Saturday, June 25, 2016

Francis Is Telling The Truth on Today's Marriages

Aidan’s mother is Presbyterian but has consistently attended Saturday evening Mass with her husband, Pat, in the thirty-two years of their marriage.  In fact she directed the children’s choir in their parish while Aidan and his sister, Aile were in their middle-and high-school years.  Aidan and Aile each were altar servers in their seventh and eighth grade years and graduated, after Confirmation, into being lectors.  Aidan went to the local Jesuit prep-school; Aile to the “Madames” of the Sacred Heart Day School.  During his college years at the University of Delaware, however, Aidan drifted away from regular Mass attendance.  He also met Katie, like him from the D.C. suburbs, and they began dating.
Katie was also from a devout Catholic home.  She is an only child.  Her parents belong to the Cathedral parish of Saint Matthew in Washington where her mother is an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist.  Katie graduated from Georgetown Visitation before going to the University of Delaware.  When she began dating Aidan she got him back to Sunday Mass.  They dated in Sophomore and Junior year, but Aidan broke it off over the summer between Junior and Senior year.  He was concerned that Katie was overly dependent on her mother, Frances.  Frances would drive two hours every Tuesday to have lunch with Katie at the University and insisted that Katie come home every weekend. 
During their senior year Aidan and Katie slowly rebuilt their relationship and when Aidan decided to go to Law School in Boston, Katie followed to do her Masters in Math at Boston College.  Katie became very involved at the Paulist Center in Boston where she and Aidan regularly attended Mass every Sunday.  Katie was also on the RCIA team and Aidan became involved in fundraising for the center.  In Aidan’s final year of Law School they became engaged to be married.  They moved in together after they were engaged.  Frances flew up to Boston every-other-weekend.   Pat and Joan (Aidan’s mother) were concerned about Frances’ “apron-strings” but Aidan assured them that he could handle it.   They were also concerned that Aidan seemed unable to make up his own mind with determination and worried that the reconciliation between them in their senior year was little more than Aidan’s tendency to “be a nice guy.”  But in the end they felt they had to respect Aidan’s choices. 
Aidan graduated and passed the Bar for Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia.  Pat and Joan hoped “the kids” would move back to Fairfax but Katie had found a job teaching Math and Physics in a Boston High School and didn’t want to move back.  Aidan, on the other hand, was having trouble finding a position with a Law Firm in Boston though through family connections there were a number of positions available in the D.C. area.
They were married that July after graduation in the Cathedral of Saint Matthew in Washington.  Aidan’s uncle, a religious order priest teaching at Catholic U, said the Mass and presided over the marriage.  A reception for 150 followed at the Washington Country Club.  The two families split the cost of the reception based on the proportion of guests each had invited.  By September Aidan and Katie were back in Boston with Katie teaching and Aidan continuing to do interviews for a position in a law firm.  Meanwhile, Aidan took a position in a foreign currency exchange upstart company.  All seemed to be well though when they came back to the DC area at Christmas Aidan spent most nights at his parents in Fairfax, Katie with her family in Chevy-Chase.  They both spent Christmas Eve with Katie’s family and Christmas Day with Aidan’s. 
It was only in April that Aidan told his parents that Katie had left him in January and moved in with Maggie, the girls’ gym teacher in her Boston High School.   Maggie is gay and the exact nature of her relationship with Katie was never clearly defined.  Aidan felt, however, that Maggie had undermined their marriage from when she and Katie had first met and had told Katie that she (Katie) could move in with her if she ever left Aidan.   Katie stayed with Maggie for six months before moving out and getting an apartment of her own.  She told Aidan she wanted a divorce.
Aidan had been seeing a counselor since the breakup and he repeatedly asked Katie to see a marriage counselor with him but she refused.  He went to Katie’s parents to enlist their help—they too told their daughter to get counseling, but Katie refused.  The marriage was over and there was no room, according to Katie, to negotiate.  Pat and Joan were concerned that Aidan may have done something wrong.  Was their any violence?  Was he dealing with any issues?  Substance abuse?  Pornography addiction?  Aile put out what feelers she could among various friends and acquaintances she shared with Katie but could find no reason for Katie leaving Aidan other than “he wasn’t on the career track that would take them where she thought they should go.”  Aidan’s friends all assured his family that he never was abusive in any way and Katie has never alleged that he was.    
Pat and Joan told Aidan that since the marriage had lasted such a short time, wedding gifts should be returned and this led to an interesting revelation.  Aidan agreed; Katie refused.  But it turned out that Aidan had kept the gifts from his family and friends and Katie had kept hers.  They never established joint finances but each had their own bank accounts.  It turned out that Katie’s parents always had separate finances as well and Katie had refused the idea of joint accounts.  The divorce became final eighteen months after the breakup.
This is a true story.  Some particulars—names and places—have been changed but it is a story from within my own family.  I tell it because I believe Pope Francis is dead on when he says that the idea of permanent commitment escapes the understanding of many—if not most—people today.  Key to this is that I have not exaggerated the Catholicity of either family or the Catholic backgrounds of Katie and Aidan or Katie’s commitment to the Church through her College and Boston years, but note that it was Aidan who fought to keep the marriage.   If these happen when the wood is green, what will happen to the dry? 

