By Cian Molloy - 12 January, 2020
"To be a priest, you need to spend seven years in the seminary, so what about being a husband, a wife, a mother or a father? Just twenty hours?” commented the Bishop of Bilbao.
In a bid to cut Spain’s spiralling divorce rates, the country’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference, la Conferencia Episcopal Española (CEE), has introduced a new voluntary marriage preparation course that takes between two and three years to complete.
In Ireland, Catholics intending to wed are required to complete a pre-marriage course with their local parish or with ACCORD, the marriage care service. Typically, an ACCORD marriage preparation course takes twelve hours to complete over two or three days.
Similar, obligatory Catholic marriage preparation courses that can be completed over a weekend are run in Spain. This new course, Juntos en Camino (On the Road Together) takes between twenty-four and thirty-six months to complete.
Launched on Thursday by the Chairman of the Spanish Bishops’ Commission for the Family and the Defence of Life, Bishop Mario Iceta Gavicagogeascoa of Bilbao, the Juntos en Camino course is aimed at courting couples and is designed to help them develop their courtship into a vocation to marry.
“Unlike a premarital course, which is done when the decision to marry has been made, this proposal is an accompaniment in the time that courtship lasts to discern about the vocation to love through marriage and family,” the bishop said.
The course is divided into twelve topics: Starting a Path; Knowing oneself in order to love the other; Man and woman, he created them; Communication; What is Love?; Fidelity; The beauty of sexuality; Conflict resolution; Spirituality in Courtship; The vocation of marriage; Family life; and the Social dimension of courtship.
The full textbook for the course, in Spanish, can be downloaded here: https://www.conferenciaepiscopal.es/itinerario-de-formacion-y-acompanamiento-de-novios/
The Spanish bishops were prompted to launch the course because of the growth in Spain’s divorce rates. In 2017, for every 100 Spanish marriages there were 57.2 divorces.
According to Eurostat figures published in 2013, overall in the EU there are 1.9 divorces annually for every 1,000 members of the population. Spain’s divorce rate is higher than this EU average, at 2.2 divorces per thousand people. There are eighteen other countries in Europe, including the UK, France, Portugal and Denmark that also have a divorce rate higher than the European average.
Ireland’s divorce rate is 0.7 divorces per 1,000 members of the population, the second lowest divorce rate in Europe after Malta, where the rate is 0.1 divorces per 1,000 people. Latvia is the European country with the highest divorce rate with four divorces a year for every 1,000 members of the population.
Looking to his own experience of marrying couples, Bishop Mario Iceta said he is convinced that most couples would benefit from additional preparation before making vows for life. “You can’t prepare for marriage in twenty hours,” he said. “To be a priest, you need to spend seven years in the seminary, so what about being a husband, a wife, a mother or a father? Just twenty hours?”