Archbishop Cordileone: The 3 Stages of the Destruction of Marriage

It Starts with the So-called “Sexual Revolution”

by Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

The State of Marriage in Society

“Augustinian goods” of marriage – permanence (bonum sacramenti), fidelity (bonum fidei) and openness to offspring (bonum prolis).  It is these three bona, goods of marriage, that distinguish marriage from any other type of relationship, and identify what it is in nature and define what it is in the law.

Considered in this light, it becomes clear that the current crisis of marriage of which we are all painfully aware has really been going on in our society for a very long time.  This latest debate about the very definition of marriage is simply the next logical – albeit thus far most radical – step in the redefinition of marriage in the social consciousness.  That is, marriage has already been redefined in the culture, and the law is now beginning to reflect that.  Looked at from the standpoint of the three goods of marriage, we can see how this banalization of the concept of marriage has been going on for at least the last fifty years, that is, since the so-call “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s.  Just consider:

The 3 Stages of the Destruction of Marriage

Permanence: There is no question that the widespread acceptance of no fault divorce dealt an extremely severe blow to the concept of marriage as a life-long commitment.  This already redefined marriage as an adult-centered institution based on what the adults look to get out of it.  To put it in the terminology that comes to us from the teaching of St. John Paul II, this is the quintessential “utilitarian” norm: one person becomes the means to another person’s end.  When the needs of one are no longer being met by the other, the basis of the relationship is gone and the disappointed party can legally back out of it, even against the wishes of the other spouse who wishes to keep the marriage together.  Perhaps you, as I, have known people who have been severely harmed by this decision – they wanted to stay in the relationship and keep it working while the person’s spouse simply backed out and filed for divorce.  Now, if we add to this the now almost universally accepted practice of cohabitation outside of marriage, and recognize how easily couples move in and out of relationship, whether it’s cohabitation or marriage, we can see that there is not really that much difference the popular mentality ascribes to those who are married and to couples who are not.

Fidelity: Certainly widespread promiscuity does violence to the idea of marriage as a commitment of exclusive fidelity.  Commonplace cohabitation also contributes to the loss of the sense of fidelity as one of the defining goods of marriage, even if, of the three, this one does still have some resonance in the popular culture, at least as an ideal.  The social changes that erupted fifty years ago also eventually saw such aberrant practices as so-called “open marriages” and “swinging.”

Offspring: We are now witnessing the phenomenon, until recently inconceivable, of couples marrying with the intention of not have any children at all.  Remember “DINKS”?  With contraception and then – necessarily, given the mentality – abortion, sex has become redefined, no longer understood as procreative and unitive, but seen rather as a means for pleasure.  Thus, we have here again the utilitarian norm: the other person becomes a means to an end, rather than an end in themselves.  Because the concept of sex has now become disconnected from procreation and, in turn, from marriage, motherhood today is seen as a matter of choice and increasingly a lifestyle choice.  We hear absurd things such as, “just because she chose to be a mother doesn’t mean I chose to be a father.”  Or the woman who says, “I don’t know how I got pregnant, it wasn’t supposed to happen.”  (I have actually heard this one myself!)

When the choice to have a child is simply a lifestyle choice . . .

When the choice to have a child is simply a lifestyle choice,  then increasingly it is seen as a means to fulfillment separated from marriage, for the sake of the adult making the choice, with roles of motherhood and fatherhood becoming interchangeable.  Just last Sunday the New York Times had a front-page article on surrogacy, “wombs for hire,” whether the couples are same-sex or opposite sex.  And what if the couple decides later they do not want to have the child, but the surrogate mother wants to keep the child and is willing to raise the child herself?  As you may know, this has happened, and the surrogate mother was forced to abort the child against her will.  What could be a more blatant and outrageous example of a child being treated as an object of desire, a means to an end, rather than a gift of equal value and dignity to the adult and worthy of unconditional self-giving love – what St. John Paul calls the “personalistic norm”?

