Catholic Marriages

Many church leaders are clueless, through no fault of their own, about what's happening on their turf. I cite as an example the problem of Catholic marriage, a problem below the radar screen, yet one that illustrates the difficulties of trying to restore the teaching credibility of the church.

In a study a few years ago with a national sample, we discovered that a third of Catholics under 35 who entered their first marriage to another Catholic for whom it was also a first marriage, were not married in church. 85% of them however intended to raise their children Catholic.

Their Catholic good faith seems to be established by the fact that they choose a Ca6tholic spouse and want their children to be Catholic. Why then did they not have a church marriage before a priest and two witnesses, which is necessary since the Council of Trent for the marriage to be a sacramental (and valid) Catholic marriage?

The data don't tell us the answer. I speculate the reason is they encounter so many problems at the local rectory. We wont marry you unless you've lived in the parish for a year. We wont marry you unless you've been attending Mass for the last six months as proven by your use of collection envelopes. We wont marry you unless you attend a Pre-Cana conference. We wont marry you if you've been living together unless you separate until the marriage. We wont marry you unless you can pass a psychological test that establishes your compatibility. We wont marry you unless you pay a stipend of $1000. Often the rules are enforced not by the priest, who is too busy to see them, but by a lay employee of the parish. Priests tell me that when a young couple shows up at their rectory they have heard so many folk tales about these rules that they come in with a chip on their shoulder and are astonished at the warm reception they receive.

All these rules are a violation of Canon Law. Why do some priests try to enforce them? The reason might be that busy priests don't like to do marriages and especially don't like to put up with demands of narcissistic brides and their mothers. Whatever, these problems do not loom large among church leaders; but they loom very large indeed in the lives of Catholic young people thinking of marriage and of the priests who minister to them. They illustrate perfectly the disconnect between what Catholic leaders think is happening in the church and what is actually happening. The leaders can (and some will) dismiss the young people who forsake a Catholic marriage as consumerists and materialists and secularists. Then, happy with their answer, they need paqy no attention to the problem.

I argue that all religion is local. Like the salesman in Death of a Salesman, many church leaders, through no fault of their own, don't know the territory-even their own territory, the territory in which their people live.

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