A majority of couples planning to marry in the Catholic Church view it as a lifelong sacrament open to children but nearly all of them are already living together and use artificial contraception, a leading charity has told the Vatican.
Catholic Marriage Care, which prepared 3,000 couples for marriage in the year to the end of March 2013, made their remarks in a response to a questionnaire sent out to local Churches in preparation for next year’s synod on marriage and family life.
“Nearly all couples attending our marriage preparation courses are already cohabiting and many have children,” the charity stated. They added that cohabiting was for some a deliberate choice while for others “an almost un-thought through evolution in their relationships”.
The charity described the take-up of natural family planning as “negligible” and that most couples had decided to use artificial contraception before starting a preparation course. The charity added that it refers to trained experts those couples seeking guidance on natural family planning – a means for couples to regulate the number of children they have that is permitted by the Church.
But the charity also stressed that marriage is widely understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman.
“Couples coming to our marriage preparation courses want and expect their marriages to last a lifetime … we would say that so far as this aspect of the Church’s teaching is concerned it is fully accepted,” it said. The charity’s president is the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols. It was founded in 1946 as the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council.
A U.K. Roman Catholic Charitable organisation that provides Marriage Counselling Services reports the fact that most R.C. couples who come to them for Marriage Preparation are already experiencing co-habitation – living together before marriage, even before they come forward for marriage preparation courses.
This, despite the expectation on the part of the Church that couples should remain sexually inactive before the marriage takes place. Also, the report continues, the majority of such cohabiting couples are using artificial contraception. This should not be too surprising in today’s social environment where young people are reluctant to comply with the Roman Catholic Church’s ruling about chastity and celibacy outside of the married state.
As an Anglican priest, for some time now, I have been used to the fact that most couples are actually living together before marriage. My instinct has been not to tell them that they ought to separate and live in chastity before the date of the marriage; but rather that they should seriously consider whether their relationship is actually leading towards the full commitment of living together for the rest of their lives. If they are already co-habiting, and they intend to go through with marriage after the marriage preparation course that they are committed to, then they should realise that the actual marriage will cement their relationship more securely – with the help of the God they believe in.
If, during the course of the marriage preparation, either of the couple feel that they are not meant to live with the other for the rest of their lives, then (I warn them beforehand) I would not want to go ahead with their marriage solemnisation. Interestingly, one of the first couples I was involved with in their preparation in this way decided they would not go forward with their relationship. At first, I thought that this was a problem; but since then, I have reflected on the fact that this was a good and proper way of alerting them to the responsibilities of contracting themselves to one another in a life-long union.
Whatever results come from the Vatican’s recent questionnaire sent out to every Roman Catholic diocese for the purpose of finding out the attitude of The Faithful to questions at issue in today’s environment of Church discipline, perhaps this preliminary report from ‘Catholic Marriage Care’, which states the current situation of couples seeking marriage preparation in clear statistical terms, will have some influence in decisions made by the Church to adapt – or not – to the modern phenomenon of co-habitation before marriage and the use of artificial contraception by couples wishing to limit the number of children they bring into the world. Decisions that will be made as a response to the survey will demonstrate whether the Roman Catholic Church recognises the need of a more humane reformation of its strict discipline on human sexuality.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand