Marrying because the woman is pregnant - the Church's view


#1

Fifty or sixty years ago, if a man got an unmarried woman pregnant, society would have expected him to marry her, as that would have been considered the only honorable thing for a decent man to do. But nowadays, from everything I have read, it seems that the Church discourages couples marrying in these circumstances because it is often grounds for an annulment later on. Has the Church changed the way it approaches these circumstances? If so, is it because divorce (and thereby petitions for annullments) has become common?

Just something I was thinking about and curious to hear what the answer might be, especially if anyone is familiar with how this issue was approached in “the old days” vs. now.


#2

I don’t have sources, only recent experience to go on in my own parish. Our pastor does discourage couples who become pregnant out of wedlock from marrying because of the pregnancy most of the time.

We have had situations where a couple in love has become pregnant after an engagement (usually without any concrete marriage plans), and they will plan to marry shortly after a baby is born with the support of the pastor and the parish, but that is a case where the free will aspect of sacramental marriage is not in question. It’s obviously not condoned that couples do it this way, but it is a solution to a specific kind of event, and we all pray for and look forward to a happy life for that couple and their child (and any future children).

In the case of a dating couple who has not discerned marriage, our pastor recommends not marrying, because too often the Church sees these marriages annulled later on. We have seen babies born out of wedlock be adopted by loving couples who cannot conceive, we’ve seen two dating people who get pregnant work to strengthen their bond as parents go on to get married out of free will and have a good, strong marriage after their first child is born, and we’ve seen relationships between dating couples who get pregnant end, though with a shared sense of responsibility and a commitment to doing the best they can for the child they conceived together.

We’ve only rarely seen disastrous results, typically because two people who are seeking counsel from a priest and actively involved in parish life do have the values necessary to achieve a positive outcome for their child. Usually when the results are bad, one or both of the people involved decides they don’t want to seek the counsel of our pastor, deacons, or other leaders in the parish.

EDIT - My point (which I didn’t get to, sorry!) is that our pastor has stated explicitly that what he wants is what’s best for the child, and he works to get surprised, unmarried parents-to-be prepared for the responsibility of having and raising that child in a loving, Christian home, whether that be their own or someone else’s. Typically he spends a good part of the pregnancy trying to advise against abandonment or abortion, and he tries to get the couple past feelings of betrayal (that she “tricked” him into fatherhood; that he wanted nothing to do with her once she got pregnant). He has said that, oftentimes, couples who are committed to counseling with him and other church leaders turn out to be great parents and oftentimes even wind up finding love through their shared bond of parenthood.

So I don’t think the Church discourages marriage due to pregnancy through any kind of concession to modern morality (or lack thereof), but rather in an attempt to create the kind of loving situation in which children and marriages flourish.

It’s a touchy subject, though. But I like the way our pastor and parish have handled it.


#3

This is really not true. Women had children out of wedlock back in the “good, old days,” there just wasn’t a 24 hour news media that plastered it all over tv, newspapers and magazines. If I remember correctly, I once saw an episode of Leave It To Beaver where someone (Larry, I think) said something about a girl who went away to boarding school and came back with a baby!

An interesting tidbit, Charles Manson’s father was a drifter and his mother was a alcoholic/drug addict/prostitute. He was born in 1934. The “good, old days” aren’t as good as people like to make them.


#4

I think you are combining two different thoughts and observations here. Yes, back a few decades, if a man got an unmarried women pregnant, they usually did get married. My late aunt had this situation and it was the late 1940’s. Of course back then, there wasn’t no fault divorce and single women parenting was the exception not the norm, and it was considered shameful to have an unwed pregnancy. My mom related that when her sister got pregnant by my uncle, my grandmother was so upset and shamed that they got married not in the church (this wasn’t a Catholic family) but in the garden of the home. Their marriage did last 50+years. Fast forward to today and we have no fault divorce, a celebration of single parenthood in the media and pregnancy out of marriage is accepted as no big deal. Your next thought is why the Catholic Church tends to frown on people getting married because of a pregnancy. Again, the Catholic Church sees and I think wisely considering this day and age as a marriage not under free choice and will but because the couple involved “has to”. With divorce being so easy, the lack of support to stay in a marriage and the fact that it is not a true free will choice between two people without other circumstances that the Catholic Church tends to hold off. Each situation is different and should be differently judged. It’s not that the Church wants couples not to be married if they are already having children but the Church trying to have sound sacramental marriages from the start.


#5

Right, I know that women had children out of wedlock then, as now. But society’s way of dealing with it was (usually) different. Normally, the woman would either the give child up for adoption or marry the father. I am just curious whether it is only in relatively recent years that the Church began to view marrying because of pregnancy as an issue that could later be grounds for a decree of nullity.


#6

In our diocese you can’t get married if the priest knows you are pregnant, and then not until 6 months after.


