June is the month for weddings. Almost always they are festive and hopeful. However, I must confess, as I attend weddings, I have come to wonder silently where these marriages will be in 10 years.
If the law of averages is the guide, many of them either will have been ended by divorce or will be under great stress. Infidelity will not be rare.
The state of so many marriages ending in divorce amounts to a national — and certainly a Church — crisis. Divorce among Catholics is about equal to the figures for all in this society.
Every priest knows quite well that many marriages are in trouble. A senior pastor said: “The things that priests deny themselves, namely marriage and children, occupy most of priests’ time! Priests deal with problems in marriage and parenting far more than anything else. At times I literally spend all day listening to spouses and parents with problems either in their marriages or with their children.”
Troubles in marriages and with children are epidemic. Realizing that, for whatever reason, statistics were different in other days, the current situation still is very disturbing.
In May, the veteran congressman from this part of Indiana resigned both his seat in the House of Representatives and as the Republican nominee for Congress in November because he was having an affair with a female employee. He admitted the affair, but it was on the brink of being reported.
What made it especially shocking was that he was not only a husband and father, but also a fundamentalist Protestant who strongly defended “family values” and often explained his advocacy for, or opposition to, legislation on the grounds that the Lord would want it this way.
Soon after his resignation, as details of the affair made it to the public eye more and more, nationally syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne wrote about it.
Others wrote about it, more than a few saying it was another example of hypocrisy among public figures who talk family values but whose private lives are not so admirable.
Dionne, however, did not blast this congressman. He admitted there was a disconnect, but went on to say that only someone without sin should cast the first stone. He then wrote that “cultural and economic forces” powerfully influence attitudes about marriage among everyone in this society.
“People are encouraged to put all sorts of things (career advancement, wealth, fame, the accumulation of things, various forms of self-indulgence) ahead of being good parents and spouses,” Dionne wrote. “Amen” to that, I say.
Last week, I met a woman, a Catholic mother. She and her husband sacrificed much to send their children all the way through Catholic schools. Their oldest daughter was married four years ago, in the Church, to another Catholic. They now have a daughter. She, however, has met someone else and is seeking a divorce.
“It’s the ‘Me Generation,’” her mother told me. “It’s all about ‘me, myself and I.’”
The upward trend in divorce indicates that a generation ago, certainly two or three generations ago, divorce was much less frequent. It may not always have been a good thing, as many people simply endured living hell rather than separate from a spouse or seek a divorce. Relationships have been open to trouble as long as humans have been on earth.
Still, something is very wrong today. I do not always agree with Dionne, but here he is right. Sweeping us away is a flood tide of cultural attitudes that so very often runs utterly opposite of the teachings of the Gospel, which always offers the best guide to human happiness and peace of soul.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is associate publisher of OSV.