But in marriage, better a Church of the pure

Like Fr Jim, I cheered Cardinal Bergoglio's view -- also Pope Benedict's -- about the importance of liberality in granting access to the Sacrament of baptism. Infants cannot be disqualified, because there are no proper grounds for disqualifying the innocent, even if their parents show little sign of faith. But in marriage, I think the Church should be tighter in whom it allows to the Sacrament.

I know of many priests who tell me that they have married couples whom they know, from their long pastoral experience, are ill-suited, and are going into marriage for the wrong motives or with inadequate preparation. One priest friend always writes a note, which he leaves with the church records, explaining his reservations, so that if the couple later seeks an annulment it'll likely be a slam dunk. He says he is helpless to refuse the Sacrament, because the baptised have a right to it -- as long as they have attended the pre-marriage course, which in most parishes is just a few evenings.


To which you might say: What's the problem? Better to leave it to Grace and the Holy Spirit. And if that fails, there is always the annulment process.

Except that there are others involved -- especially the children that result. Growing up, as I did, in a household scarred by the deep unhappiness of marital breakdown (an unhappiness almost without parallel in human existence, with profound psychologcial consequences for children), it's hard for me to share that view.

The Church teaches that there are two essential vocations -- one religious and clerical, the other marriage -- and both are routes to salvation. Yet the Church applies strict criteria about whom it allows to the first, carefully discerning, through vocation programmes and novitiates, whether it is really God calling them to a life of vows. But with marriage, a few hours in a parish marriage preparation course and a chat with a priest are enough; and if they're not enough, the priest has little choice anyway but to marry the couple.

I've raised this issue over the years in conversation with many priests and other Catholics and never got a good answer. Perhaps the comment boxes will supply one. The only substantial objection to restricting the Sacrament of Marriage is that there might be couples whom God really is calling to marriage, yet a priest blocks them. But this happens with vocations, too. If the vocation is there, they'll keep knocking, and the door will eventually open. Why is this not true of marriage? A couple really determined to marry can always do so civilly, and after a time, when it's clear that it's working, the priest can have no objection to marrying them sacramentally.

At least this way, fewer children will be born to discord. Catholic divorce rates would plummet. And it would be easier to take seriously the Church's belief that both religious vocations and marriage are equally paths to salvation.

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Michael Olson
9 years 1 month ago
It is my understanding that the couple marry themselves.  They agree to marry one another. That's the essential of a marriage.  There are both legal and ecclesiastical "sanctions"  for marriage which recognize the couple as married, but those sanctions do not marry the couple.
9 years 1 month ago
As I posted on the baptism thread 'in the bringing of the baby, considering the Church mess in the last decade' that alone is enough of a show of faith. On Church marriage, which has declined over 50% in the last 2 decades, maybe just asking now for a sacramental wedding is now enough. The Church wedding has lost it's cachet in the last 10 years .. for the ones that thought the pics were better in church.. they now prefer beaches and parks and grandma no longer cares. . [we prepared about 2000 couples in the 80s early 90s]
Ed & Peg
9 years 1 month ago
Very thoughtful blog post, but I cannot help but think the biggest problems of a "pure" approach will be WHY priests block sacramental marriages. Given how commonplace premarital sex, contraception, and cohabitation are, will any or all of these be reasons to deny a sacramental marriage? I have heard of some marriage preparation programs that disenroll couples who register with the same address. Will such measures really strengthen Christian marriage, or simply encourage couples to treat marriage preparation as a charade to get through quickly? It's not at all clear to me that contemporary priests have "little choice but to marry" couples; I'm much more concerned with the kinds of litmus test individual priests in the restorationist era would be inclined to impose on couples if they were encouraged to do so.
9 years 1 month ago
"At least this way, fewer children will be born to discord."

Not necessarily. Just because people don't get married doesn't mean they are not having sex and getting pregnant... :)

