Welcome to Starting Seven, The Pillar’s daily newsletter.
I’m Luke Coppen and I seek to guide you each weekday morning to the most interesting Catholic news and comment.
📜 Today’s readings: Is 29:17-24 ▪ Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14 ▪ Mt 9:27-31.
🗞 Starting seven
4: Thirty-six victims of abuse in religious congregations have received financial compensation a year after the creation of the French Church’s Commission on Recognition and Reparation (French report).
5: Bishop Peter Kohlgraf has said that German bishops are awaiting a letter from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin after their ad limina visit and ahead of the synodal way’s final assembly (German full text).
6: Stephen P. White says that “the USCCB is emphatically not the headquarters of the Catholic Church in the United States.”
7: And a priest who almost “died three times during the past two years” is returning to work with Australia’s street children.
🇻🇦 Today’s Bollettino
Papal audiences for Albanian President Bajram Begaj, with consort and entourage (Italian communiqué); Archbishop Martin Kmetec of Izmir, Turkey; Bishop Paolo Martinelli, apostolic vicar of Southern Arabia; Delegation from Leaders pour la Paix (Italian text); Delegation from the Latin American Rabbinical Seminary; Members of the Forum delle Associazioni Familiari (Italian text).
🧐 Look closer
Left at the altar When Belgium’s Catholic Church released its annual report on Wednesday, attention focused on the sharp rise in people seeking “debaptism.” But there was plenty of other bad news, including that just 4,032 Catholic weddings took place in 2021, 2,733 fewer than in 2018.
Secularization is far advanced in Belgium, but other countries are also witnessing a seemingly inexorable decline in Catholic marriages.
For better, for worse Writing for the Catholic World Report, Russell Shaw observed that “these are not the best of times for Catholic marriage in America.”
In 1969, when the U.S. Catholic population was 54 million, there were 426,309 Catholic marriages. In 2014, there were 148,134, a drop of 278,175 in 45 years.
“In 2020 — when the U.S. Catholic population stood at 73 million — Catholic marriages numbered a measly 97,200,” said Shaw.
But some Western dioceses are bucking the trend. England’s Diocese of East Anglia, for example, announced on Friday that the number of marriages more than doubled in 2021 as coronavirus restrictions eased.
A ‘true catechumenate’ The Vatican has responded to the downturn by promoting the idea of a “marriage catechumenate.”
In June 2022, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life released the document “Catechumenal itineraries for married life. Pastoral guidelines for particular Churches,” proposing three stages for marriage formation.
“It suggested a ‘proximate preparation’ that takes place over the course of a year, depending on the couple’s experience of faith and involvement in the life of the Church, followed by an immediate preparation in the months before the wedding,” explained Peter Jesserer Smith. “This could include a betrothal rite, among other signs, leading up to receiving the sacrament of matrimony. Then, the third part would be marriage ‘mystagogy,’ a post-wedding formation phase involving at least two to three years of accompanying couples through their first steps of married life.”
In the document’s preface, Pope Francis expressed hope that local Churches would create a “true catechumenate for future spouses which includes all the steps of the sacramental path: time of preparation for marriage, its celebration, and the years immediately thereafter.”
Will it work? The U.S. bishops discussed the marriage catechumenate at their fall plenary assembly. San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, chairman of the USCCB committee on laity, marriage, family life, and youth, said it “would be up to the bishop in his diocese” to decide whether couples spend a year in marriage preparation.
“Nowadays couples plan way out, more than a year, in advance for their weddings,” he told the National Catholic Register. “It’s unfortunate because so much attention is given to the ceremony rather than to the vocation, but I don’t think there’s a big problem with it taking longer; a year might be a long time, but it’s certainly not too long of a time to prepare for a lifelong commitment.”
Russell Shaw said that some U.S. dioceses already ran similar programs and they were likely “to grow in number with Vatican encouragement.” But he concluded that the marriage catechumenate lacked broad appeal.
“On a quick scan, the catechumenate approach, roughly modeled on the RCIA program for adults preparing to enter the Church, seems likely to appeal to highly motivated couples who, because of work or school or military service or some other reason, aren’t planning to marry right now, anyway,” he wrote. “As an ideal, it’s great. But the audience may be limited.”
🤔 Friday quiz
Which of the following words have Catholic roots? (Answers below)
🔍 Stories to watch
🇮🇪 Ireland’s population is aging faster than any other in Europe, with births down by a fifth.
🇻🇦 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has received the winners of the 2022 Ratzinger Prize (Italian report).
🇬🇭 A bishop in Ghana has criticized a politician who said that Catholics are at liberty to become Freemasons.
📅 Coming soon
Dec. 3 Vatican Christmas tree and Nativity scene unveiled.
Dec. 4 First anniversary of Hong Kong Bishop Stephen Chow’s episcopal ordination.
Dec. 5 “Fruits of the Spirit” exhibit launched at London’s National Gallery.
Dec. 7 Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington turns 75.
Dec. 10 Our Lady of Loreto.
Friday quiz answers: Answers: Tawdry, cappuccino, and dominoes. Source: Aleteia.
Have a happy feast of St. Bibiana.
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