Sadly, this sort of thing isn’t new.  When I was working in Rome – already this was in the late 1990’s – I remember walking past what was obviously a feminist bookstore.  And this was just a few blocks from the Vatican, very close to the Dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.  And there proudly displayed in the window was a book with the title, “Self-Insemination.”  I thought to myself, “How ironic.  When I was young and ‘women’s lib’ was in full force, the question that women who were with the spirit of the times would ask themselves was, ‘How can I do it without getting pregnant?’  Now the question they ask is, ‘How can I get pregnant without doing it?’”

When the two ends of marriage become not only separated from each other but irrelevant,
it’s nowonder that many people cannot make a distinction between heterosexual
and same-sex relationships, or between marriage and cohabitation for that matter.

So, you can see how all of this has whittled away at the three defining goods of marriage, and therefore at the very concept of marriage itself.  No fault divorce was, especially, the pivotal moment, for that put into the law the idea that marriage is for the gratification and benefits of adults and not about the needs and rights of children.  But ultimately it can all be traced back to the contraceptive mentality, which is nothing more than the utilitarian norm applied to sexual relations.

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20 comments to Archbishop Cordileone: The 3 Stages of the Destruction of Marriage

  • Catherine Beier

    I Tend to agree with Colleen. Sex outside marriage is wrong and marriage is for children. We all get that.

  • Ralph Canine

    The sexual revolution is based on the false idea that what we do with our bodies has no effect on what we think with our minds or feel in our hearts. What we do with our bodies is “lower” and less important, in this mindset. Actually, our bodies, minds, and hearts are closely related. When we do immoral things with our bodies, that’s one of the many possible dark pathways that can lead us to do harm to ourselves and others. At some fundamental level, we know that we’re doing something wrong, so we have to justify it to ourselves and others. One of the most convenient options is to define away sin — “It’s just sex” — and make false accusations against those who are trying to save us from self-destruction –“You’re a prig and a puritan!” No wonder there’s a therapist’s office on every corner! Many people end up miserable and lonesome as a direct result of the sexual revolution, but they can’t figure out why their lives are in such a mess…and why their kids (if any) are miserable, too.

    • Melissa

      I am the product of an unmarried teenage girl and young adult man. The fact I was illegitimate was not an issue on any level growing up and did not cause me any problems. Marriage is not the panacea for society that some claim it to be. I personally know of Catholic married couples who beat their children, verbally and emotionally abuse them because they are/were not aware of the stress of having children and do not know how to cope with the daily life of raising them. I am now having a baby outside of marriage and do believe that this baby will be brought into a relationship where both parents are ready for the responsibility of raising the baby as co-parents. We — the father and I — are not miserable nor will our child be. I can assure you that our baby will be spared the physical abuse that I have seen so many legitimate children suffer at the hands of their married parents.

      • lisag

        It is interesting that you use the image of the Blessed Mother with your text. I know that she would tell you to be humble and obedient to the Father. It does not matter that you seem to be o.k. and that others have suffered in marriages. You are missing out on graces that would help you in this world and the next. Your view is skewed and you are complacent in your sin.

        • Melissa

          Why is it interesting? Who are you to speak for her? The Father does not insist that people get married. And as for the graces I’m missing, I have been in spiritual direction for several years with twi different priests. (Not at the same time.)Both agree that marriage would be a near occasion of sin for me. So before you preach to anyone, you should check to see if they are being obedient to a father…

          • lisag

            It is interesting because your own life has not been modeled after hers in your birth and the birth of your own child. Modeling her love of the Father and her love of Jesus is commendable. The Father does not insist that we marry, but St. Paul did teach that one should get married if one cannot live a chaste life. Marriage is a sacrament and you do get graces from sacraments which you are missing out on. The sacrament of marriage is not the problem it is the immaturity, the materialism, and the inability to make commitments in our society that produce poor marriages.

