One aspect that is sorrily missing from the Synod discussions is how to prevent future marriage breakdowns. Yes, some cardinals have spoken of the importance of educating the faithful on the meaning of marriage and sex, as well as improving marriage prep courses. That would be awesome. But it needs some teeth.
We need to treat marriage like a sacrament again. That means refusing the sacrament to those who aren’t prepared or who don’t have the proper dispositions. Yes, refusing the sacrament. We can do that, you know. The Church teaches that we can. In particular, couples cohabiting before marriage should be turned away until they accept and try to live Church teaching. That’s the loving and pastoral thing to do. If they refuse to be taught or to accept Church teaching on these crucial matters, why impose on them a burden of indissoluble commitment that they don’t have the capacity to bear?
Co-habiting couples have a 50% higher divorce rate. They often see co-habitation as a “trial period”, meaning that they’re not thinking in terms of lifetime commitment. Marrying these couples means that a huge chunk of them will be knocking on the Church’s doors in a few years seeking an annulment. Is that charitable? Is that merciful and pastoral? We’re just creating an assembly line to manufacture future annulment applicants.
Besides, if they’re living in a state of grave sin, they aren’t capable of receiving sanctifying grace. In other words, the graces of the sacrament won’t flow to them. So what exactly is the point? Are we marrying them so that their fornication turns into something legitimate? That sounds pretty flippant.
This idea isn’t so revolutionary. Some time ago, the Bishops of Pennsylvania issued a statement strongly discouraging co-habiting couples from getting married. The Bishops of Kansas did something very similar. We just need to take that extra step from “strongly encouraging” to forbidding.
Time to add some teeth.