WASHINGTON (October 8, 2004) – Lifelong support for marriage is a key effort for parishes and dioceses in the United States, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Bishops' Committee on Marriage and Family Life.
The survey, which looked at diocesan efforts in 2003, found Catholics nationwide involved in preparation for marriage programs, post-marriage enrichment programs, celebrations of special anniversaries and workshops to address troubled marriages.
The survey drew its findings from a study of 129 (66%) of the nation's 195 dioceses and eparchies. It also included data from three national groups: Catholic Engaged Encounter, Worldwide Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille.
According to the survey, virtually all dioceses require some form of marriage preparation. Only two of the 130 dioceses surveyed did not have a policy governing this. According to figures reported in The Official Catholic Directory, there were 177,825 couples married in the Catholic Church in 2003 in those 130 dioceses. The survey found that some 81 percent of couples (144,054) took part in a marriage preparation program that same year. This number represents a combination of totals reported by diocesan programs and by Catholic Engaged Encounter, which operates in 121 dioceses.
Survey organizers surmised that the actual percentage of couples attending pre-marriage programs is much higher than reported.
The survey did not gather data on couples who might have participated in a parish-sponsored marriage preparation program, or one offered in military or campus chaplaincies. Also not included in the totals are some couples who were excused from programs because of special circumstances, or who were entering into second marriages, or having the convalidation, or blessing, of a marriage previously performed outside the Church.
The survey found that marriage preparation programs may consist of anywhere from one to 12 sessions. The average number of hours a couple spends in a program is 12.
Sessions typically involve interviews with a parish priest or deacon, educational presentations and discussions with married couples who serve as leaders and mentors, and the opportunity for a couple to plan the readings, prayers, and music they will use in their wedding ceremony. Most marriage preparation programs also use a pre-marital inventory which gives the engaged couple a profile of their areas of agreement and disagreement.
Ongoing marriage education is offered in more than 70 dioceses, the survey found. Some couples also attend programs in their local parish. A cumulative total of 14,289 couples participated in 72 diocesan programs aimed at helping couples renew their relationships and in some cases reconcile when a marriage is about to fail. In addition to programs offered by dioceses, another opportunity was offered by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, a weekend renewal experience led by a team of married couples and a priest. In 2003, Worldwide Marriage Encounter served 10,989 couples with programs in English, Spanish and Korean.
Retrouvaille, the church ministry geared towards troubled marriages, reported working with 5,000 couples in 2003. Retrouvaille, which means rediscovery, is in 40 states currently.
The survey also found that an increasingly popular diocesan event is the annual Mass celebrated by the local bishop for couples married 25 and 50 years or more. In 2003, one hundred dioceses reported hosting anniversary celebrations with an overall total of 23,165 couples attending.
Bishop Kevin Boland of Savannah, Georgia, Chairman of the U.S. Bishops' Marriage and Family Life Committee, said support for marriage is one of the most important ministries in the Church.
""We are trying to build a continuum of ministry for couples in order to give them both encouragement and the tools they need to grow and thrive in all stages of their marriage," he said.
"It is especially important that couples find marital help in their parishes," he added.
Photos, stories and FAQs on church marriage support efforts can be downloaded from www.usccb.org/laity/marriage.