The Roman Catholic church in Spain has unveiled a premarital guidance course lasting two to three years designed to prepare couples for the long haul and bring down the country’s high divorce rate.
At the moment, those wishing to make their vows in church need to attend about 20 hours of lessons to get them ready for the sacrament of marriage.
But according to the Spanish Episcopal Conference, that is nowhere near enough. On Thursday, the conference announced a much longer, voluntary programme called “On the Path Together”.
Divided into 12 areas – such as “communication”, “fidelity”, “the beauty of sexuality”, and “conflict resolution” – the course is intended to “accompany, prepare and help young couples towards the matrimonial vocation”.
The course’s guidance counsels against pornography, which “commercialises and falsifies the beauty of the conjugal gift” and can become addictive.
Media reports suggested the original guidance – later removed from the conference’s website – also stated that men think about sex two-and-a-half times more than women, and that wives need to be well rested in order to have sex.
One of the deleted paragraphs reportedly said: “On the days when he wants to have sex, the man should make a bigger effort and take on certain tasks (like taking the children out to the park or off for a walk for a couple of hours so that the woman can have a siesta). The woman should free herself up from certain work tasks and rest so that both can be ready for the sexual encounter when the time comes.”
A spokeswoman for the conference said it had learned of the passages in question after being alerted by the media but had not been able to find them.
“We checked our material and we couldn’t find it,” she said. “It’s not there. As we said in the press conference, these are constantly changing texts that need to be constantly updated as new issues are added.”
Monsignor Mario Iceta, the bishop of Bilbao and the president of the conference’s subcommittee for the family and the defence of life, said his own experience of marrying couples had demonstrated the need for more groundwork.
“You can’t prepare for marriage in 20 hours,” he said at a press conference in Madrid this week. “To be a priest, you need to spend seven years in the seminary, so what about being a husband, wife, mother or father? Just 20 hours?”
Iceta said that when he was a parish priest, he used to tell couples that the course was about more than obtaining permission to get married in church.
“I used to say, ‘That’s not true. You’re here because, according to the statistics, 40% of marriages break down within five years and 60% within 15 years – and that’s what we’re here to prevent.’”
In 2017, there were 57.2 divorces for every 100 marriages in Spain, down from 63 in 2007. The proportion was higher in Portugal, where there were 64.2 divorces for every 100 marriages in 2017, up from 54.8 a decade earlier.
In the UK, the number of divorces for every 100 marriages fell from 52.5 in 2007 to 41.8 in 2016.
Many in Spain attribute the high divorce rate to the “express divorce” lawintroduced 15 years ago by the Socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.
The legislation sped up the divorce process by doing away with the need for couples to be physically separated for a period before legal proceedings could begin. Prior to its introduction, many couples simply chose to live apart.
Figures from the National Institute of Statistics showed that 126,952 divorces were registered in 2006 – a 74.3% increase on the previous year.
At the time, the episcopal conference lamented the move, saying it now “costs less to get a divorce than to change your phone number”.
Although a divorce law was introduced during the Second Republic in the 1930s, it was abolished under Franco’s dictatorship and a new divorce law was not passed until 1981.