Vatican

In defense of Pope Francis's recent observations about marriage

 (Reuters)

For the record, I’m not Catholic. But I do know the religion well. I also happen to live in one of the top 10 Catholic cities in America.

I know the religion well for several reasons. My mother’s entire family is Catholic, for one thing. Since she broke away from The Church, however, my sister and I were not raised Catholic. But: I attended Catholic high school. That was out of desperation, though. I was a bit of a troublemaker at my local public school, and my mother needed the nuns to straighten me out.

I’m also married to a Catholic; and I agreed to raise our kids Catholic and send them to Catholic schools. I’ve attended hundreds of masses in my lifetime, and I even got an annulment some years ago for the sake of my husband and kids. So I’m no stranger to Catholicism.

Still, I’m not Catholic. I’m more like a peripheral participant.

Too many people want marriage to be something it isn’t. Something that makes them happy, that demands equality, that never disappoints. Something that exceeds one’s hopes, desires and expectations and satisfies every need a person can have.

I mention this to help explain that I hold no allegiance to Pope Francis. Until recently, I’ve never noticed what any pope says or does. The only time I did was when I got wind of Francis’s favorable comments about feminism. On that subject, the man is clueless.

Which is interesting, since his latest remarks about modern marriage are spot on. Apparently, Francis doesn’t see the parallel between feminism and society’s current attitudes toward men and marriage. He hasn’t put two-and-two together.

Nevertheless, it is a perfectly reasonable observation to say young people treat marriage more casually today than they did in the past. Marriage is “provisional,” said Francis. Because of this, he added, “most sacramental marriages are null.” Young people say yes with good intentions, but “they have a different culture” and thus don’t appreciate the significance of the phrase ‘I do.’

I don’t see how anyone over 40 can disagree with that.

Much of the controversy over the pope’s remarks stems from his use of the term “null.” That term holds a lot of weight to Catholics, and I respect that. But why not consider the pope’s intent, rather than quibble over terminology? We do too much of that these days.

When Francis refers to modern marriage as “provisional” and thus not representative of what marriage is supposed to be (and therefore “null”), he means many young people today—who, thanks to technology and a life of convenience, have their needs met the moment they have them—fail to grasp that marriage is a lifelong commitment that will, at times, be very difficult or even, at times, unsatisfying. Instead it is presumed to be something that should make the individual happy and that if it doesn’t, well, it’s time to move on. We’ve all heard the phrase “life’s too short” or “life’s a journey; you only get one chance.”

That’s the “different culture” to which the pope refers.

Same goes for the secular and materialistic approach to one’s wedding day. Hello? Destination wedding, anyone?

Like many folks, Fox News’ Adam Shaw took offense to the pope’s message. “For Pope Francis to say the great majority of marriages are null implies that the great majority of Catholics are ignorant fools who cannot understand the responsibilities of a bedrock of society that has existed for thousands of years.”

Or it simply implies something’s awry in modern marriage.

Which, ironically, was the focus of Time magazine’s cover story last week. In “How to Stay Married (and why),” author Belinda Luscombe asks that very question: “What does a modern marriage promise that historical unions didn’t?”

Too much, apparently. Too many people want marriage to be something it isn’t. Something that makes them happy, that demands equality, that never disappoints. Something that exceeds one’s hopes, desires and expectations and satisfies every need a person can have.

If that’s not how you view marriage, great. But it doesn’t make the problem, or Pope Francis’s observation, any less true.

Suzanne Venker is known for her provocative views on men, women, work & family. Her latest book is "The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage: HOW LOVE WORKS." Find her on Twitter@SuzanneVenker.