The following is a selection of documents related to the Church's teaching on marriage, the family, and the person. For specific documents related to Church teaching on conjugal love, responsible parenthood and natural family planning, see this Church Teaching page.
Documents and Statements of the USCCB
- Pastoral Letter Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan (2009)
This Pastoral Letter on marriage was
approved by the USCCB in 2009. It provides a
summary of Church teaching on marriage as a natural institution and as a
sacrament. It serves as the current touchstone for the USCCB strategic priority of strengthening marriage and family life, as well as its work to promote and defend marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
- Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care (2006) Printable Version
issued by the USCCB, offers guidance for pastoral
ministry to persons who experience same-sex attraction. These
guidelines are intended to assist bishops in evaluating existing or proposed
programs and ministerial efforts, and to provide direction and guidance for
those engaged in this ministry.
- USCCB Administrative Committee, Statement Promote, Preserve, Protect Marriage (issued 2003; reaffirmed 2006)
This statement of
the Administrative Committee of the USCCB focuses primarily on the importance of marriage
as a faithful, exclusive, and lifelong union between one man and one woman. It
calls on Catholics and other persons of good
will to join the U.S. Bishops in advancing this positive view of the importance
of marriage for children and for society, and to defend these principles and the
institution of marriage.
- Between Man and Woman: Questions and Answers About Marriage and Same-Sex Unions (2003)
Developed by the
USCCB Committee on Marriage and Family Life, this question and answer resource presents the basic truths of
Catholic teaching on marriage and provides assistance in
understanding why marriage is a gift to be cherished and protected. Available as a bulletin insert or 8-panel pamphlet.
- Follow the Way of Love: A Pastoral Message of the U.S. Catholic Bishops to Families (1994)
Developed by the USCCB Committee on Marriage and Family, this pastoral message was released on the occasion of the UN International Year of the Family. It addresses families as domestic Churches and includes questions for reflection. Available as an e-book.
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Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd ed., 2000)
The Catechism offers a comprehensive treatment of the
Church's teaching and touches upon every facet of the Christian faith. This work is
divided into four main sections: the profession of faith (the Creed), the
celebration of the Christian mystery (the Liturgy), life in Christ (the moral
life), and Christian prayer. While references to marriage and family can
be found throughout the entire book, the following paragraphs are particularly
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Second Vatican Council
- Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes (1965)
One of the 16 documents composed at the
Second Vatican Council, this pastoral constitution forms the core of the
Church's teaching on the role of the Christian in modern society.
Covering a broad range of political, social, economic, and theological topics,
the Council fathers devote an entire section to marriage and the family: see nos. 47-52.
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- Wednesday General Audience on Marriage (April 2, 2014)
Francis concluded his catechetical series on the Sacraments with a reflection on
marriage. In this beautiful address he explained how a married couple images
God. "When a man and woman celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony God as it
were 'is mirrored' in them; he impresses in them his own features and the
indelible character of his love. Marriage is the icon of God's love for
us." The Holy Father continued this reflection with an emphasis on the
nuptial relationship of Christ and the Church, which Christian spouses reflect
through their own marriages. Pope Francis then concluded his audience by
recognizing the many difficulties spouses may experience and offered practical
advice for overcoming these trials.
- Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (Nov. 24, 2013)
Apostolic Exhortation entitled "The Joy of the Gospel," Pope Francis
emphasized "the Church's primary mission of evangelization in the modern world."
In the second chapter of the document, he recognized that "the family is
experiencing a profound cultural crisis, as are all communities and social
bonds." The Holy Father then pointed out that "the weakening of these bonds is
particularly serious because the family is the fundamental cell of society."
See no. 66.
- Pastoral visit to Assisi (Oct. 4, 2013)
visit to Assisi in October 2013, Pope Francis had the opportunity to meet with
the young people of Umbria. The Holy Father was presented with a question from a young married couple regarding
the ways the Church can help them face cultural challenges as they live out
their vocation. Pope Francis answered by first defining marriage as "a true and
authentic vocation...the vocation to form one flesh...male and female" and
continued with a beautiful reflection on the vocation of marriage.
