People tell me that they rarely hear a homily on the subject of marriage. I understand their concern for we know marriage to be for many the major school of love. Yet I sympathise with the clergy. They may well reserve the subject for special groups rather than general congregations. They may want to avoid the awkward questions – although I do not have these in mind here. They may feel that they do not know enough about marriage or they may think their listeners will feel they are outsiders.

In fact the clergy have a good handle on marriage. They are born into families and meet many married people in their work. I realise that there will be a proportion of these which are pathological – which was why a priest got to know them – but there are plenty of others. There is real value in a view from outside looking in instead of being inside looking out. I have known priests whose understanding of marriage was very deep, and all the better from listening to many married couples rather than allowing personal experience to skew their views (as we married people so often do).

Why is this so important? The answer is simple. The number of Catholic marriages per Catholic population has dropped by three-quarters since the late 1960s. We may hum and haw about the influence of our secular culture on marriage, but we have our hands full enough with the crisis in Catholicism. I know many families in which the grandparents are devout, the children are occasional, and the grandchildren don’t even get baptised. Recently I watched a young relative being married in a smart hotel to a well-meant parody of religious solemnity – but specifically without any mention of God or religion. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t read the Catholic Herald.)

Where might a priest start? I think he needs facts. That enables him to show that Catholic marriage is based soundly on the principles of human nature. Quite simply we have it right. Let’s tell that to the Catholic young, and hope that they tell it to their friends.

The rate of divorce in this country is around 42 per cent. To me, this is a frighteningly high figure. But it is a small improvement in recent years which some have attributed to cohabitation, giving couples a longer period to get to know each other. That may be true but we must note that cohabiting couples who marry tend to be older, and maturity is a positive factor in marriage choice.

The peak time for divorce is three to six years after marriage – earlier than the famous “seven year itch”. The rate of divorce continues to fall with each succeeding year of marriage, and the divorce rate for 10 years plus has not changed since the 1960s. Some statistics from the US suggest that Catholic divorce is about 25 per cent lower than the population rate. Are we happy with that margin?

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