Plenary voices: Fr Julian Wellspring

Here is the intervention at the Plenary given by Fr Julian Wellspring, a canon lawyer, on the issue of marriage, divorce and the Church

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A couple works on a communication exercise at a marriage preparation class. The Church needs its leadership in every diocese to make a marriage catechumenate a reality, Fr Julian Wellspring has said at the Plenary .Photo: CNS, Karen Callaway, Katolik

The Church and her faith moves into the future by way of the family, the family being integral to God’s plan of redemption. For it is within the family that the first evangelisation takes place of children as parents share their faith with their children. It is within the family that remote formation takes place for the vocations of marriage, ordained ministry and religious life. Ultimately family life also helps members become Christian missionaries to society.

No one could deny that marriage and family life are in great difficulty in Australia and the Church today. Forty-six years after the introduction of no fault divorce to Australian society the impact of divorce is felt everywhere in our society. We have come to accept that around 30 per cent or three in ten first marriages will fail (Damiengreer.com.au). Rates dramatically escalate for second and third marriages. In 2019 there were 49,116 divorces granted. Catholics divorce at about the same rate as other people in Australia.

Other signs of stress include the many couples for whom children are an ‘optional extra’ or the many couples who live together without entering any form of marriage – civil or religious – having lost confidence in marriage itself.

What we are now contending with is two generations of Australian Catholics many of whom have lacked a functioning model of Christian marriage or mentors available to assist them live such a union.

The reality is entering a sacramental marriage that is permanent, faithful and open to the possibility of children is to join a minority group in Australia today. It is these people who have a serious claim on the resources of the Church for the good of society but also the spread of the faith.

The establishment of the married catechumenate called for by recent Popes is one prophetic way this plenary council could support marriage. Using especially mature couples in parishes and communities a process of ongoing formation and accompaniment could be offered to every couple preparing for marriage in the Church but then through the marriage life cycle. Good models and mentors have the potential to help others discover the real treasures of Christian marriage but also to provide a unique support so often lacking when the storms of life roll in.

We need our leadership in every diocese to make the married catechumenate a reality for rebuilding Catholic family life and family as the cornerstone of society itself.