Pope Francis’ comments on the instability of modern marriage—and its impact on the validity of the sacrament—stirred up a hornet’s nest among the krazies on the blogosphere, but it is totally consistent with what most of my priest-friends have been saying for years.  Some priests in my acquaintance even say that the Church “should get out of the marrying business.”  I think that would be a sad mistake but there is no doubt that we have a culture problem that is probably beyond the Church’s ability to fix.  I am not sure what the answer is but denial is not part of the solution.  Perhaps the Pope needs to speak out in more detail on this issue so that it is not as easy to retreat into denial.  It certainly explains why he is trying to chart a different course for the pastoral care of the divorced and remarried as the implicit nullity of so many contemporary marriages severely complicates the issue.  


  1. You can see why this is a difficult issue. You are completely right that every situation is multi-faceted that a one size fits all position - which many of the Krazies insist upon - is ludicrously doomed to failure.

    My wife and I had all the Catholic schooling you could want through high school, and the priest we asked to officiate - a much loved teacher for both of us - was dead serious about pre-Cana counseling. We did it, including reading two books, and three meetings with married couples that he selected, but we also kind of blew it off by going through the motions more out of respect for him than anything else. Still, September will make 45 years of marriage for us. Some people in our culture would say that is just plain stubbornness.

    Did our priest's dedication make the difference? The results would say yes, but as I said, we were both a little skeptical that we really needed it. Maybe we are just stubborn. And then there is this: How many priests have the time to do for every couple what ours did for us? Like you said, the answer is unclear, except that denial is not the answer.

    1. congratulations, Olddude, to you and your wife on your 45 years! As we used to say in Marriage Encounter, Love is a Decision Thanks for deciding, over and over again.

  2. Not being a parish priest, I rarely "perform" weddings, though I recently had an opportunity to do so and this allowed me an up-close experience of a Millennial marriage. Pope Francis' comment occurred shortly before the ceremony. When I heard it, I immediately resonated with the truth of the statement. While I am not predicting the eventual demise of the wedding at which I officiated, its sacramentality is rather dubious in my mind since the faith aspect is rather minimal. The real issue here is the church's continued insistence that "every marriage between baptized persons is a sacrament" -- and hence presumably "valid" and indissoluble. Given the cultural and pastoral realities we face today, this teaching is preposterous. I think the pope, over and beyond his reasons for making his comments about defect of consent as grounds for nullity in most cases today, must also be aware that the teaching just mentioned is fundamentally flawed. Is there a solution? I think we need to revisit an experiment from a French diocese years ago -- quashed by the Vatican -- that permitted some kind of intermediary acknowledgement between engagement and sacramental marriage, one that encourages a committed relationship -- some sort of blessing -- but falls short of ratifying it with the full-fledged nuptial blessing. Perhaps this could be a practical application of Pope Francis' interest in "gradualism" as a pastoral approach to today's realities.

  3. "Perhaps the Pope needs to speak out in more detail on this issue so that it is not as easy to retreat into denial."

    Yes, if I have any criticism of the Holy Father in this entire controversy, it is that he allowed his comments to be dialed back without much (if any) clarification. I believe the whining of the right-wing pundits over his phrasing and pastoral style have completely drowned out the heart of his message on the family, one that they would actually agree with if they gave him a chance: that marriage and the family are in crisis and that people enter into marriages with woefully inadequate preparation and false ideas about what marriage is and how it should be lived.

    Even more baffling is the krazies' reaction to his assessment of the culture of cohabitation (probably more accurately described as common-law marriage) that exists in some cultures around the world, including Latin America. The fact that he's willing to acknowledge the fidelity and commitment of these couples is beyond the pale for some of these folks. Is their worldview so limited that they can't imagine there may be a need for different pastoral approaches, especially when a society's inculturated views of marriage and family have been far from the ideal for generations?

  4. Good God, what a long story. You could have made it shorter....LOL

    Ok...first, sorry you had that in your family but it is clear that the main focus is not what happened to the wedding gifts, but that Katie was apparently a lesbian or just screwed up. You gave 1 sentence to that key piece of information. Then another to Katie's career direction not going as planned. Well, what does this have to do with the Sacrament of Marriage ? Clearly, the guy (Aidan) wanted it to work and for some reason (sexual/career) Katie blew the damn thing up.

