People have a natural right to marry. Despite that, I have from time to time heard smart people, including priests, opine that while perhaps it ought to be relatively easy to get a divorce, it should be really hard to get married. That seems to set the issue on its head, but perhaps there is some useful point in framing it that way.
I read this on azcentral.com from Phoenix, AZ.
My emphases and comments.
Phoenix Diocese pushes to make stronger marriage bonds
Rules on training, prep time may lead to fewer weddings
by Michael Clancy – Jan. 25, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
With the definition of marriage being challenged nationwide, the Catholic Church in Phoenix has introduced significant changes in its program for couples who want a church wedding, lengthening the preparation time from six to nine months.
Partly in response to efforts promoting gay marriage and a growing trend of unwed couples living together, Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of Phoenix has decided to intensify the church’s teaching for people planning a Catholic marriage. The new rules for pre-marriage preparation include more time and deeper education. [First thought: Some would think that in the face of challenges from the outside (perverted unions and casual to unblessed unions) the Church would try to make it easier to be married rather than more difficult. Instead, D. Phoenix is raising the bar. This is probably the right response. Consider that divorce tears apart the bonds of society and weakens the concept of the marriage bond. The prevalence of divorce, easy or hard, has also weakened the concept of marriage. Better prep could lead to a stronger marriage. Stronger marriages are less likely to end in divorce. Better prep could raise militate against that particular erosion of marriage.]
The goal is to strengthen marriages and a couple’s Catholic faith at a time when marriage is on the decline in the United States. Few dispute the value of marriage-preparation programs. Studies indicate that a solid course of marriage preparation, particularly one based on developing interpersonal skills, succeeds in reducing divorces.
But some in the church fear the changes detailed in the bishop’s July pastoral letter, "Covenant of Love," which became mandatory this month, may result in even fewer church weddings. [Which leads us in a circle back to a fundamental point. People have a right to marry.]
The letter points to four "concerns" that led to the updated policies, which will include post-wedding marriage classes [The prep had better be pretty darn interesting and well-executed if they think couples are going to come back after the wedding.] and ongoing education about marriage. They are:
• Fewer marriage role models and increased cohabitation.
• A high divorce rate.
• A growing number of single-parent families.
• "Increasing confusion" over the meaning of marriage in society because of efforts to legalize gay marriage.
The changes, Olmsted hopes, will help counteract those trends.
"Many young people know little about their call to be married in the church and to receive the grace of that sacrament," said Michael Phelan, a layman who leads the diocese’s Office of Marriage and Respect Life. [The reason for this is obvious: we have fumbled the ball on catechesis and preaching about fundamentals worse than the Vikings did against the Saints.]
"It could be compared to a dearth of culinary knowledge. If I know little about the difference between eating at a fast-food restaurant and a four-star feast, I won’t value the whole experience."
Among the changes being instituted are:
• Nine months of pre-marriage preparation time instead of six. Several methods of preparation will remain available, including intensive weekend sessions or a series of weeknight meetings, but the time will be lengthened.
• A full course in Natural Family Planning, a type of family planning that does not use artificial forms of birth control. The church opposes use of contraceptives, from condoms to pills.
• More comprehensive courses on practical skills and the theology of marriage, including the reasons for the church’s position on gay marriage. The church believes marriage can only be a union between a man and a woman. [The article sure seems to be focused on this state sanctioned sodomy thing, which I suspect overstresses the point. As far as practical skills are concerned, I wonder if that won’t have something to do with, for example, family finances, time management, talking to couples who have raised children, etc. And… and… it just occurred to me… if families weren’t so very shredded these days, the Church wouldn’t have to be the provider of this help. The same seems to apply to "sex education" in Catholic schools. Parents are the primary educators of children. Should the Church be involved in any sort of sex ed? Perhaps… when it is clear that most parents don’t give their children adequate formation. Thorny questions.]
Andrew Junker, a reporter for the Catholic Sun diocese newspaper, recently went through the marriage-preparation courses and said he found them worthwhile, even though he was skeptical at first.
"For a lot of people, it seems like a lot of hoops to jump through," he said. "But once we started getting into it, the vast majority was really helpful just on the level of communication."
An increased emphasis on the theological underpinnings of marriage may be helpful to the numerous people seeking Catholic weddings but who are not really practicing the faith, Junker said.
"They presented the theology very positively, not as arcane rules devised to make your life miserable," he said. [Sort of like the Ten Commandments.]
Still, he said, most of his friends are not and would not consider a Catholic marriage if they are considering marriage at all. They are part of a nationwide trend of fewer people getting married. Since 1980, marriage rates in the United States have dropped from 11 per thousand people in 1980 to 7.1 per thousand in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. [Good grief!]
Church weddings have been on the decline in the Phoenix Diocese, officials say. The diocese covers Maricopa, Yavapai, Coconino and Mohave counties in Arizona.
Out of an average of 27,000 marriage licenses issued a year in those counties – a number that has held steady for 15 years despite population growth – the number of weddings conducted in a Catholic church has dropped from 1,542 in 1993 to 1,389 last year, according to figures provided by the diocese. The numbers have rarely topped 1,800 in the 40-year history of the diocese.
Even though about 15 percent of diocese residents profess to be Catholic, only 5 percent of marriages take place in church.
The decline has occurred even as the diocese has grown at a rate exceeding the population generally, from an estimated 355,000 members in 1993 to 644,000 today.
Mark Gray of Georgetown University, who has researched Catholic marriage in the United States, says the trend is not restricted to Phoenix.
Overall, he said, the number of Catholic marriages has declined from 10 or more per 1,000 Catholics in the 1940s and ’50s to 3.5 today. The number in the Phoenix area for 2008 was 1.9 marriages per 1,000 Catholics.
The reasons, Gray said, may have to do with the rise in divorce and second marriages, which the church may not allow, the trend to getting married later in life, increased numbers of interfaith marriages and a preference for other marriage venues such as resorts or beaches. The latter trend is especially pronounced in Sun Belt states, he said.
Not everyone agrees with the new policy for Catholics.
[Get this… they had to go out and find a wacko to be the dissenting voice?] Roberta Meehan, an acknowledged foe of Olmsted’s conservative approach who is [pretending to be] ordained as part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, said the diocese should offer marriage preparation, but one size does not fit everyone. [No doubt if the diocese said the sky was blue she would say it was lime green.]
"What works for two Ph.D. scientists is not the same for a couple of 19-year-olds just out of high school," she said. "Each couple should be counseled on an individual basis." [And the sun still rises at dawn… film at 11.]