By Maureen Vincent
WHEN something goes wrong with a marriage it is always a tragedy. When something goes wrong with a Catholic marriage the tragedy assumes catastrophic proportions for those involved.
Outside the Church there is always the possibility, however illusory, of "a second chance"; for Catholics "till death us do part" can, unhappily, take on all the implications of a life sentence.
One of the saddest features of any marriage breakdown is that, so often, had sympathetic and informed advice been available when the problem first arose, serious unhappiness might have been averted. People are naturally reticent about discussing matrimonial difficulties with other members of their families or close friends, even sometimes with their own doctors.
It is to meet this situation that marriage counsellors exist and it was to provide a counselling service specifically for Catholics that Cardinal Griffin founded the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council in 1946. Since then over 80,000 families have been helped by the C.M.A.C., surely sufficient proof of the necessity for its existence.
Counsellors are selected and trained with the utmost care. They must be married themselves and are usually aged between 30 and 45. A counsellor must be broad-minded and sympathetic but objective.
Counselling is, of course, on a strictly confidential basis; the true aim of the counsellor is to help the person in trouble to help himself, by understanding the situation, seeing the possible remedies and acting accordingly.
Over the years other needs than counselling have been found and met by the C.M.A.C. In addition to its efforts to cure matrimonial ills, the Council has now launched an educational programme to try to prevent such ills from arising.
Probably the best known and most important educational work done by the Council at the present time is through its courses for engaged couples. Each consists of eight week-night sessions covering the different aspects of marriage—spiritual, moral, economic, personal relationships, child care. Priests, doctors and married lay counsellors give talks and lead the discussions; there is always a day's retreat.
Having been lucky enough to have attended this type of course with my husband shortly before our marriage, I would say that the amount of good done by such pre-marital education simply cannot be over-emphasised.
The atmosphere of the meetings is informal and friendly; couples almost unconsciously acquire the useful and sometimes difficult habit of talking things over together, which is half the battle for happiness won. In matrimony, as in so many other spheres of human activity, lack of communication often lies at the root of a problem.
The Council's other educational activities include school leavers' courses, teachers' conferences on sex education, lectures to student teachers and undergraduates and talks to health visitors, medical soci eties, Catholic nurses and seminarians.
Three excellent books on sex education for boys are published by the C.M.A.C., one for parents, one for younger and one for older boys. Parents can only hope that they will be followed up by a similar series for girls.
Another aspect of the C.M.A.C.'s work which has been developed in response to a real need is its medical service. Marital problems not infrequently have a medical basis. Equally, the strain caused by unhappiness can reveal itself in physical or mental ill health.
Where medico-moral problems are involved, nonCatholic doctors, even with the best will in the world, are often unable to help their Catholic patients.
In such cases it is obviously desirable for the patients to be able to consult doctors of their own faith. This point has been negotiated with the British Medical Association and an agreement has been reached with the Association.
Catholics can now be advised by Catholic doctors who are not their own general practioners, under the auspices of the C.M.A.C., without any risk of a breach of medical etiquette.
There arc now over 1,000 lawyers, counsellors, doctors and priests devoting some of their leisure time to C.M.A.C. working in centres all over the country. Their generosity is a refreshing example of real charity in action. II CANNOT remember who it was who said: "You can say what you want about me provided that you spell my name correctly," but I am entirely on his side on the matter. Apart from my bank manager, the Inland Revenue authorities. and the horrible little man who sends out the final demands for payment of rates most people refuse to believe that I can really spell my surname the way I do. or even possess the surname that I do.
During the past month I have received letters addressed to me as Desmond Allbrow, Desmond Alborough, Desmond Albion, Desmond Alport, Desmond Albu and Desmond Albright (I adore that one as it puts my character in a nutshell). None of these corruptions causes me any distress, although I must admit to getting vaguely restive by one of my more acid critics. He , will persist in calling me Mr. 'Alcock.
There is much to be said for having a straight-forward, no-nonsense, English-sounding name, yet even this can have its perils. A reporter friend of mine is called John Smith. He used to get so incensed by the knowing looks of hotel receptionists when he signed the register while staying the night with his wife that he often felt like using a fictitious name — like Desmond Alport or Albion or Alborough.•