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American Catholics and Marriage

Seeing as how yesterday was Valentine’s Day, I had planned to post something happy and sentimental on love, marriage, children, etc. However, living the life of love, marriage, children, etc. kept me from the computer most of the day. And every time I did log on for a moment, this headline kept staring at me from my iGoogle page. The link takes you to a Catholic World News story about a survey of self-identified American Catholics and their views and experiences of marriage. It is not a particularly upbeat picture. The bottom line is Catholics as a whole, are just like the rest of the American population when it comes to ideas about love, marriage, and divorce: Marriage isn’t necessarily a lifelong commitment and divorce is an acceptable solution. However, there are some interesting nuggets to ponder.

First of all, the survey analysis finds four distinct response groups: Pre-Vatican II (born before 1942), Vatican II (born 1943 to 1967), Post-Vatican II (born 1968-1980), and the Millennial Generation (born 1981 or later). The Pre-Vatican II generation was most likely to be familiar with and agree with the Church’s teachings on marriage. Interestingly, the Millennial Generation is closer to the Pre-Vatican II generation responses than are the middle generation cohorts.

I think there are a couple of explanations for this. The Millennial Generation are the children of the Vatican II and Post-Vatican II generations. Remember the selection of respondents to this survey is based on those who are self-identified as Catholic. I think members of the Millennial Generation whose parents had drifted away from the Church are less likely to identify themselves as Catholic. Therefore, those of the Millennial Generation who still identify themselves as Catholic are more likely to be faithful Catholics.

Also, this generation came of age under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. He brought the Church into the information age and made the teachings of the Church more visible than any prior pontiff. We must credit him with bringing the Millennial Generation back into the folds of the Church.

Another interesting trend seen in this survey is that frequency of Mass attendance is a reliable predictor of survey response in many areas. Those who attend Mass every week are most likely to understand and agree with Church teachings on marriage, see marriage as a vocation, least likely to be divorced, and most likely to view marriage as a sacrament that extends beyond the wedding day. They also have more children than those who attend Mass only a few times a year or less. This is most likely a correlation and not a causal relationship. Though, I would also not minimize the powerful grace of the Eucharist in supporting Catholic marriages.

The USCCB commissioned this study to guide its programs for marriage preparation and support. I will be interested to see how they use these results. Any suggestions?


Jennifer F. said…
Interestingly, the Millennial Generation is closer to the Pre-Vatican II generation responses than are the middle generation cohorts.

I think another reason for this may be the freeflow of information made possible by the internet. If you were trying to be Catholic in, say, the cultural upheaval of the '70's, it might have been difficult to get accurate information about what the Church really teaches (I know some of my older relatives experienced). These days, a quick look at New Advent or will tell you everything you need to know.

Since my own conversion to Catholicism was due in large part to the widespread availability of information these days, I definitely feel like that could be a factor for this trend of a return to orthodoxy among the younger generations.

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