|Total number of Catholic marriages taking place in England and Wales. The peak is 1968.|
There are fewer Catholic marriages today than at the eve of the Great War a century ago.
It is not exactly an opinion poll; complaints about bringing democracy into doctrinal matters are not quite right. Many questions are factual.
1. Question 4a: Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?
Other questions ask for an analysis of a problem, or a proposed solution.
5. Question 3e: What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
Both categories of question are problematic, however, since both call for types of expertise which the person filling in the form is unlikely to have. Parish priests filling it in might be expected to have something useful to say about pastoral strategies, and parents about raising children in the Faith, but some questions are appropriate only for a social scientist, or someone who has done a study of diocesan initiatives.
3. Question 1c: How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
Frankly, I don't have a clue. I could try to find out on the internet, but what would be the point of that? Presumably the people writing the survey can do that for themselves. 'Pastoral programmes' are something the ordinary Faithful are not involved with. If they are any good, they would have some beneficial effect without drawing attention to themselves. If they are bad, they will absorb the energies of the parish busybodies in endless meetings. What I do know is that Church teaching on the family is not preached, it is not taught in Catholic schools, and it is not found (much) in the kind of educational materials I sometimes browse in St Paul's bookshop. That's what I know as a layman, but that's not what they've asked.
Some questions are factual to the point that it is absurd to be asking them at all.
2. Question 4b: Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
1. Question 6a: What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
Why are they asking us? Can't they look it up for themselves? What happens when they get varying answers: are they going to take an average, or just find out what the truth is?
Then there are the questions with pretensions to philosophical profundity.
1. Question 2a: What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
Try asking that down the pub. Here, mate, you're a non-Catholic, what anthropological ideas underlie your discussions on the natural basis of the family? I don't say: ordinary Catholic are too stupid or uneducated to answer this question. I say: as someone with a DPhil in philosophy, I couldn't begin to answer it, certainly not in the comment box of an on-line survey, and I struggle to comprehend even what they are asking. (I think it must be a loaded question: what if people don't think the family is 'natural'?) I don't think many bishops or theologians would be able to give a useful response, and I am quite sure the people collating the results won't understand the question or the attempted answers. In fact, I don't think the people asking the question knew what they really meant. The question is a monumental waste of energy.
There are lots and lots of very open-ended questions about what is or could be done, pastorally.
3. Question 3c: In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfil their vocation of transmitting the faith?
4. Question 3d: In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
1. Question 8a: Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
|Catholic marriages per 1000 of the Catholic population.|
After a post-war rush, the rapid collapse began in 1968.
Most worrying of course are the questions which seem to be aimed at getting people to say that the teaching and discipline of the Church needs to be loosened somehow.
4. Question 1d: To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?
4. Question 4d: In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
5. Question 4e: What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
6. Question 4f: Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
7. Question 4g: Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?
These questions all present divorced and remarried couples as a problem for the Church, a problem created and sustained by all this rigid teaching and discipline. At one level, of course, this is true. But it is also true that the existence of such couples, not being able to receive the sacraments, is the flip side of a positive and attractive teaching which helps to sustain Catholic families.
|Catholic marriages as a percentage of all marriages in England and Wales.|
The peak is 1960, the eve of the campaign against the Church's
teaching on birth control.
Furthermore, it is the only kind of testimony to the seriousness of the Church's attitude to marriage which is ever going to be noticed by the secular world. It is a form of witness, a form which, like most effective forms, is given only at the cost of great sacrifice, a witness to the indissolubility of marriage, to a world which rejects this. The world knows that the Catholic Church, in spite of everything, joins men and women in an indissoluble bond of marriage, that it is not just talk when we say 'What God has joined, let not man put assunder'. Catholic couples know that they have something precious which they will lose if they go off with someone else. Remarried couples know that they need to get themselves right with God, however difficult this may be.
So this is a real problem with the survey. It could ask:
Would super-fast marriage tribunals rubber-stamping annulments cause scandal and undermine the teaching of the Church? Would this have a disastrous effect on couples struggling to maintain their marriages in a hostile environment?
Would turning a blind eye to divorced and remarried couples receiving Communion send the signal that the Church has given up on sexual morality? Would this have a disastrous effect on young people struggling to live in light of the Church's teaching in a hostile environment?
But it doesn't.
Pictures: statistics from the Latin Mass Society's research into Catholic Directory statistics.