Eighteen dioceses conducted a total of 22 focus groups with Spanish-speaking couples. More than 110 couples participated (three focus groups did not indicate the number of participants).
(1) Reflecting on the marriage
Positive aspects: The spouses love, respect, and support each other; they share faith; they enjoy being together. Many cited their children and grandchildren, and older couples often said that they like their empty nest. Relationships with the extended family and good communication are other positives.
Challenges: Many are worried about their children, including the influence of secular values and indifference to the faith. Other concerns are health and finances, a lack of time, poor communication, domestic violence, addictions and infidelity.
Some couples are dealing with immigration issues. A few said they cannot get married because they lack documentation. The same problem has prevented another couple from sending their children to college.
Several couples discussed the difficulty of fitting into the U.S. culture, or trying to blend traditions from different countries. One spoke of loneliness and depression because of language barriers.
(2) Church teaching and marriage
Why they did, or did not, marry in the Catholic Church: Those who married in the Church cited the importance of their faith and the desire for a sacramental marriage (“We recognized that we needed God in our marriage if we wanted to succeed”). Tradition and family expectations were also mentioned.
Several couples were cohabiting; they wanted to get to know each other better or they wanted the option to leave. Some couples were not married in the Catholic Church because of annulment issues (“It is hard to get the annulment because I was married in Mexico and the priest there says that he will not cooperate because in Mexico they do not believe in the process.”)
Church teaching as a support: Couples cited the church’s teaching on lifelong commitment, marriage as a vocation, and sacramental grace to live out their vows. Others mentioned the liturgy, the commandments, and the church’s teaching on sexuality. Others were uncertain about the question (“I do not know much about what the Church actually teaches about marriage.”)
Church teaching as an obstacle: Contraception was the most consistently mentioned. Some perceive that Natural Family Planning is complicated; others said that not everyone can practice abstinence. Difficulties with the annulment process were also cited.
(3) Church support for marriage
Do you see your parish as a source of support for your marriage? People had mixed experiences. Marriage preparation was helpful, but support after the wedding is lacking (“After the ‘I do’ you are on your own.”) Some priests are helpful, but others do not have the time or necessary training to help (“Priests are the first authority for people, they must be trained for giving information to couples.”)
Many parishes lack any kind of family ministry. There are not enough resources and personnel to meet the needs of Hispanics. More lay people need to be educated and trained for marriage ministry (“The parish is more than its priest; we ought to look for help also in the parish community.”) Some observed that programs and services are available but many people are not interested.
Diocesan and parish activities/programs for marriage enrichment: Retreats were frequently mentioned. Others noted NFP instruction, prayer groups, and movements such as Cursillo, Marriage Encounter and Retrouvaille.
What more could the diocese of parish do to support married couples?
Many suggestions focused on the need for enrichment: workshops and conferences, resource lists, support groups, mentoring, affordable couples retreats, and Bible study. Formation for lay leaders and better training for priests is needed. Participants also wanted more Spanish-speaking priests and more information in Spanish.