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November 22, 1996     The Message
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November 22, 1996
 

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2 The Message.-- for Catholics of,Southwestern IndJana. Marriage prep programs work but need stengthening, spea By MARK PATTISON Catholic News Service WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Marriage preparation programs instituted in Catholic dioceses and parishes across the country work but need strengthening in some critical areas, according to diocesan family life directors speaking at a workshop on mar- riage preparation issues. Two of the key issues that need to be addressed better, speakers said, are cohabitation before marriage and two-career families. Also working against mar- riage preparation programs in particular, and marriage in gen- eral, is a societal attitude that says "you can have it all with- out being married.., there is no need to be married," said Notre Dame Sister Barbara Markey at the Nov. 10 work- shop. Sister Markey, family life director for the Archdiocese of Omaha, Neb., was one of three family life directors speaking at "Preparing for Marriage: An Opportunity for Ministry With a New Generation," sponsored by the U.S. bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family. About 25 bishops attended the workshop in Washington, a prelude to their fall general meeting Nov. 11-14. Sister Markey explained find- ings in a 1995 survey of people who had undergone Catholic marriage preparation programs. "Basically, the news is good," she said. Ninety-five percent of people valued marriage prepa- ration highly within one year of having undergone it, although the approval rating slips to 66 percent of those who underwent marriage preparation programs seven years earlier. Sister Markey suggested that post-marriage education be offered. In her own archdiocese, a three-point program is offered for parents after the baptism of their first child. Virtually every U.S. diocese mandates marriage preparation programs, the survey said. "Other faiths are envious of us" because of the "preventive, proactive structure" accorded by marriage preparation, Sister Markey said. While the study could not determine whether divorce rates were affected as a result of mar- riage preparation, statistics show a need for divorce preven- tion, she said. First marriages break up at a 35 percent rate; 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce; and 80 percent of marriages in which one of the partners has been widowed less than two years end in divorce. Sister Markey elicited hearty laughs from the bishops when she said, "Widowers need to be put in Mason jars with the lids screwed on." Issues surrounding dual- career households finished 17th of 18 subject areas in two sur- vey questions: how frequently such issues were covered in the couples' marriage prep pro- grams, and how helpful those taking the program found a pre- sentation on the issues to be. "We really need to look more -at that," Sister Markey said. If two-career marriages are an undeniable development of the past generation, so too is cohabitation, said James Healy, family life director for the Dio- cese of Joliet, Ill. He cited a survey in which one-third -- the largest response w of a group of priests who were granted anonymity said they ignored cohabitation when the issue arose among couples seeking to marry. Ignoring cohabitation, Healy said, "gets you in a game of com- plicity with the couple: 'I'll pre- tend not to know about it if you pretend not to know I know."' Another 5 percent of the priests deny marriage to cohab- iting couples. But, Healy cau- tioned, "if the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, then you're going to treat every problem you see like a nail." But since cohabiting couples run a 33 to 80 percent greater risk of divorce, the topic must be dealt with, he said. If the couple admits to cohabitation, he advis- es priests to say, "'That's a seri- ous issue in the Catholic Church, and we'll deal with it seriously'-- and then move on." While marriage can be denied to a cohabiting couple -- only one diocese has such a policy, Healy said -- "we could justifi- ably challenge coup!es on any number of issues," he added. One bishop attending the work- shop suggested making the sacrament of penance available the night before the wedding. A punitive approach, Sister Markey said, can move the process into "a culture of lying," leading couples to deny they live together and leaving the priest "no room" to educate on .the sub- ject. Healy said people come into marriage "for less than perfect reasons." While the issue will remain