Preventing Divorce Before Marriage Happens

So much is being put out there in the Catholic blogosphere right now about how bad divorce is, the deleterious effects of divorce on children and that married Catholics should never consider divorce.  Most of this, though, seems to be written by young married Catholics who are much more committed to their faith and to the reality of marriage than many of their brothers and sisters in the faith to whom they are writing.  While what they are writing is not inconsistent with Catholic teaching, such columns are doing very little to address the problem of divorce among Catholics.  If anyone is truly interested in ending or greatly reducing divorce among Catholics, we need to start by telling people not to get married in the first place.

Divorce is largely a product of a marriage that never should have happened in the first place.  In my own case and in the case of so many others with whom I have spoken, one or both of the parties involved was absolutely convinced that the other person was the wrong person, but went ahead with the wedding anyway.  In one case, the couple sat on the steps of the county courthouse as they were on their way to get the marriage license and concluded that they should not get married, but decided to go ahead with it, because the invitations had already been sent out.  In my case, we dated for five and a half years.  By the time the priest asked me privately in his office if I wanted to proceed with the wedding, I had seen so many red flags that in my head I was screaming, "NO!  Please don't make me go through with this!"  I told Father, however, that I did want to go ahead with the marriage.  I chickened out, because I did not want to suffer through the car ride I knew I would have, if I had told Father the truth.  To tell people who are in these situations to remain married is like telling someone to keep taking the arsenic.  It may not be killing you today, but it will.

In a culture in which people are more and more isolated, have an immature understanding of love and relationships, are unwilling to take on responsibility, suffer with the various insecurities, neuroses, and psychoses associated with children not raised by parents, but, instead, by a culture of death, immediate gratification, and profound ignorance, it would seem that those in the Church charged with preparing people for marriage should be sensitive to these and other similar factors and would be working very hard to discourage people from marrying or even refusing to marry them at all.  If the only examples of love two people have are what they get from their divorced or badly married parents, television, movies, and the mainstream media, why would anyone think that a weekend retreat and a questionnaire is sufficient preparation to overcome the previous twenty or more years of indoctrination?

For example, I remember when I was very young, I was in the parish office waiting by the front door for my meeting with the associate pastor.  He showed a young couple to the door and, once they were out of earshot, told me that she was pregnant and that's why they were getting married.  "I shouldn't marry them, but if I don't, somebody will," he said to me as he showed me into his office.  I remember thinking how wrong that was for everyone involved.  If that priest had refused to marry them, at the very least, he wouldn't be culpable for taking a part in their mistake.  At the most, he might have given one or both of them enough of a shock or support that they would not have gotten married and would have avoided the evil consequences of their rash decision.  At the very least, the Church and her representatives should be the sober voice of reason and patience within a situation that is all too often fraught with the strong, contradictory, and immature emotions of people who do not even know what they are really doing.

If the Church wants to reduce the number of divorces among Catholics, then it must begin considering the culture in which we now live, a culture which is increasingly hostile to the Christian understanding of marriage, when preparing people for marriage.  In a very substantial and effective manner, marriage preparation must begin within the religious education Catholic children receive in both the Catholic schools and the parish religious education programs and this must be reinforced as frequently as possible.  Catholic ministries on college campuses must do as much outreach on the topics of marriage and love as is possible within the situations in which they are located.  By the time many Catholic couples get to a priest to discuss marriage, the young couple should have a very good understanding of marriage and be able to discuss it intelligently with the priest and any others charged with their preparation.  Those who present themselves for marriage and cannot discuss marriage intelligently should be asked to enter a year long preparation course on marriage.  If they refuse, then they should not be married.

In the meantime, perhaps, the young Catholic bloggers who are so fervently defending marriage can help out their brothers and sisters by encouraging them to reconsider the marriages they are considering and calling off those they know are wrong.  There is a lot less pain and trouble calling off a wedding, even at the altar, than there is in a bad marriage and a divorce.


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