By Alex Cosgrave THE Church should have the power to defer marriages between young couples considered by their parish priest and families too young to enter into the sacrament responsibly.
In a report published this week the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland has recommended that the Bishops' Conference should seriously consider introducing legislation to prohibit or defer marriages in certain "problem cases".
Such cases include those of couples under the age of 18, where the couple are considered immature, cases where the girl is already pregnant or where the couple have lapsed from the Faith.
Similar legislation already exists in parts of Ireland and is common practice in many other countries.
The report "Preparing for Marriage" was compiled because of concern for the increasing number of marital breakdowns, particularly of couples marrying under 24.
Based on an analysis of national figures for breakdown of marriages between 1969 and 1971, the report says that if current trends continue there will be a doubling of the divorce figure every six years. The first three years of marriage are those of highest risk, and "surprisingly" says the report "the average duration of marriages involving Catholics is shorter than those pictured in the national statistics."
The report attributes the increase in breakdowns to the move away from the extended family towards the small family U nit.
"This unit has to bear a burden of child-rearing which used to he shared by relatives and neighbours," says the report.
Other reasons include a change in attitudes and the sanctions which accompanied them. The report says that new attitudes to sexuality and to the permanence of marriage themselves constitute a distinct pressure on those preparing for marriage.
the report is addressed to priests for discussion and to offer them assistance in running pre-marriage instruction courses.
"For something over 90 per cent of couples the only immediate instruction they will receive is that which will come from the individual priest in the parish," says the report.
Five outlines of pre-marriage talks are attached to the report which also suggests that there should be more help for the newly married.
This could take the form of a special programme of frequent parish visitation of newlymarried couples to encourage and promote the integration of newly-weds into local cornmunities.