Sunday, August 28, 2011

The State of Catholic Marriage

While Catholics have somewhere between a 1 in 3 and 1 in 5 divorce rate and gay marriage is legal in 6 states as well as the District of Columbia, people are concerned about the state of marriage in the Catholic Church. This opinion article by Russell Shaw and the comments that follow it, however are way off the mark. Here I will break down the article and give my take on Catholic marriage as someone who has recently been married in the Catholic Church. The highlighted is quoted from the article (blue) or the comments (pink). The plain text beneath is me.

A word of caution at the start. Don’t read what follows as a suggestion or even a veiled hint that the Catholic Church and other defenders of traditional marriage should abandon the fight against legalizing same-sex marriage. Yes, the New York state legislature, strongly lobbied by Catholic governor Andew Cuomo, voted in June for legalization, making New York the sixth state where same-sex couples can marry. And yes, there are an awful lot of people in New York.

Thank you for the clarification, but I wouldn't have read that much into this article.
But let’s be clear about what happened. The legislature and Cuomo imposed gay marriage on the state without consulting the voters, and there are an awful lot of people who remain opposed. The widely repeated line that this marks a decisive step in the campaign for legalization is part of the propaganda — eagerly seized upon and parroted by media that support gay marriage — aimed at bullying opponents into throwing in the towel.
I agree with this assessment of what happened in New York. I also agree that this is not a decisive step. Where New York goes, others states do not necessarily follow. For example, New York has had a "Bottle Bill" (refund for recycling cans, plastic and glass bottles) for 26 years, and still only 10 other states have them.

...That said, however, recent events do underline the fact that the Catholic Church needs to do some fundamental rethinking on the subject of marriage. I don’t mean the Church should approve gay marriage. I mean making it crystal clear what a sacramental marriage sanctioned by the Church really is — and why the secular state’s version of “marriage” isn’t the same thing at all.
I would agree that we need better catechesis on the sacramentality of marriage. Some people just don't get it. As someone who has recently did all the tests, classes, and meetings herself, I can honestly tell you I got a better education in my theology classes about the importance of marriage than I did in any of the marriage prep programs.

...A new addressing this problem would involve a two-step procedure. First, a couple seeking to enter into sacramental marriage would be required to go through whatever civil ceremony the state might insist on in order to be recognized as legally married. Then, and only then, the couple could proceed to sacramental marriage — a church wedding — with the blessing of the Church.
This is where Shaw loses me. Two weddings? What?

Yes, [there] are problems with that. Some people would resist what they’d see as “getting married twice” and would settle for the civil ceremony alone. But many do that now anyway. If those who said no to “getting married twice” were, by and large, people like those who now get “married in the Church” without understanding what they’re doing, what difference would it make?

As for the pluses, the procedure outlined here would have the huge practical advantage of educating couples to the fact that civil marriage and sacramental marriage are two vastly different things. Catholic marriage, like marriage generally, is in crisis, with the push for gay marriage adding to the confusion. Something needs to be done. If not this — what?
Okay, so this would make a clear statement that state and sacramental marriage are two vastly different things. Yeah, I would agree that it would make a profound statement. But what about the couples?

They would face two wedding budgets, two wedding guest lists, two ceremonies to organize. I can tell you that planning one is enough work. Yes, weddings have turned into self-indulging, self-promoting circuses in recent years. That is a far cry from what Our Lord would like to see. It's a far cry from what our Church teaches. But two ceremonies are not the way to go.

(I understand that civil ceremonies don't have to be that complicated. But there will be people who are offended that they aren't invited to both. Also, you have to get the bride and the groom together on two separate occasions to do the ceremonies. I'm thinking of couples like my husband and I who lived half-way across the country from one another when we were married. Also, another catechetical nightmare: I can see people asking, "When is the couple actually *married*? Is it at the civil or the religious ceremony?")
 
And let's take a trip down to the comments:

I think for those states that allow gay marriage, the Catholic church should decline signing a civil marriage license. The state redefines marriage, and then the state wants a priest to sign their marriage certificate?

Thomas More wouldn't even sign such a document.

Seriously?!?! The state doesn't care if the couple gets civilly married or not. You aren't telling the state anything by refusing to sign the civil marriage license. You aren't "sticking it to the Man" because "the Man" doesn't care! You're only punishing the faithful couple who now has to go find someone who will sign it or face not getting their full rights as a married couple in their state.

Now to quote my comment to the article:

As someone who has recently gotten married in the Catholic Church, I find Shaw's suggestion and some of the comments completely ridiculous. All that you are doing is making a Catholic wedding more difficult and expensive for well-meaning, faithful Catholics. Instead of splitting the civil and the church wedding or making priest refuse to sign the marriage contracts, how about we...I don't know....BETTER CATECHIZE OUR PARISHIONERS!!!! I know, it's a crazy idea! Why don't we use our creativity to come up with a way to help Catholics understand the importance of a Catholic marriage through better catechesis rather than making life more difficult for the faithful Catholics who already want to do the right thing.

I still stand by this comment. And now I pass the torch on to you. Do any of you have any ideas on how to better catechize couples looking to get married?

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