- Encyclical Lumen Fidei(June 29, 2013)
"The Light of Faith," this is the first encyclical of Pope Francis. Lumen Fidei
is a unique Encyclical because Pope Francis contributed to what Pope Emeritus
Benedict XVI had written in a first draft of the text. The fourth chapter of the document speaks about "Faith and the
Family." It defines the family as "the stable union
of man and woman in marriage" and emphasizes the role of faith in family life.
See nos. 52-53.
Pope Benedict XVI
- Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini (Sept. 30, 2010)
This document entitled "The Word of the Lord" was issued by Pope
Benedict XVI following the General Assembly of the Synod
of Bishops in October 2008. In part two of Verbum
Domini, Pope Benedict XVI specifically discusses "The Word of God in the
Life of the Church" in which he has a section devoted to marriage and family.
He explains that "the word of God is at the very origin of marriage." He recognizes the "widespread confusion" regarding marriage, as well
rise of ways of thinking which trivialize the human body and sexual
differentiation." See no. 85.
- Encyclical Caritas in Veritate (June 29, 2009)
"Charity in Truth" was promulgated in 2009 and was
the final encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI. In it, he emphasized the deeper
meaning of sexuality and criticized both its reduction to merely pleasure or
entertainment, as well as the tendency to regulate it through mandatory birth
control. He then called on States to "enact policies promoting the
centrality and the integrity of the family founded on marriage between a
man and a woman, the primary vital cell of society…" Benedict XVI also pointed
out the connection between human and environmental ecology. "Our duties towards
the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person." See nos. 15, 44, and 51.
- Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Feb. 22, 2007)
document was the first post-synodal apostolic exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI.
Entitled "The Sacrament of Charity," it offers a beautiful reflection
on the link between the Eucharist and Matrimony. Since it is through the
Eucharist that Christ the Bridegroom is able to unite to his Bride, the Church,
"a Eucharistic dimension" can be seen in the mutual consent and unity of husband
and wife. The Eucharist also expresses the irrevocable nature of God's love for
His Church, and in doing so, also implies the indissolubility of Matrimony. See
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Pope John Paul II
- Letter to Women (1995)
Pope John Paul II addressed this letter to all the women of the world on the occasion of the Fourth World Conference of Women, sponsored by the United Nations.The letter talks about what it means to be a woman and the essential dignity and rights of women. It includes reflection on key verses from Genesis - "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) - and on Mary, in whom we see the highest expression of the "feminine genius" that belongs to all women.
- Letter to Families (1994)
Written during the Year of the Family, this letter is one of two key writings of John Paul II on the family (the other being Familiaris Consortio, below) and contains many themes important to his pontificate. Main sections include The Civilization of Love, which reflects on men, women, marriage, children and society; and The Bridegroom Is With You, an extended meditation on marriage and family's place in the Scriptures, the life of Christ, and the Church.
- Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem on the dignity and vocation of women (1988)
Pope John Paul II wrote this letter on the ocassion of the Marian Year and released it on the Solemnity of the Assumption (August 15). Together with "Letter to Women" it serves as a distillation of the Holy Father's theology of womanhood and femininity. Sections include The Image and Likeness of God, which reflects on the biblical witness to man and woman's equal dignity and call to communion; Eve-Mary, a look at the figure of woman in the Scriptures; Jesus Christ and his care for women in the Gospels; Motherhood-Virginity, the two dimensions of woman's vocation; and The Church - The Bride of Christ, an ecclesial/sacramental reflection.
- Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio on the Christian family in the modern world (1981)
Written after the 1980 Synod of Bishops on the topic of the family, John Paul II provides an extended treatment of the role of the Christian family both in the Church and in the modern world. He issues an invitation to every family: "Become what you
are!" and a roadmap for living out their vocation as a community of
persons. Main sections include an assessment of the family's strengths and needs; the plan of God for marriage and the family; the role of the Christian family in forming a community of persons, serving life, developing society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church; and pastoral care of the family, especially in key developmental moments and times of difficulty.
