The Church’s real marriage crisis?
Paul Moses posted here and Eduardo Penalver posted here on the rather ham-fisted and thinly-argued efforts of New York’s bishops to thwart passage of a gay marriage law in the state, a tense battle that looks as though it will continue for a few more days.
It has always struck me that spending so much time and treasure and scarce episcopal credibility on campaigning against civil marriage for a fraction of a fairly tiny slice of the population is misguided at best, given the parlous state of marriage in America as a whole and sacramental marriage in the Church in particular.
On that last point, Our Sunday Visitor has a story by Mark Gray, numbers-cruncher extraordinaire at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown, that graphically shows the near-collapse of church marriages:
“The number of marriages celebrated in the Church has fallen from 415,487 in 1972 to 168,400 in 2010 — a decrease of nearly 60 percent — while the U.S. Catholic population has increased by almost 17 million,” Gray writes. “To put this another way, this is a shift from 8.6 marriages per 1,000 U.S. Catholics in 1972 to 2.6 marriages per 1,000 Catholics in 2010.”
OSV’s companion editorial argues that this “radical” decline “has potentially even greater long-term consequences [than the sexual abuse scandal] and yet is virtually ignored and unremarked on…”
OSV’s editors ding marriage prep programs but note that there is “a much deeper problem: Many Catholics seem unaware of what the Church means by a sacramental marriage, of its opportunities for grace and its advantages over civil marriage. The solution likely will need to be just as complicated as the problem, and involve every sector of the Church.”
I’d agree. There are plenty of horror stories about bad marriage prep programs and unwelcoming pastors, but that doesn’t seem to be the norm (in my experience) and the vast majority of priests I know really see a marriage as an opportunity to bring Catholics deeper into church life and perhaps introduce a non-Catholic spouse-to-be to the open embrace of the church.
The core problem seems to be that by the time young adults (in particular) think about marriage they don’t have the lifelong religious, spiritual and cultural connections to the church that would lead them to pursue a church wedding in the first place.
I’m not sure the bishops’ campaign against gay marriage is going to change that dynamic in any positive way. Indeed, it hurts the bishops’ witness against gay marriage when they can’t figure out how to promote straight marriage in their own house.