Catholic Marriage Preparation Alienates Potential Church-Goers

As a follow-up to my blog of yesterday, I wanted to thank readers for some of the thoughtful comments on my friends' premarital church counseling experience. I also did some more looking online about what such programs are supposed to entail.

In the 2002 book, Divorce, Annulments, and the Catholic Church by Richard J. Jenks and Craig A Everett, there is some background on this topic. The authors write that couples preparing for marriage normally have several options:

The first is a weekend retreat typically headed by two to three married couples and a priest. During the course of this retreat presentations are given about marriage. Practical matters such as finances and effective marital communication along with religious issues are considered ... The second option, which also consists of a retreat, is less structured and relies more on reflection and individual initiative. The third option involves Pre-Cana counseling. Here, a group of engaged couples meet with a team of married couples and a priest ... A premarital inventory is involved. The inventory measures the compatibility between the two engaged individuals.

My acquaintance must have attended the more free-form retreat, as she was not privy to any of the useful counseling described above. As I mentioned earlier, she and her now-husband, prior to going to counseling, were fallen-away Catholics hoping to be wooed back into the church's fold.

Data show the Catholic Church is losing followers in the United States (and Europe as well). In this country weekly Mass attendance has declined from about 75 percent in the 1950s to about 34 percent in 2005--that according to Dr. Mary Gautier of Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, Georgetown University.

There are lots of reasons for this--shortages of priests, the priest sexual abuse scandal, the increased urbanization of the country, just to name a few. But surely the treatment my friend describes is alienating more potential church adherents than it is wooing. The church should perhaps take note that since the Spanish Inquisition, admonition is out and love and acceptance are in.

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By Bonnie Erbe
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