    What does this have to do with the Sacrament of Marriage and the indissolubility of marriage ?

    My cousin left his wife during a career mid-life crisis. My aunt won't talk to him and still stays close to her daughter-in-law. He wanted to trade in his 50's something wife for someone 20 years younger, firmer, and sexier.

    I'm happy to stand with the Krazies who wants Francis to keep his big mouth quiet. He needs to start talking about those living the Church's teachings, not those trashing it. - Anonymous in NY

  5. Well, you obviously have never learned to read critically but simply react without reflection. The point is not that Katies "is a lesbian"--as I said, no one, ever her parents, are sure of the exact nature of relationship with Maggie. And by the way that would have a lot to do with the Sacrament of Marriage and its indissolubility as homosexuality of one or both partners is a grounds for annulment. The point of the posting is this: we have two Catholics, from practicing Catholic families, both partners educated in prime Catholic schools, at least one (Katie) committed to the regular practice of her faith--and still they don't get it: until death do us part means until death do us part. and, as I said, if this is the case with the green wood, what chance does the dry stand? so stand with the Krazies--birds of a feather flock together and you obviously show an inability to grasp what the Church teaches about what is required for Sacramental validity in Marriage. As for me, I am delighted with Francis and the fact that for the first time in thirty some years Holy Mother Church has her feet on the ground and is talking with people on the level of reality.

  6. Well, maybe Katie did understand it but was so screwed up she didn't care. Obviously, falling apart after 18 months is pretty bad. 10 or 20 years with a few kids is at least qualitatively different, if not theologically different.

    And yeah, the annulment option is available in this case -- so what's the problem ?

    My parents had nothing of the Catholic background that Aidan/Kathy had, but they will be together 55 years this fall.

    What are you saying in this piece -- that the Sacrament of Marriage needs to be changed ? That's it too tough ? That everyone needs at least 1 do-over?

    Yeah, we know many people can't commit to a lifetime of marriage. That is NOT a reason for abandoning the Sacrament of Marriage.

    Hard cases make for bad law. Even if your example above happens lots of times in every diocese, I don't think it changes a thing. And sholdn't. - Anonymous in NY

    1. Do you know how to read? I am not saying that the sacrament of marriage--or better, the Sacrament of Matrimony (to distinguish it from the legal reality of civil marriage which is an entirely different institution) needs to be changed. All I am saying is that Pope Francis has a point--with which most priests in my experience agree with--that our modern culture does not teach people to to make commitments, especially life-long commitments. and again, since your reading skills are so abysmally low that I sense a public-school education--Katie and Aidan's marriage lasted 5 months (August-January) not 18. And yes, in this you are right--this is an easily annulable marriage--but precisely because of the fact that Pope Francis mentioned: somebody here--good Catholic that they were raised--doesn't understand a life-long commitment. And that is all that I am saying--the Pope is right, our modern society is undermining Christian marriage.

  7. Yeah, I went to a public school -- Top 5% from one of the top HS's in the State. And a top liberal arts college to boot. LOL

    The Pope may be right -- but that doesn't mean he's right to say it. Instead of implementing a SOLUTION, he trashes the institution. And yes, that's what he said.

    I stand corrected on 5 months; your post was so long I zeroed in on the 18 months until the divorce. Doesn't change anything in my post, though.

    We don't know if Katie understood lifelong commitment. Let's face it, the girl is a bit screwed up. Maybe Margie is just a friend and she got scared at the prospect of marriage once in it. Maybe kids scared her. Maybe her career freaked her out. Who knows ? I sure don't, it's your family and I don't even think you do.

    What we do know is that all you can do is prepare couples properly and HOPE they are listening and HOPE pre-Cana and other preparation does the trick.

    I think you need a post on Church Architecture where you and I can find common ground. - Anonymous in NY

    1. well, your reading, comprehension, and critical analysis skills are remarkably low despite the "top liberal arts college" education. And as you failed to comprehend my relatively simple point that even many good Catholics today just don't the idea of "till death do us part" so too I think you missed Francis' points in his remarks. And unfortunately all the HOPE in the world and all the pre-Cana programs the Church has to offer won't "do the trick." I don't have a solution to the problem, but the first step is acknowledging that we do have a problem which I think the Holy Father well identified. While I enjoy pointing out various antique Churches in Rome and other European cities, it would be a gross failure of responsibility to address critical issues affecting the Church in the modern world. We are in the middle of a revolutionary papacy where the Church is taking a dramatic change of direction from the past 35 years (though not as dramatic as the trajectory set by Leo XIII in the post Pius IX papacy --read George Weigel's book Evangelical Catholicism. Whether or not the next several papacies will continue in the Francis direction remains to be seen, but the Francis impact needs to be looked at by historians as well as theologians and social scientists. Personally, I find Francis the answer to years of prayer for the Church.