problematic, he turned to the parable of the prodigal son for a parallel. "The prodigal son didn't come home because he was wrong," Healy said. "It was because he didn't want to eat any more of that crappy food." Carmen de la Vega Neafsey, family life director for the Arch- diocese of San Francisco, cited trends among U.S. Hispanics that can affect marriages. Cuban-Americans, she said, seem "best anchored in inte- grating the American way of life without sacrificing their cultur- al distinctiveness." Puerto Ricans, she noted, are Notre Dame Sister Barbara Markey point at a workshop in Evnasville for couples for marriage. Sister Markey session, sponsored by Catholic Charities Evansville, at the Catholic Center, Nov. 12. -- Message photo by the poorest of the Hispanic sub- groups in the United States and poor Puerto Ricans tend to cohabit both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland. In New York, half of Puerto Ricans fall below the poverty line, compared to 33 percent of blacks. While Anglos are searching for mentor programs for engaged couples, Mexican-Americans, Neafsey said, the bride and different ding. She urged preparing wed to be open tural element s. Neafsey said, to what's im Marriage prep expert's advice: Do not avoid the" By PAUL R. LEINGANG Message editor Notre Dame Sister Barbara Markey conducted a workshop for about 20 participants at the Catholic Center, Nov. 12. Sister Markey, family life director of the Archdiocese of Omaha, had just completed her presentation in Washington, D.C, which was sponsored by the U.S. bishops Committee on Marriage and Family. Sister Markey told partici- pants in Evansville that the practice of couples living togeth- er before marriage is a major phenomenon to be dealt with in marriage preparation. She handed out an "Overview on Cohabitation" which used data from University of Wiscon- sin studies. According to that overview, over 50 percent of cou- ples marrying today live togeth- er before marriage, and about two-thirds of people entering second marriages move in together before the ceremony. From 1965 to 1974, only 11 percent of couples lived together before marriage, according to Sister Markey's information. She also reported that 40 to 60 percent of those who live together do not marry the per- son with whom they are living. Forty percent of cohabiting cou- ples have children living with them. The divorce rate of cohab- itors is 50 percent higher than the divorce rate of persons mar- rying who have never cohabited. The reasons for the increase in cohabitation include interna- tional acceptance, changing val- ues and a basic shift in the importance of marriage, as well as declining confidence in reli- gious institutions and authori- ty. Sister Markey said that most diocesan policies in the United States recommend dealing directly with the issues and using marriage preparation as a "teachable" moment. She said cohabitingcouples who present themselves to Church for marriage are going against the cultural norm. She said they are at risk for the suc- cess of their marriages, and ii ii i iii COMPLETE INSURANCE SERVICE Auto! Home! Fire & Life! Your Personal Service Agent James L. Will Ins. Agency Inc. 1925 W. Franklin Street 425-3187 i i i i i ii i iii i need special help. They are also "in sure need 'of understanding and owning a sacramental covenant approach to marriage." Sister Markey said that dio- ceses with policies requiring separation before marriage or before marriage preparation reported no decrease in area cohabitation. They did experi- ence a "significant increase of couples hiding or denying cohab- Christmas memories requested from Message readers Do you have a favorite Christ- mas memory? Would you like to share it with the Message? Readers are invited to submit their favorite memories for pub- licatign in the December 20 issue of the Message. Favorite memories might include a child's first Christmas, a couple's first married Christ- mas, families gathered together at Christmas, or special unex- pected gifts. If you would like to share your special memory, please send it, along with your name and phone number to: Christmas Memories, The Message, P.O." Box 4169, Evansville IN 47724- 0169. The deadline is December 6. u Please Support Message Advertisers JASPER LUMBER CO. COMPLETE BUILDING SERVICE Ph: 482.1125 RT, 4, JASPER 00oop Christian Books & Gifts Bey & Char|ie Mendel, owners (BI2I34-Tt66 46S1. ,pOLIN47, i ; ! II I itation." Facilitating munication, Study. "Over 50 36" cov. #1 (13 #2 metal ....... #3 metal ....... $1: 5V and 9x Any Any Hwy. 50 4 rni. the cohabitation not be avoided' should be they face and version as they sacramental, riage. A portion of workshop in dealt with