          • Melissa

            I am actually forbidden from contracting marriage:


            Can. 1095 The following are incapable of contracting marriage:

            1/ those who lack the sufficient use of reason;

            2/ those who suffer from a grave defect of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties mutually to be handed over and accepted;

            3/ those who are not able to assume the essential obligations of marriage for causes of a psychic nature.

            I am not able to assume the essential obligations of being a sexual contract where a man has conjugal rights over me. Please stop advising people when you are not aware of the entirety of the situation. There would be no grace for me in a marriage and I would be granted an annulment if I did contract one. I am not missing any grace…

          • Melissa

            Lisa, how many women who make up the one in three who have been sexually abused as children have you spiritually directed? You are actually saying that only those who have a birth who modeled after hers should claim her as mother?

            The contract of marriage where I would be forced to have sex against my will under pain of mortal sin would be a near occasion of sin for me and hundreds of other women. (The “marital debt” is sex. Whenever the husband wants it.) I personally know of several women who would and do find this horrific and dehumanizing. I for one vomited in my FSSP spiritual director’s office talking about it. Before there are angry outbursts about how marriage is not a sexual contract, there are many sermons about it on the website Romans 10:17. If the preaching is wrong, take it up with the Priest preaching these sermons. I have been told to not listen to them as the are a near occasion of sin to rage for me. The catholic Church also acknowledges marriage by proxy.

            It is a little difficult to combine the poetic, flowery writings of how marriage produces the healing society needs when there is no talk of what is causing the widespread rejection of it. And please don’t tell me that if my parents had been married I wouldn’t have been abused. The worst abuse cases I have worked with have come from legitimate children.

            From your name, I can tell that you are not an ordained Priest, you do not have the grace of state to hear confessions or give spiritual direction and are not equipt to give advice or pass judgment on Mary’s maternal protection to anyone. If you have a problem with me having a picture of the Sorrowful Mother as my icon, then you have a problem with Mary herself. It was her, not you, that stood with Mary Magdelen at the foot of the cross. Christ never told Magdelen to get married and actually defended her in front of people like you. It would also seem that your birth did not resemble hers as you had original sin when you were born.

            Just getting married and staying committed is not the answer. The contract of marriage does not cure all the problems that some claim.

        • Coleen

          And you know that Melissa is missing out on graces how?

        • Melissa

          And Lisa, I just have to say this: the fact that I not only seem ok, but am ok from being illigetimate matters. It matters a lot actually. If my view is skewed, it is because the married ppl I know have given it to me. As for my complacence in sin, when was the last time I confessed to you? I forget. what was my penance?

          And I’ll repeat Coleen’s question: Can you show me the graces I am missing and exactly how you now this? My confessor has failed to mention all these missing graces to me. (And before I get a thousand highly emotionally charged responses about how bad the world is because the Priests are not preaching sin, both Priests who have directed me and my confessor are all FSSP Priests. They can never be accused of being complacent in sin, but I can assure you they know more about my soul than you ever will.)

          • Jan

            I believe that some of these folks who “freak out” on all of these sexual matters, are carrying some personal baggage themselves

      • Steve Duke

        First of all raising a child in a two parent loving married environment is the Ideal for a functional family. All children deserve this (period) It is the most stable nurturing environment that has proven most successful to raise good human beings. That does not mean that the situation that you were raised in can not be made the best of and you grow up and become a good person. It is a shame that you deny your child what is best for them because you justify a lifestyle that is proven to be unstable and in almost all cases unhealthy. You use the extreme to rationalize your point and in many abusive environments quite frankly it is best for the better of the two parents to take the kids and remove them from the abuse. Some relations are entirely toxic. You seem like a nice thoughtful person and I applaud you for the reading that you are obviously doing and think though all of this very carefully with one thought in mind. What is best for my child and do not consider yourself in the equation. If all parents would do this we would have a lot more happier healthier children and parents too. Everything that is bad that happens to children is an adults fault.
        God Bless you and yours

  • Anderson Thomas

    Collen, Why are you afraid the procreation issues of mankind shared with us from God our Father. Can one hide from personal chastity issues under the smoke screen of social activism? Jesus told us the poor would always be with us. Christ didn’t elevate social issues to the sacramental level. He did so elevate marriage, priest hood and holy Chasity.

