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Marriage preparation guidelines should not be one size fits all

Letter to the Editor

10/16/2020 | Comments

I read in  the article (Herald Sept. 18 issue) concerning standardized marriage preparation of the steps that “every couple who wants to marry in the Catholic Church must follow” including “a meeting with the couple’s pastor 12 months before their anticipated wedding date.” There is no note that exceptions might be granted.

Forty-five years ago I was a young diplomat stationed in Viet Nam where I happened to meet my future wife; she was a British nurse working for Save the Children Fund in the orphanages of Hue.  Our first few dates (for various reasons, not including excessive piety) were to a Latin Mass I had arranged.  We got engaged, the country fell, and we got married. 

When we left Viet Nam, my fiancée returned to her parents in England, and I returned to Washington. Her pastor rightly insisted that banns be posted, so I called on my pastor for that purpose. My pastor then said something about a required Cana course.  I replied that I was working ten hour days, six day weeks at the State Department, and did not think his Cana course schedule could be adapted to State Department hours. Might he not credit the “marriage course” that had been required at my Catholic college 15 years earlier?

Perhaps with some reluctance, he agreed. And my wife was able to overcome the hesitancy of her pastor, distinctly trepidatious about the protestations of unknown American suitors. It was at that point seven months since our initial meeting, and as my fiancée pointed out, it was either a prompt wedding or she would have to accept another contract with Save the Children Fund and head overseas to nurse more orphans.  What we would have done if the local church had insisted on a year’s supervised probation, I do not know. 

We have some friends who met in law school, and also had career scheduling requirements.  He was Protestant, and she had no parish in the city in which, for various reasons, they intended to marry.  They selected a church, but the pastor raised a number of objections.  Happily, her father was a friend of the nuncio in Washington and he agreed to telephone the pastor in question, not, of course, to acknowledge dispute his authority, but ask that an exception be made in this case.  So they were married and, happily, still are.

I once told this story to a priest, a friend with whom I went to school 60 years ago.  He said, “Do you know how irritating it can be when someone like a nuncio pulls rank like that?” “Perhaps,” I replied, “but when a pastor will not credit the maturity of two people like our friends, or understand that one size does not fit all, then thank Heavens there are people like a nuncio about.”  But what happens in situations where the father of the prospective bride does not know the nuncio?

                Gerald W. Scott

                Buena Vista

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