A chance to boost real Catholic Church marriage preparation

A chance to boost real Catholic Church marriage preparation
The View


The upcoming referendum proposing the relaxation of the Constitutional divorce provisions is likely to be passed. It should act as a spur for the Catholic Church to reconsider its attitude to marriage on two fronts: whether it will continue to act as a solemniser for civil marriages and whether the current approach to Catholic marriage is producing too many marriages that are Catholic in name only (CINO).

At the moment, after the religious ceremony is conducted, a brief civil ceremony is conducted, including the signing of the Marriage Registration Form by the couple, solemniser and two witnesses. This means that the couple is legally married.

The problem with this is that it reinforces the idea that Catholic marriage is the same as civil marriage, which is emphatically not the case. Catholic marriage is a lifelong vocation, takes place between a man and a woman and is open to children. Civil marriage is open to divorce, does not have to be between a man and a woman, and openness to children does not even enter the discussion.


The Catholic Church made some noises about refusing to act as solemnisers in the run-up to the same-sex marriage referendum but nothing happened. Subsequently, the Catholic marriage care agency, Accord, agreed to counsel same-sex couples as refusing to do so would have meant the loss of State funding. (Prior to the referendum, pre-marriage counselling funds were also cut.)

This compromises the distinctive nature of Catholic marriage. Same-sex couples should receive help but from State agencies.

During the same-sex marriage referendum campaign, there was a lot of dismissive commentary to the effect that the Irish bishops would never carry out their threat to stop solemnising civil marriages because it would lead to a vast reduction in the numbers of people seeking Catholic marriage if couples had to have two ceremonies.

An immediate reduction in CINO marriages would be a good thing. For sincere Catholic couples, having to pop into the local registry office for 35 minutes would be a fair exchange for knowing that their Church was taking the issue of marriage seriously. It happens already in some countries. (There would be no extra charge involved because the Irish Marriage Registration form costs €200 for all forms of marriage.)

In 2018, there were 10,027 Catholic marriage ceremonies (47.6% of the total). That would be a significant increase for civil registration offices, where currently, there are already waiting lists.

It would be important that time would be given to the State to adjust, for example, a lead-in period of three years.

All couples who want to marry in a Catholic Church have to go through a pre-nuptial enquiry and take part in an approved pre-marriage course. Although priests take it seriously, it is not enough. For many couples, it is a box-ticking exercise and while many find value in the pre-marriage course, the level of resistance to taking part in it shows the CINO nature of many marriages.

Ideally, you would want every Catholic to have the grace of the sacrament, but you also want marriages to be valid and if people are entering them without full commitment or understanding, they are not.

The fact that more than 50% of weddings are already not Catholic shows that many couples are voting with their feet. (About 7% of marriages take place in other Christian denominations or in other world religions.)

What if instead of the current pre-nuptial enquiry, the couple were told that they would have to attend a parish presentation on the nature of Catholic marriage, presented by trained married couples? After that, if they proceed, they would have to sign a solemn marriage declaration that their understanding chimes with the Catholic understanding.

Marriage preparation should also be parish-based and ongoing mentoring of the newly-married for five years should be the norm.

Again, that could not happen overnight but the same lead-in period of three years should make it feasible to recruit and train volunteers. If we cannot get people to take part in this kind of voluntary work, our parishes are in worse condition than we thought and that is also good to know.

Recently, I looked at a beautiful presentation on marriage by Ryan and Maria Connolly on the Notre-Dame Newman Centre for Faith and Reason Facebook page.

In it, they talk extensively about marriage as a vocation where your primary mission is to help your spouse and children to come closer to God. It struck me again how utterly different that vision of marriage is to the secular vision.

If higher standards for Catholic marriages meant fewer CINO marriages but more marriages that are focused on coming closer to God, that would be wonderful.