HARTFORD – When the Office of Family Life holds its annual Wedding Anniversary Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on Oct. 25, it will not only mark Ryan Hinton’s first time as director of the office but will coincide with the close of the Vatican’s Synod on the Family.
“We think that’s kind of a divine intervention and a wonderful way for this office to celebrate the beauty of marriage and family,” said Mr. Hinton, who has been at the helm since January. That is also when the office itself began its transition from Hamden to the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
“Parishes are sending in the names of jubilarians and other couples marking significant anniversaries, which is wonderful,” Mr. Hinton said. The annual celebration has two main purposes, which he said he hopes to continue. “It obviously recognizes the couples and the beautiful relationship not only with each other but also with their faith, but it also brings the faithful to the mother church in Hartford, which is a tremendous place, and I think that’s a further element of evangelization,” he said.
Archbishop Leonard P. Blair will be principal celebrant of a Mass at which Catholic couples will renew their marriage vows and have their pictures professionally taken with the archbishop. Last year, more than 200 couples attended, representing more than 10,000 years of marriage. For information on how to attend, contact your parish.
Mr. Hinton, formerly assistant director of the Office of Religious Education and Evangelization (OREE), explained that the Office of Family Life is a support agency for parishes in their ministry to families.
“In some parishes where they have a larger senior group, we may see more bereavement-type ministries,” he said. “Where they have a younger demographic, we may see more outreach to families through catechesis.” Bereavement ministry and marriage preparation are the main focuses, “but we are also involved in collaborative efforts with the [Office of Catholic Schools] and their dealings with Catholic families and also with [OREE],” he said.
Parishes often contact him about a specific concern, he said. “One of the things that I had earlier this summer was a number of parishes contacting me and saying, ‘What kind of programs are out there for marriage enrichment?’ We do a pretty good job of marriage preparation, but how do we sustain young marriages, [and] marriages that are going through transitions, such as empty-nesters?” he said.
To find answers, he examines programs other Catholic dioceses are using, including programs recommended by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the National Association of Catholic Family Life Ministries. The Office of Family Life often provides training for parish groups in these programs, he said.
Occasionally, Family Life is approached by the archbishop’s office on a matter of concern, such as the recent Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which held that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry, a decision that goes against Catholic teaching.
“We provided all parishes with what the USCCB’s guidance was in conjunction with what the thoughts were from Archbishop Blair,” he said. “We sent that out to all the parishes with copious amounts of notes and what went into the thought process, [in order] for them to be able as pastors and leaders of their flocks to see that this is what the Archdiocese of Hartford and the church at large is saying about this particular ruling.”
Mr. Hinton also talked about transgender identities, such as that of Bruce (a.k.a. Caitlyn) Jenner, the former Olympic athlete who has made the transition from male to female.
“When we talk about the transgender issue, the church is pretty clear on its teaching, that we are created in the image and likeness of God; so when you are born male or female, you are still created in the image and likeness of God. God intended you that way, so the church recognizes your birth gender,” he said.
He said it gets more complicated when people questioning their genders have problems in relationships.
“The church has always taken a stance of compassion. We are a service providing God’s message through Jesus Christ to anybody and everybody who listens. The Catholic Church is universal for a reason in that sense, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have tenets of faith,” he said.
Not all of the church’s teachings will resonate with everyone, he said. “When we talk about Bruce Jenner, because we identify him as male, through Catholic teaching we are going to identify him as Bruce Jenner. Does that mean that we turn our backs on someone who is transgender? Absolutely not. That’s not what we are called to do. We are called to walk with people in their struggles.”
Regarding the recent release of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of aborted fetal body parts, Mr. Hinton said, “We met those videos with a great amount of sadness.” If Planned Parenthood is selling body parts, the murder of innocent unborn children is compounded, he said.
The Planned Parenthood officials in the videos “have no problem doing what I think is an additional egregious act against humanity,” he said. “And I think there’s no other way to say it. It’s an egregious act against humanity. The life taken is one thing, but the additional active harvesting of organs for any purpose is an affront to our sensibilities.”
To contact the Office of Family Life, call 860-242-5573.