Prioritize Marriage, Not Same-Sex Blessings
EDITORIAL: The Church must make the perpetual renewal of marriage one of its central evangelical and pastoral priorities.
The secular world will fix its attention Sunday on the Super Bowl — an annual sporting spectacle that will be played this year in Las Vegas.
On that same Sunday, the Catholic Church’s celebration of World Marriage Day should direct our attention to an institution that’s infinitely more important than a mere football game — yet recent events have left many Catholics concerned about whether the significance of marriage is being sidelined within the Church itself.
Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández’s controversial new instruction regarding blessings of persons in irregular unions raises the same question that was generated when the first Synod on Synodality assembly concluded in Rome last October: Does the Church have its priorities straight?
In both cases, there has been outsized attention paid to the issue of same-sex blessings. However one may feel about that topic, surely we can all agree that the Church faces many more pressing problems today.
One of these problems — and it’s a massive one — is the distressing decline of authentic Catholic matrimony. Over the past 50 years, according to statistics from Georgetown University, the annual number of Catholic marriages in the U.S. has decreased by nearly 70%, even as the Catholic population has increased by almost 20 million.
This trend mirrors the situation as a whole for American society: In 2021, the annual marriage rate declined to an all-time low of only 28 per 1,000 unmarried people, compared to the rate of 76.5 per 1,000 in 1965.
Yet the data on the continuing value of marriage as the bedrock of a flourishing society remains. On average, women and men who are married are healthier, live longer, and are better off economically, and children raised within stable marriages fare significantly better across a broad range of sociological categories.
Pope Francis is well aware of the marriage problem in developed countries like the United States, and since early in his pontificate, he has highlighted the need for enhanced pastoral care for couples. Building on this papal direction, in 2022, the Holy See issued the document “Catechumenal Pathways for Married Life,” which offers guidelines for reorienting the Church’s approach to marriage preparation, taking the couple on a journey of evangelization and conversion.
In the preface to the new guidelines, the Holy Father highlights the foundational role that Catholic families play in the life of the entire Church.
“Vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life grow out of families, and it is families that make up the fabric of society and ‘mend its tears’ with patience and daily sacrifices,” he emphasized. “Mother Church therefore bears a duty of justice to devote time and energy to the preparation of those whom the Lord calls to the great mission of family life.”
The contested topic of blessings for same-sex couples is an unfortunate distraction from this far-more-urgent call from the Pope to find ways to counter the implosion of sacramental marriage by strengthening the Church’s efforts to catechize young Catholic couples and support single Catholics who desire to be married.
One such response is the innovative Louisiana-based marriage preparation and renewal program “Witness to Love,” founded by Mary-Rose and Ryan Verret.
The Verrets describe Witness to Love — a program that facilitates the mentoring of engaged couples by more experienced couples, who share the lessons of their own successful marriages — as a “catechumenal model of marriage formation” that gets to the heart of why Catholics aren’t getting married, staying married, and going to church with their families.
“It’s because they’re not seeing holy, healthy, happy marriages being lived out,” Mary-Rose told Catholic News Agency last year.
Pope Francis just gave his personal seal of approval to the Verrets’ approach, by appointing the American couple as consultants to the Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life.
Their work, and similar programs that have sprouted up in recent years in the U.S. and elsewhere, are truly a witness of love — both for the young couples who are guided at the start of their holy vocation of sacramental marriage and for the universal Church that will be reinvigorated courtesy of the evangelical dynamism that is the fruit of faithfully Catholic families.
That’s why the Church must make the renewal of marriage one of its central evangelical and pastoral priorities throughout the final stage of the Synod on Synodality — and beyond. It’s also the kind of blessing that Catholics actually need at this moment.