  • lisag

    An intact family of father, mother and children does much to combat poverty, hunger, and other sins. Parents teaching the children the concepts of Christian love with words and modeling is an effective way to a healthy society. Why focus on sexuality? Putting sexual desires in front of every other desire is prominent in our time. There is a whole swath of society that wants to be identified, protected, accepted, and remembered by their sexual proclivities. In the heterosexual world of, “if it feels good do it” has resulted in all commitment of “until death do us part” being thrown out the window.

  • Coleen

    You know, there are a lot of sins that one can commit that have nothing to do with matters of a sexual nature. I just don’t understand all this focus on sex. In looking back on your articles, I would imagine that 75% deal with sexual matters. Are you afraid to take on other important issues like poverty, hunger,war etc.

    • Kyle


      I am not speaking for this website, nor do I know what their posting statistics are. But I have a sense that in the Church today the nature of sin, and indeed, the result of sin has been somewhat lost. While issues of poverty, hunger, and war can be major issues for people, nations, and the Church, the Church’s role is to help people know Jesus Christ. Sin separates us from God. The issues you referenced are not inherently sinful. There is such as thing as just war. A great many religious orders take a vow of poverty. Many saints willing practiced poverty. Hunger may be a result of sin and it may not. These issues are important, but the Church has a mission to preach the Gospel and to call out sin as a means of charitably helping people return to God. Rebuking a sinner(an act of mercy) always requires courage. Our culture is obsessed with sex and is soaked in sexual sin. I would suspect that this website is striving to impact the sinful culture by providing information they deem to be appropriate.

      • Coleen

        A Catholic businessman and in some cases a Catholic institution that willfully compensate their employees at level that doesn’t allow them live at a sustenance level is committing a serious sin, especially if the businessman and the institution have the financial resources to do otherwise. This business where “the Church’s role is to help people know Jesus Christ” while true is nothing more than a lame justification for not living up to one’s social responsibility. I once heard a talk by a priest who was working with very poor and someone called him in the “saving souls” idea and suggested that he should concentrate on converting his charges to the Catholic Church. Is response was that it is almost impossible to talk spirituality to someone who is hungry.

        • Kyle


          I agree with everything you said. You are spot on. However, in America, while this situation occurs, it is rare when compared to those living in sin related to impurity. I live in an “impoverished” area as our government would define it. The impoverished where I live have smart phones, big screen t.v.s, satellite dishes, frequently go gambling and often times have newer cars then me. I have many family members who live paycheck to paycheck because of lifestyle choices. They would live paycheck to paycheck if they got paid twice what they do now. So, if they happen to go hungry, it is not the fault of the employer and I would argue that there is likely no sin involved with the wages earned. Others might argue honestly against my perspective. So this is a subjective issue. Now, if we were speaking of China or Mexico, or even some specific locations in America, where manufacturer’s effectively have slavery, or close to it, with our government’s full cooperation, then I would certainly agree with you that this is a major issue. But, Americans by and large are willing to look the other way because they demand their iPhones and other toys cost less. But the impurity issue is not at all subjective. Fornication, cohabitation, pornography, adultery, etc. are not subjective but are always gravely disordered and sinful. From rich to poor, Catholic to pagan, our society is steeped in these impure actions and most do not even realize the grave and destructive nature of their behavior. Someone must speak out on these issues and I applaud anyone for bringing this to people’s attention. Speaking out on impurity does not prevent anyone from acting with Charity towards others.

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