Experience repeatedly shows us that family life is not lived in a vacuum. Social institutions exert covert but strong influence on the course of our lives.
Seemingly harmless practices of faith and beliefs introduce senseless social compulsions, some of which start governing the way we live or conduct ourselves.
As news reports constantly show us, regressive ideas are not the exclusive intellectual property of any particular religious or social group.
A young woman in Southern India, who chose to remain anonymous at the risk of being ostracized by her church, tells The News Minute of her experience at a âmarriage preparatoryâ retreat at a Catholic church.
She makes a passionate case as to why a certain kind of preaching by the church meant for couples needs to be changed, keeping in mind changing social and socio-economic scenarios.
The text below has been reproduced verbatim from this young womanâs version and has been edited for language and brevity with her permission
"When I decided to get married, the first reaction of my parents was that I should attend the Marriage Preparatory Course for Catholics. This course is supposedly mandatory for every Catholic who is about to get married and most Catholics in South India/throughout the country apparently go through this course, though some do it online.
The Catholic Church believes that this particular course is the solution to all family troubles, though anybody who undergoes this training can clearly see that it is a far cry from a proper counselling process.
My Church would not agree to conduct the ceremony without a certificate for this course, and with extreme reluctance, I decided to attend this three-day programme.
The moment we reached the training venue, our phones were snatched away. The organizers warned: âYou should not connect with anyone in these three days and you are not allowed to go outside the compoundâ. I failed to understand why a Marriage Counselling course would demand anyone to be disconnected from the rest of the world.
The program itself was gruelling. Fourteen hours of âclassesâ from dawn to around 9 pm each day, without a break. Our âteachersâ included priests, a medical doctor, and men and women whose only qualifications were described as âmarried for 15 yearsâ, âmarried for 20 yearsâ and so on.
The content of the programme is the most shocking part. During one lengthy session, I was flabbergasted to hear from a priest that the primary aim of marriage is reproduction. At the end of this session, a couple with six children pressed the same point further. The mother of the kids tried to persuade us to have many children.
This woman, who was a highly qualified professional with dual degrees, told the participants, âWhen my husband initially asked me to resign my highly paid job to look after my kids I was hurt. But after my resignation I had three more kids, which makes me the happiest mom in the world. I assure you all that kids make a woman perfect, not a career.â
When the woman was asked if this was the only aim women should have (some of the fellow participants clapped), she said she was happy that she gave up all her dreams of a career and studies, and dedicated her life to bring up seven children.
A womanâs decision to give up her career for her family is a personal choice. But to preach or advocate that as the sole aspiration for a married woman, I thought was simply unacceptable.
Another important topic the programme covered was sex and sexuality. They were completely convinced that sex without the intention to produce children was the most terrible sin, one that God would never forgive.
According to Catholic beliefs that were explained at the programme, every sexual act should be performed with the intention to conceive. Before beginning his session, one of the teachers wrote this on the blackboard: âSperm is meant to enter the female body. You must not block it or let it spill out.â
The church traditionally considers the usage of all contraceptive measures, including condoms, wrong. There were three sessions on the spiritual hazards of contraceptive usage, in which âteachersâ repeatedly tried to persuade those attending to consider children as a gift from God, sex was for reproduction and not pleasure, and that preventing sperm from reaching the uterus was equal to murder.
They encouraged ânaturalâ contraception, which was to have sex around the menstrual cycle. They even gave us a booklet where we could mark our period.
The Catholic Churchâs stand on divorce has drawn criticism in the past but continues to remain harsh even after the Supreme Courtâs recent intervention asking for a relaxation of this stand.
The position closest to divorce is the nullification of a marriage. A Catholic is allowed by church to take a divorce only if one of the partners is mentally ill or impotent, and he or she hides it before the marriage. Without nullification from the church, a person is not allowed to remarry as per Catholic tradition.
Some of the âteachersâ said that young people should just be happy with whoever their parents have chosen for them. âDonât think that you will get a better person, because God did this for you,â we were told.
Another âteacherâ said: âAfter a couple is married, in no situation does the Church accept a divorce request. Whatever happens, even it is life threatening to live with your partner, you should live with him or her. You must not separate just because you want to be comfortable and happy.â
One day was subtly allotted exclusively for women - to tell them how to take care of their husbands and children. A woman can resign or take long leave from her job to look after the children. She should be patient, forgiving, loving, be regular with prayers, etc.
Even though there were men present â a few attended as couples â it was pretty clear that it was meant for the women participants. The verdict was that women and their lives are just meant for conceiving and bringing up children.
Unsurprisingly, those who seemed to agree with the overall tone and tenor of what was discussed were mostly the male participants.
As a devout Catholic, I have grown up hearing these strictures. I have friends who have gone for such courses, while some were similar to mine. Other Churches conduct a toned down version, perhaps more in sync with reality.
I remember reading Friar Peter Daly, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C, on natural family- planning. The priest in an article in response to Pope Francis' call for input for the Synod of Bishops on family issues says, âThe teaching of the magisterium on contraception does not seem to take into account the reality of most people's livesâ.
He writes: âMost couples in our parish, like couples in most parishes in the developed world, are certainly using artificial contraception. âŚ. I stress that it is good for five reasons: It is natural. It works. It is mutual. It is respectful of women. And it is open to life.â
In a poll commissioned by the US Spanish broadcast TV network Univision, 78% of 12,000 respondents worldwide supported the use of artificial birth control and were against the Churchâs stand.
There are priests like Friar Daly and then there are such studies, but have things changed across the world?
Over the years, many have argued that the Church's refusal to change its views on contraception has led to its waning power in Europe and America.
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