#7

I have absolutely nothing to back this up, but I would suspect that the couple would have hid this from the priest out of embarrassment, if they could have. Or perhaps priests simply did not inquire. Was there the “six months in advance” requirement that there is today to marry in the Church? If there wasn’t, and the couple was known to have a relationship (even if not officially engaged), it might not seem strange that they wanted to get married quickly.


#8

Interesting. Since our diocese requires marriage prep to start 12 months in advance it is taken on a case by case basis. It comes down to if a couple’s decision to get married is driven by the pregnancy. A pregnancy is one of many factors that are taken into consideration. So for instance if the bride gets pregnant 8 months after marriage prep starts they likely would be allowed to get married since the pregancy is antecedent to the marriage proposal. Now they would prefer not to have brides that are 9 months pregnant or nursing a new born. Generally in those cases they would be discouraged from having a nuptial mass.

As I understand it pregnancy in of itself doesn’t affect consent. In other words if a couple were planning to marry regardless then it wouldn’t have bearing on the validity of ghe marriage. It is only when the pregancy influenced the decision to marry that the possibility of defect of consent rears it’s head.


#9

Thank you for this answer; it does answer some of what I wanted to know.
Basically what I was trying to ask was whether, in the earlier part of the 20th century, the Church frowned upon people getting married because of pregnancy. Was the Church more likely then than it is now to allow marriages in these types of circumstances? It seems that you are saying that the Church was more likely to allow it back then because of the lower divorce rate and family/community support; is that correct?


#10

To the OP, if a couple were to marry primarily because of a pregnancy then that could be grounds for an annulment. It is not because of the pregancy, but rather if it was a form of societal coercion. In other words if a boy was about to breakup with a girl and then decided to do the right thing when he found out she was pregnant then that could be an invalid marriage. On the other hand if they had planned on marrying and just hadn’t gotten around to setting a date the marriage could be perfectly valid.

It all comes down to how the pregnancy impacts the decision to marry.


#11

Good point. I don’t believe there was a “six months in advance” requirement as there is today. I have a couple of old Catholic bulletins and parish newsletters from the 1940s; and in the informational section, it asks couples wishing to marry to advise the church at least 3 weeks in advance of the wedding date. :slight_smile: I wonder what kind of marriage prep parishes did, if any, and whether they did the extensive interview with engaged couples that is required now.


#12

More important than marraige at that point is financial support


#13

I wonder now, too. I’d guess that there wasn’t nearly the same marriage prep back then that there is today. For one thing, I think most Catholics had a better understanding of the sacraments in days gone by. For another thing, obviously divorce was much more rare no matter why the couple married. In addition, families and communities provided better support for the young and newly married. And, frankly, people tended to be more mature when it came to things like working and setting up a household. Seems like there wouldn’t have been the need for extensive marriage prep and divorce was so rare that the local pastor wouldn’t have had to worry about that before performing the ceremony.


#14

I would tend to think so. It would be interesting to hear from a priest that has experience from “back then” but now they would be pretty elderly.


#15

We forget the big impact of no fault divorce has. When one does not need to have a reason for divorce except “I don’t want to be married anymore” then we see to flood gates of divorce occurring. I know different State have tried to put the genie back in the bottle but it has been an uphill battle and not too successful. I remember when growing up in the 70’s when no fault became the law. Growing up, I knew very very few kids from divorced homes. When the laws changed, divorces increased. Now it is very common to have divorced families in your child’s classroom.


#16

I believe the 3 week requirement is because the banns had to be read.for three weeks in church prior to a marriage. In less mobile societies, this would have been a pretty good way of discovering that someone was not free to marry. Nowadays, it wouldn’t work so well. I think marriage prep was limited to the pastor speaking with the couple and determining if he was willing to marry them.


#17

That likely made a large contribution. Til death do us part was pretty much assumed 50+ years ago, but now??? I think back then getting married while pregnant was assumed to be for life, where as today it is more likely to be along the lines of “let’s give it a go; we can always divorce if it doesn’t work out.”

I think of my grandparents generation (born 1910s to 1930s) and I know of only 1 divorce out of the 11 great aunts and uncles. Conversely I know of only 3 first marriages that ended with death of my 30+ aunts, uncles and my parent’s first cousins. I remember asking my grandfather about why their marriages lasted for life and the next generation all had 1 or more divorces. His response? “We made promises to God for life, not sure what those kids did.” In other words divorce wasn’t an option so they figured out how to work things out.


#18

When St Augustine got a woman pregnant they did not get married.


#19

True, although that was a different culture, and a different period in history. I was thinking more about how it was handled in the Western world in the relatively recent past, i.e. 1800s to 1960s. (Sorry, should have clarified that before.)


#20

He wasn’t following God at the time. That is not an example for the main idea here. Likewise, he lived in a totally paganized culture. What OP is talking about is that our culture use to have rare divorces and when people married, they stayed together even if the woman was pregnant. Since no fault divorce, artificial contraception, and a over laxing of social norms concerning sexual morality we see an explosion of divorce and people having children out of marriage.


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