Recently an engaged couple told me
that they weren’t having a Catholic
wedding ceremony because they
thought the Catholic Church, with all
its requirements, makes it too hard to
get married. “I should hope so,” I
replied, “because marriage is hard.”
What I didn’t tell them was that I
don’t think the Church does such a
good job at helping people stay married.
My husband, Mark, and I will be
married 13 years this August. Before
we got married, we took the FOCCUS
assessment, met with a married couple
in our parish, attended an Engaged Encounter
weekend, and met with our
parish priest and the priest who was
officiating at our wedding. We and the
Church put a lot of energy into getting
our marriage off to a good start.
But that day in 1995 after we said “I
do” and walked back down the aisle
was the last time we heard anything
from the Church concerning our marriage.
Sure, I know there are programs
available such as Marriage Encounter to
help couples maintain their relationship.
But with three kids, a weekend
retreat for Mark and me is just not feasible.
Desirable? Yes. Feasible? No.
If the U.S. bishops have their way,
though, married couples soon won’t
have any excuses for not fostering their
marriages. That’s because the bishops
are currently right in the middle of an
all-out push to help married couples—not just Catholics—strengthen and
grow their marriages.
Beginning in November 2004, the U.S.
bishops embarked on a multiyear project
known as the National Pastoral Initiative
for Marriage (NPIM). Its purpose
is to communicate “the meaning and
value of married life for the Church
and society.” In short, the bishops want
to bring “Catholic belief into dialogue
with contemporary needs.”
The initiative consists of three phases,
the first being research and consultation
which occurred between 2005 and
2007. In 200 focus groups conducted in
64 dioceses, the bishops consulted married
couples in every stage of married
life. Summaries of these focus groups are
available at www.usccb.org/npim.
The second phase—from 2007
through 2008—is focused on communication,
and will include a pastoral
letter which is currently being written.
In 2007, a series of TV ads, billboards
and the Web site www.foryourmarriage.org were launched as a
means of publicizing the initiative.
And finally, from 2008 to 2011, the
bishops will focus on implementation,
development of pastoral resources and
evaluation of the program.
When he first introduced the initiative
to the bishops in November 2004,
Bishop J. Kevin Boland of Savannah
said, “As leaders of the Catholic Church
in the United States, we can help to
create a positive climate that places
healthy marriages at the heart of strong
families, a strong nation, and a strong
and holy Church. This is a pastoral
moment we should seize upon.”
And seize the moment they have.
The initiative is now under the watchful
eye of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of
Louisville, who has headed the bishops’
Committee on Marriage and Family
since 2005. Last year he said, “Healthy
marriages are the bedrock of our
Church and our society. The Church
seeks to do all it can to encourage what
goes into a solid marriage: prayer,
fidelity, commitment and the little
things that count.”
To say that the bishops’ initiative is
comprehensive is an understatement.
But is it too much, too late?
Don’t get me wrong: I think the initiative
is a great idea. In fact, when I
first checked out the For Your Marriage
Web site, I found myself quickly immersed.
An hour passed before I realized
how long I’d been on the site. It’s
loaded with informative articles, daily
tips, video clips and even fun little
quizzes—with a new one each month—
that couples can take together. And for
those who think the Church is seriously
lacking in the fun category, yes,
some of the tips and quizzes—such as
how well do you know your spouse’s
past—are actually fun.
So I guess my only question would
be, what took so long? The divorce rate
peaked in 1980. I know the Catholic
Church is not known for its expediency
on things, but why wasn’t an initiative
like this fast-tracked in the face
of those numbers?
According to The National Marriage
Project: The State of Our Unions 2004,
the projected rate of divorce still stands
at around 50 percent.
For the past 18 years there’s been a
steady decline in the number of
divorces, but that has been attributed
to a number of factors, especially the
fact that people just aren’t getting married
and are choosing to live together
instead. One thing’s for sure, though:
That decline certainly wasn’t because of
anything proactive the Church was
Having said that, I don’t want to get
caught up in this initiative’s timing.
The fact is the bishops are on the ball
now and have put quite an effort into
this initiative. And in the process
they’ve raised some questions, learned
some things, started a discussion and
posed a very good question that all
married couples—from newlyweds to
those celebrating 50-plus years—should
think about: What have you done for
your marriage lately?—S.H.B.
For more information on the bishops’
National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage,
visit www.usccb.org/npim or