- See also John Paul II's Wednesday audiences (1979-1984) collectively known as the "theology of the body."
The Holy Father engages in an extended exegesis of key Scriptural texts on the subject of man and woman's identity (anthropology) and God's design for human sexuality. The talks are divided into two main parts on the words of Christ and the sacrament of marriage. The final section discusses Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) in depth. Available in print: Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, trans. Michael Waldstein (Pauline Books, 2006).
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Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
- Instruction Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions (2008)
This document grapples with a number of bioethical questions raised in response to modern technological advancements in the field of human fertility and infertility. Using the principles of Catholic moral teaching, the document brings clarity and truth to the debates surrounding both procreation and genetic manipulation. See in particular nos. 6-10 and 12; see also Donum Vitae, below.
- Letter on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World (2004)
This letter lays out the biblical vision of the human person, man and woman, and gives special attention to the importance of feminine values in the life of the Church and of society.
- Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions between Homosexual Persons (2003)
This document directly engages the question of redefining marriage in the law to include two persons of the same sex. It outlines the Church's teaching about marriage and sexual difference and provides arguments from reason and natural law against redefining marriage. It concludes with guidance for Catholic politicians in situations where marriage redefinition laws are proposed or in place.
- Some Considerations Concerning the Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons (1992)
This brief document draws on the CDF's 1986 letter (below) to provide guidance to bishops and Catholic politicians on legislative proposals regarding non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, which raise serious anthropological and moral concerns.
- Letter Concerning the Reception of Holy Communion by the Divorced and Remarried Members of the Faithful (1994)
This letter clarified canonical, sacramental and pastoral principles regarding the situation of divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in the life of the Church. While not available on the Vatican website, the letter can be found together with commentaries in On the Pastoral Care of Divorced and Remarried Persons (LEV/USCCB, 2012).
- Instruction Donum Vitae on respect for human life in its origin and on the dignity of procreation (1987)
This text is the predecessor to the above document Dignitas Personae. Written in the midst of significant medical innovation in reproductive technology, this document defends the gift and dignity of married love and human life (particularly in its earliest stages) against the onset of intrusive and immoral scientific innovation. See in particular section II, A, 1.
- Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons (1986)
This letter provides guidance to bishops, priests, and pastoral ministers who care for men and women who experience same-sex attraction.
- Declaration Persona Humana on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (1975)
A brief exposition of the Church's teaching on the gift of human sexuality, its proper place within marriage and the virtue of chastity.
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Pontifical Council for the Family
- Family, Marriage and De Facto Unions (2000)
Based on a series of study meetings conducted by the Pontifical Council for the Family, this document provides guidance and reflection on a serious cultural phenomenon, the rise of non-marital cohabitation, a situation that impacts both the personal and public spheres.
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Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
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Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2004)
The Compendium, a resource published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, is a comprehensive treatment of the Church's teaching about the human person and society, commonly known as Catholic Social Teaching. Because marriage and the family are indispensable elements of society, these topics receive extended treatment. See below for key sections.
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- The Equal Dignity of All People and the Equality in Difference between Man and Woman (CSDC, nos. 144-148)
- Chapter 5: The Family, the Vital Cell of Society (CSDC, nos. 209-254)
- Importance of the family for the person (CSDC, nos. 212)
- Importance of the family for society (CSDC, nos. 213-214)
- Marriage as the foundation of the family (CSDC, nos. 215-218)
- Sexual identity, difference, and complementarity (CSDC, no. 224)
- Homosexual unions (CSDC, nos. 228-229)
- The family is the sanctuary of life (CSDC, nos. 230-237)
- The family as active participant in social life (CSDC, nos. 246-251)
- Society at the service of the family (CSDC, nos. 252-254)
Other USCCB Resources
Marriage and the Family in the United States: Resources for Society (2012)
A Review of research on the benefits generated from families rooted in marriage, prepared by staff of the Secretariat of Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.