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Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville, Ind., hopes that the committee that drafted the U.S. bishops’ new pastoral on marriage will go further to strengthen marriages.
BY STEVE WEATHERBEREGISTER CORRESPONDENT
— Now that the U.S. Catholic bishops have issued a pastoral letter on marriage,
one bishop hopes the committee that drafted it will take further steps to
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, meeting last month in Baltimore, accepted
“Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan,” which was drafted by the
conference’s Committee on the Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
Gerald Gettelfinger of Evansville, Ind., had proposed an amendment that would
have added recommendations for action at the parish and community level and for
tougher divorce laws.
Committee on the Laity refused to consider the lengthy amendment. But Bishop
Gettelfinger is hopeful that the practical steps he has recommended will be
incorporated into the committee’s ongoing work on marriage at the parish level.
Gettelfinger’s amendment was based on work done by Mike McManus, syndicated
columnist and founder of Marriage Savers. The bishop got to know McManus
several years ago when 50 or so Catholic and Protestant clergy in Evansville
instituted the Community Marriage Policy, one of McManus’ marriage-saving
brainstorms and one of the pastoral “solutions” recommended by the proposed
clergy who sign on agree to require engaged couples to take a prenuptial course
before they officiate at their marriages.
the amendment itself noted, a study by the Institute for Research and
Evaluation of 114 communities that likewise agreed to the policy indicates
significant reductions in the divorce and cohabitation rates and increases in
the marriage rate.
Austin, Texas, the divorce rate fell 50%. In Evansville it dropped 20%.
Gettelfinger said that Evansville parishes not only required pre-marriage
courses under the policy, but set up engaged couples with mentor couples who
held regular meetings during the first five years of the marriage.
walk them through a couples’ inventory to find out where they agree or disagree
on issues that maybe they’ve been ignoring,” the bishop said. They can also
help the couple deal with a new baby.
Gettelfinger’s amendment also called for tougher divorce laws. Noting that in
four out of five American divorces, one partner wishes to remain married, the
amendment called for laws requiring lengthy delays where children are involved
or only one partner wants divorce as well as a contract-breaking penalty for
the partner seeking the divorce.
McCord, the Committee on the Laity’s executive director, said McManus’
Community Marriage Policy will certainly be looked at. “We don’t disagree with
his ideas,” he said. “We do want to put a Catholic stamp on anything we put in
added that the committee is working with the National Association for Catholic
Family Life on the latter group’s annual conference June 23-26 at Xavier
University in Cincinnati. The conference, titled “A Marriage-Building Parish:
Blueprint and Building Plans,” will be all about the practical measures McManus
wants, he said.
Sollee, the director of Smart Marriages, a Washington organization devoted to
preserving the institution of marriage through pre-marriage and in-marriage
education, has sympathy for McManus’ position. “There is no question what we
need are practical measures such as were recommended in the Gettelfinger amendment.
Marriage is like a tapestry that weaves the past into the future. It’s a real
catastrophe when that tapestry unravels, as it is now.”
I applaud the bishops,” she added, “for their emphasis on marriage as a crucial
institution that perpetuates our social and family values. It has such great
benefits not only for those who marry, but for the children and for society.”
added that no church puts such emphasis on the sanctity of marriage as the
Catholic Church. It follows that “they should do the utmost at the practical
level to preserve it.”
Marriages is the leading exponent of marriage education based on contemporary
scientific research into the benefits of marriage, the practical challenges to
it and the practical solutions. Sollee, a onetime executive with the American
Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, founded Smart Marriages after
concluding marriage education by lay couples for lay couples was a far more
effective way of saving marriages than one-on-two professional counseling.
education, said Sollee, can dispel “the romantic notion that all it takes for
success is to find the right person. What marriage education teaches people is
that, first, two different people will always have disagreements; and second,
they can and should learn to work through the disagreements.”
fact, research indicates that the strongest single predictor of marriage
failure is the habitual avoidance of conflict.
another emerging predictor is multiple cohabitations: As people move through a
series of partners searching always for “the right one,” their expectations of,
and commitment to, marriage diminishes.
education can also convey the benefits of marriage, all attested to by
research, to men, women and children, says Sollee.
his part, McManus, a Presbyterian, considers the pastoral letter “a highly
significant document and declaration by the Catholic Church. I don’t know of
another church that has done anything like it.”
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.