The Catholic Church hopes a new workbook will guide couples toward healthy, lasting marriages.
Beginning next year, couples who wish to be married in a church in the Diocese of St. Cloud will be required to use the new pre-marriage inventory and workbook published by the diocese.
“It’s basically a discussion tool. It’s to help the couple look for the areas that they’re strong in and areas that they need to work on,” said Chris Codden, director of the Office of Marriage and Family for the Diocese of St. Cloud.
The inventory includes almost 170 questions addressing topics such as Catholic identity, communication, personal differences, finances, intimacy and vocation, as well as questions for interfaith couples.
A facilitator meets with the bride and the groom after they have filled out the workbook, and talks to them about their answers.
“Our goal is for couples to have a healthy, happy, holy marriage, and statistically those couples that prepare for marriage, even in a religious setting, do better in their marriage,” Codden said.
The pre-marriage inventory and workbook replaces Facilitating Open Couple Communication, Understanding and Study (FOCCUS), which has been used by the diocese for almost 30 years.
“It had been quite a while since FOCCUS had been revised — culture has changed a lot in the past 10 years — so our bishop decided that we should write our own (workbook),” Codden said.
Couples meet with facilitators — who are sponsor couples, priests, deacons or parish life coordinators — at least four times and receive monthly e-newsletters for the first year of their marriage.
“There are certain issues, for example, that will come up in a marriage: How are they going to raise their children and in what faith? Will they worship together or separately, and where does God fit in that process? How do they make a church in their home?” she said.
“Another question is, what if they find out that they are expecting a child with special needs? Will they carry that child to full term?” she asked. “That may sound very hard and speculative, yet so many of our couples have that as an issue that can cause very serious marriage problems.”
Some of the subjects covered in the new workbook, which has been in use in trials since Oct. 1, that were not part of FOCCUS include gambling, pornography, infertility and adoption.
“We have a very high infertility rate in America — about one in four couples that try to have a child after they are married are not successful the first year — so many will resort to other technologies, some of which are against our teachings, like in vitro fertilization,” she said.
Jim and Maureen Otremba wrote “Fully Engaged,” the pre-marriage inventory and workbook, in consultation with the Diocese of St. Cloud, which includes 135 parishes in 16 counties.
“What we wanted to do is to create a teaching tool that incorporates some of the core beliefs of our Catholic faith — the sacrament of marriage, the beauty of intimacy — as well as topics such as Catholic parenting, vocation and career,” Jim Otremba said.
Jim Otremba is a licensed independent and clinical social worker who owns The Center for Family Counseling, which provides faith-based counseling with Christian therapists. He received his master’s degree in divinity from St. John’s University in Collegeville and his master’s degree in psychology from St. Cloud State University.
“There are a whole lot of Catholics who may not understand the beauty of the Catholic teachings, and that is what the workbook is about. It’s to get it down into real usable language so a couple can pick it up and use real skills and techniques,” he said.
The Rev. Tom Knoblach is pastor of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Church of St. Anthony and St. John Cantius Church in the St. Cloud diocese. He was part of the initial committee that looked at FOCCUS and considered what could be revised about it to meet today’s needs.
“What we saw were some new situations that were emerging as society changed that were not well addressed in FOCCUS, such as the influence of the Internet on relationships, dual careers and different work schedules, and the tensions that can create in marriage and family,” he said.
“The vocation of marriage is a new way of life for couples, so they don’t necessarily have a lot of experience,” Knoblach said. “We believe that it’s much better to address those issues before the commitment is made than to hope somehow the marriage will resolve those issues on its own.”
Bobbi Merten of Elk River and her fiance, Mike Pohl of Zimmerman, used the “Fully Engaged” workbook to prepare for their April 24 wedding at Our Lady of the Lake in Big Lake.
“I thought it was really good. It asked you a lot of questions that we had talked about and mentioned before but hadn’t really thought about in depth,” said Merten, a 21-year-old hair stylist.
“He thinks I’m a money spender, and I think he’s a money saver,” she said about her 27-year-old fiance. “But we laughed about everything that we talked about (in the workbook), so I think that’s a good sign.”
“Fully Engaged” is a work in progress, according to Codden, with sections on second marriages and marriages with children planned, as well as a Spanish-language version. She said the book could be revised and marketed outside the diocese after the authors get feedback from sponsor couples, priests and deacons next year.
“Couples see things in a very idealistic way — we call it the ‘rose-colored glasses’ that a couple in love has — but sometimes it’s not very realistic,” Codden said, “and so our job is to help them look at things from a more realistic point of view.”
St. Cloud Times