to support democratic aspirations and to respect universal human rights. In Iraq, we welcomed your decision to end U.S.-led combat in that country and to draw down our military presence. However the security situation in that country remains precarious, especially for Christians and other minorities. The October 31 savage attack on the Syrian Catholic Church in Baghdad was a horrifying demonstration of the lack of security. My predecessor Cardinal Francis George, OMI, wrote you at that time to express our shock over this unprecedented violence.

Last week, I was pleased to receive a call from Ambassador Peter Bodde, Coordinator for Minority Issues at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, in which he acknowledged the concerns shared by the Church and the U.S. government about the safety of Christian minorities in Iraq. He suggested that Catholic NGOs might have a greater role in helping to rebuild Iraq. We welcome a continued dialogue with the Administration on ways to work toward the common goal of a “responsible transition” in Iraq, one that ensures a functioning government that serves the common good, provides security and justice for all citizens, advances human rights, rebuilds the economy, and assists refugees and internally displaced Iraqis. We renew our particular concerns and appeals for U.S. efforts to help protect Christians in Iraq and to meet the urgent needs of those forced to flee.

While I welcome our collaboration on matters of religious liberty in the Middle East, I must express my deep disappointment and alarm at another issue of religious liberty and social justice here at home. I am referring to your decision last week to instruct the Department of Justice to stop defending section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Having laws like DOMA that affirm and protect the vital importance and God-given meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is essential not only for the good of the spouses and their children but for the common good of our nation. DOMA protects the right of children to have a mother and a father in a family unit that is the bedrock of any society. We hold this truth while at the same time doing everything we can to respect and support the often heroic efforts of dedicated single parents who strive every day to provide a stable home for their children in the face of challenging circumstances. However, changing the definition of marriage is radically different. Such meddling by government entails separating the conception and nurturing of children from the institution of marriage. There would no longer be any natural, inborn institution recognized by the state where children actually belong. They would become merely add-ons to some sexual unions. This would lend the moral prestige and force of law to the proposition that the sexual difference between husband and wife and the unique gifts and responsibilities of a father and a mother are dispensable and unimportant. Such a change is not only wrong and unjust, but it flies in the face of behavioral science and common sense.

Further, the suggestion that the recognition of the unique meaning of marriage constitutes in some way “unjust discrimination” is an affront to millions of our citizens, including Catholics. In that sense, undermining DOMA not only threatens to unravel the institution of marriage but also threatens our religious liberty, a fundamental value of our nation. In no way is it “discrimination” to believe that the union of husband and wife has a distinctive and exclusive significance worthy of promotion and protection by the state or that having both a mother and a father matters to and benefits a child. These are values that have served many generations well, and I urge serious consideration of the grave implications to the stability and security of our society when the state disregards the common good for the sake of political expediency.

I speak on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in urging you to reconsider this decision. We will be supporting efforts in the Congress to find other ways to defend DOMA and will be working with our inter-faith partners to support marriage between one man and one woman. I pray that you will find a way back to the position on marriage that you espoused when you ran for President.

Faithfully and respectfully yours,

Most Reverend Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York
President, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

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