  8. I think your comments are spot on, and I have seen similar stories myself. Not to overly focus on finances, but the bit about keeping separate money is a red flag to me. I see this in a lot of the young couples we know. I cannot understand why a couple that intends to be together forever and share every aspect of their lives would keep their finances separate. The obvious answer is that it is a strong indicator that the couple either does not really accept/understand the fullness of the bond of marriage and/or does not really expect the marriage to last.

  9. How is his constant confusion, misstatements of clear Catholic teaching, and confusing ramblings the answer to what ails the Church ?

    When you prayed for years for our Church, you wanted someone to take advice from Cardinals Marx and Kasper ? Because....they represent a thriving Catholic Church in Germany with rising Mass attendance, plenty of vocations, and lots of Catholic loyalty ? Because they care about defending Catholic teaching instead of lowering it to the lowest-common denominator in our society ? Or maybe it's just as simple as the Pope and Vatican getting a cut of that $7,000,000,000 the German government gives the Catholic Church every year ?

    Personally, I am not interested in grovelling before every malcontent of society and issuing apologies. I am still waiting for this Pope to utter the words "anti-Catholic" off his lips. So far, he doesn't seem interested in worrying about the Church or Catholics, just his standing with secularists, anti-Catholic liberals, and Protestants.

    He might be well-meaning, but so far all he does is spit in the face of loyal Catholics and go out of his way to lower Church teachings to those who reject Catholicism. -- Anonymous In NY

    1. I don't normally carry on a dialogue with those who "just don't get it" and jettison their comments, but your comments are excellent examples of people who fail to understand where God is leading his Church. Remember how Pope Benedict said that he preferred a small but faithful Church to a large but lifeless one? I agree with him. And yes, the changes of Vatican II have pruned away a lot of lifeless branches that were no longer drawing their vitality from Christ the Vine. But where you see death, I see new growth. I see those who have remained faithful to the Church ever more committed to to the mission of making the Gospel of Jesus Christ a living force in their lives and sharing that new life with those who hunger for it. And I see Pope Francis as a Pope who is giving the Gospel a credibility in our contemporary world by his frank and brutal honesty about where the Church has been frozen in its response to the Gospel and able to offer only a weak and pallid message challenging the world with the Truth of Jesus Christ. I think the Holy Father is very much interested in standing with Catholics--the problem is that those who don't stand with him are either no longer Catholic or on their way out the door. Loyal Catholics stand with the Pope--ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia. Though I often despaired--and even feared--for the Church during to the two previous papacies, I never, ever, spoke of either Pope with the disregard and disrespect you and yours treat him every day. I may have had reservations--and even disagreements--but loyal to the Pope I stayed within the boundaries of obedience and respect. But I have no respect for the "Catholicism" of those who refuse to stand in solidarity with the Pope.

  10. a sad story and i can't imagine the emotional wreckage for aidan. actually i can - because the pattern of my own marriage followed somewhat the pattern in the story above. francis is right, and not just on the basis of these two anecdotes (and I will be petitioning for annulment).

  11. This is a marriage that should never have taken place. One wonders if the Catholicity of both families may have played a role in pressuring Katie and Aidan to marry. While this is still a problem, a Katie-Aidan situation strikes me as something that might have happened to Gen. X more than it does for milennials. It still happens but most of my friends marry later after living together for years. Milennials are the ones who suffered from their parents' broken marriages and do not want to repeat those mistakes.

    One thing that frustrates me about Pope Francis is that he says something that is very correct and profound about marriage.. i.e. many people marry without understanding the commitment. However, in the next breath he whines about the fact that milennials are choosing not to marry. There are many milennials who understand that the commitment is for life and are cautious about it for a reason. Many choose to live together first to ensure they are compatible. My friends who live together have had trouble marrying in the Church. The sad fact is that in many parishes, a Katie-Aidan pairing is preferable to a couple in their 30s who has lived together for a few years. Perhaps, the Catholic Church (and this includes Pope Francis) is increasing the problem with invalid marriages by encouraging couples to marry before they are ready while chasing more mature and prepared couples away from the Catholic Church.

  12. you have some interesting comments. a friend of mine who is a religious priest from Poland teaching in Rome at the Gregorian University recently said to me: we would never allow someone to profess religious vows with us until they had lived with us for at least seven years--why do we think that living together before marriage isn't a good idea? I have to say I am a bit more conservative here as I fear that not only has our culture lost the inability to make commitments, it also has snapped the essential cord between sexual intimacy and the marriage covenant. But to address your first point, no I don't think the families put pressure on Aidan and Katie to marry--to the contrary Aidan's family wasn't terribly enthused about the marriage. Katie seems to have been the driving force for a wedding.