Beth Cioffoletti
9 years 1 month ago
I think that one of the problems is that Marriage is not generally seen as a "religious" vocation - a way to God - on equal footing as that of a vocation to the priesthood or convent, and every bit as demanding and holy.  The vows are serious and binding.
It has also always been my understanding that the couple marry themselves, the Church and/or State only stand in witness.
THat's pretty powerful stuff.  When 2 people join their souls before God, is it any wonder that this bond should never be broken?
9 years 1 month ago
"The Church teaches that there are two essential vocations - one religious and clerical, the other marriage - and both are routes to salvation."
The two essential counsels are virginity and marriage, the two forms of following the Evangelical Counsels: literal and analogical. The Church chooses episcopal clergy from the ranks of the celibate in order to emphasize the charismatic dimension of the office of bishop. In the West, priests are normally selected from the celibate for the same reason. But, Deacons are also clergy and the permanent diaconate is normally drawn from married men. 
Stephen SCHEWE
9 years 1 month ago
Fr. Austen's comments about divorce are heartfelt and a call to action.  What can we do to reduce the divorce rate?  I tend to agree with the commenters that barring specific marriages outright would probably backfire, but effective, direct marriage preparation helps.  At our parish, the process included administering a written survey during the first of three two-hour meetings (the participants called it the "marriage test") that one of our 30 trained married couples used with the engaged couple in the follow-up sessions.  The goal was raising awareness and clarity about mutual compatibility and potential incompatibility; I was continually amazed at what engaged couples had not discussed during their preparation for marriage.  The most memorable evening was with a couple who initially told us they planned to have no children, but as the conversation developed (with the aid of the survey) the man had secretly disagreed and was planning to persuade his fiancee to change her mind after they were married! There were some couples that decided to postpone or cancel their plans as a result of this process, which I like to think were small victories.  In addition to the work of the ministry; we sponsored education and social time for the facilitator couples, who were screened for their role in the marriage ministry.  We were often conscious that some couples volunteered for the marriage ministry as a way of trying to work on their own marriages.
As coordinators of that lay ministry, my wife and I always asked that if our facilitators had fundamental concerns about an engaged couple, they write a note directly to our pastor or the deacon who would be presiding.  In the four years that my wife and I facilitated, we only wrote one note; it became clear in the course of our three sessions that there was already potential for physical violence between the engaged couple.
Today, the advice we're giving our adult, still unmarried children is a folk saying I've heard attributed to the Venetians ("eyes wide open before marriage, half-closed after").  And I picked up a tip from a man I greatly respect at a rehearsal dinner some years back; during his toast to his daughter and new son-in-law, he mentioned that even before he met them, he had been praying for years for the future spouses of his children.
Marie Rehbein
9 years 1 month ago
Being opposed to marrying people because of the harm they might do to the children they do not yet have means essentially the same thing as saying that the children of those who married and divorced should not have been born.
Jim McCrea
9 years 1 month ago
The Catholic Church effectively gives tacit approval to divorce with what has become the charade of annulment.  In their 2002 book, “Catholic Divorce:  The Deception of Annulments”, Joseph Martos and Pierre Hegy state:
“Because the grounds for annulment have become so broad that practically anyone who applies for one can obtain it, many observers now regard annulments as ‘virtual divorces.’  After all, the same grounds for divorce in a civil court have ‘become grounds for the nonexistence of marriage in an ecclesiastical court.’  (Page 23)  To add to the deceit, many couples who receive annulments do so believing that their marriage was, in fact, sacramentally valid – that the marital bond did exist but that, over time, it began to break down.  These couples, understandably, choose not to disclose this part of the story to marriage tribunals so that they can qualify for an annulment.”
In other words it is the Catholic game of nudge-nudge, wink-wink.
9 years 1 month ago
There is a Catholic program, not well known, Retrouvaille, that helps about 65% of the couples recover in their marriage and family.Founded and based on AA twelve steps it takes about a year to restore stability. Infidelity both physical and emotional are the most common cause of marital breakdown. Of course both spouses need to be willing to forgive, modify behavior, regain a spiritual sence of family. Sadly there are no studies that show professional con-joint counseling having any efficacious results on keeping marriages together. and alarmingly, most professional counsellors don't even hold that marriage recovery is a goal in con-joint counseling. With Retrouvaille even long term separations with annulments have been restored ... sometimes with concerns from diocesan tribunals.., but hey!!
look up testimonials for friends and family on
Thomas Rooney
9 years 1 month ago
My wife and I have been married for going on 14 years, with 2 sons. Not all of those years have been stellar - we've had our issues - but many of them have been good ones.

What has struck us is the...flippancy, I guess you'd call it with how many married couples (some we are close to) have treated their vows. The goal seems to be the wedding day, not journeying together as life-long partners, and the Church on the whole doesn't do much to detract from this view. You only need watch one episode of the horrid BRIDEZILLAS to get this indication.

About half of our friends, couples who married in the Church within the same 2-3 years period as we did, have gotten divorced, mirroring the national average. Their lives are upside down, the legal infighting interminable, the wrangling in front of and at the expense of the children a tragedy. I echo the question this article poses: If we as Church place the same sacramental value on Marriage as we do Holy Orders, why are not couples prepared for it in any way near the intensity that clergy and religious are prepared?
Kevin Jam
9 years 1 month ago
Good comments. I really just have one question-is the single state not considered a vocation (not being married or ordained)? I thought the church maintained that it was.


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