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Why I never want to marry in a Catholic church

Sneha Vakharia | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 7:14 IST

The powerpoint presentation on the projector screen reads, 'Men get angry very quickly.'

The priest looks around the room to see if he has any takers. "Do you agree?", he asks.

A few women around me nod fervently. A couple of men grimace.

"Of course this is not applicable to each and every couple", he continues.

But as an addendum, he adds, with a bit of good humour.

"But if your future husband does not get angry, do not doubt his gender".

A hearty laugh ensues.

I am at the Navinta Retreat House in Okhla, Delhi, a haven of the Catholic Archdiocese of Delhi.

And over the tightly scheduled next 48 hours of this residential retreat, Catholic priests will counsel my future husband and me on how to achieve marital happiness.

What I found, however, was this: deeply problematic institutionalised misogyny, posing under the innocuous banner of 'counselling'.

To be fair, I should have been better prepared.

The two-day long counselling - mandatory for anyone who wishes to marry in a Catholic church - began with a passage from the now-outdated Genesis.

The gist of the passage is as follows:

The LORD God said, "It is not good for a man to be alone". So the Lord God went about in search for a companion for the man he created. He tried first the livestock, then the birds in the sky and eventually, wild animals.

When none of the other animals could provide adequate companionship for the man, he decided to create a new animal altogether. He made woman.

Of course it's a sordid story with no real-day relevance. Of course, as an editor pointed out to me, it's about as relevant as the Hindu marriage dictum wherein a woman vows to 'never go to a jungle without a man'.

It's the kind of story that's simply too ludicrous to be offensive. A story so outdated, there's no compelling need to outrage over it.

Except, if you ever wish to marry in any Catholic church in Delhi, you'll find yourself being informed that you need to begin taking it seriously.

A little bit about how I got here

I'm half-Jain, half-Hindu. My fiance is Catholic, and would like for us to be married both in church as well as around the fire. A fair trade-off, we had first imagined. So we got started planning. We found a Hindu priest, bribed him to perform the wedding in half the time, and moved on to the Catholic side of affairs.

The Catholic Church demands that in order to marry in a church we commit to performing certain tasks. First, I must sign an affidavit affirming that I will raise my future children Catholic, and have the document duly notarised.

(One priest insisted that I then read the affidavit aloud as an oath, with my hand resting on the Bible.)

And because it's easy to sign off children that will not exist for the next few years, I agreed to it.

The mandatory Catholic Marital Counselling comes with Venn diagrams, PPT presentations and a to-do list

Second, we were both required to sign up for and complete Catholic-approved marital counselling. At the end of the counselling, we would both receive a certificate. This certificate would then allow any Catholic priest to perform the wedding at a designated Catholic church that was available on the date of our choosing.

With the dangling carrot of church bells, white dress and bridesmaids ahead, I thought it would be easy enough to get over with.

It wasn't. And the only way to convey how difficult it was is to relay, verbatim, the content of Church-approved powerpoint slides.

The Yin and Yang

The priest begins by drawing a largely unscientific venn diagram. We've recreated it here:


He follows with the disclaimer: "We will not touch upon trans-sexuals, agreed?" The audience murmurs agreement. And so we begin with a series of slides demonstrating the many characteristics of a man.

1) Men get angry easily.

2) They are direct, straightforward, factual.

3) Men's ego (sic) is fragile. They can never tolerate humiliation, especially in public by their wives.

4) Men hide their emotions and feelings. They engage in distracting activities like watching TV, reading, etc.

Because of course, I think, men never wrote angst-ridden prose to arouse pain. Or heartbroken music to wound the soul.

5) Men value competency, efficiency and achievement: things that prove their worth.

6) Men are impatient with women's slow movements.

(At this point, he asks the ladies "Are women slow?" One grudgingly responds, "sometimes".

"Of course." He continues, now turning to the men. "They have to wear their high heels and makeup, don't they? Men, you tell me, when the movie begins at 9 pm, don't you tell your girlfriend it begins at 6:30? An outbreak of knowing giggling follows.)

7) Men are logical; they proceed step-by-step.

8) Love from some female motivates them.

9) Men confuse sex with love. (Aforementioned giggling reaches fever pitch).

10) Men like to look at women.

11) They are attracted to certain qualities of women.

12) They are visual. They like to see what they want to see.

(He interjects this with, "Women are not interested in seeing". Because, obviously, Hritik Roshan is famous entirely for his dancing.)

13) As regards sex, they are ever (sic) ready at any time, at any place, and up to a point with anybody.

14) Men want to dominate; they want to be leaders.

15) Men give little credit to women for their brains.

16) Men are jealous of friendships women keep after marriage.

17) Men tend to forget many small things that their wives hold important.

(Another interjection, with a pointed bit of advice for the ladies. "Men will not remember birthdays. Profession is more important. It is your duty to remember important dates."

18) For men the profession is more important than the family.

("How many children they have, that much they will know. But what standard each is in, that they will not know."

Cue giggling.)

19) Men will find fulfilment in success.

20) Men resent any advice - it is a challenge to their ability.

21) Men tend to spend less time at home; they like to spend time with friends and peers.

22) They are physically strong.

This is the comprehensive list of male characteristics that the Head Priest of the Archdiocese of Delhi was able to compile. Now we move on to female characteristics:

1) Women value love, communication, beauty and relations.

2) They can't make decisions easily.

3) They change their clothes to suit their moods.

4) They are not logical, they are intuitive.

5) They use tears to control men.

6) They sometimes use sex as a weapon.

To this, perhaps for the first time, I heard the men giggle.

To anyone who said giggling is for girls, this very giggling is anecdotal evidence that very few gender stereotypes are true.

7) Women are good counsellors.

8)They are inconsistent and illogical.

The former two are not logically coherent. But we must not squabble over the finer details.

9) Their feelings are easily hurt.

10) Women are self-sacrificing and giving.

11) They are auditory.

12) They expect verbal communication from their husbands complimenting their femininity, beauty and caring.

13) Women are detail minded and thoughtful.

14) They find fulfilment in family-relations.

15) They are subject to fluctuating moods.

(He adds the welcome caveat, "It's due to hormones. They have no control over it".)

And the last:

16) Sex is gradual.

But of course. So what does a couple do with the Church's prognosis of the qualities of men and women?

Look no further. A bite-sized summation of institutionalised misogyny is one slide away.

Seven Ways to Be a Good Wife

  1. Encourage your husband, praise and enrich him.
  2. Take pride in your role as a wife, companion, mother and homemaker.
  3. Be affectionate, loving and responsive in your marital relations.
  4. Cook the food your husband likes. Make special plans with couples whose company he enjoys.
  5. Be content with the standard of living your husband's salary can afford. Don't complain and compare with others.
  6. Help stretch the family income by wise shopping and budgeting major expenses.
  7. Install your husband as head of the home, yourself as the heart. Avoid undermining his authority.

This is naturally followed with the converse:

Seven Ways to Be a Good Husband

  1. Appreciate, enrich and praise your wife.
  2. Be gentle, sensitive and caring.
  3. Give your wife space to grow.
  4. Don't compare her abilities with those of other women in your circle.

(Here the priest illustrates with the following example: when you visit someone's home, find the food to be delectable, and come home to admonish your wife for her terrible cooking. The corollary for women was illustrated with, make peace with his salary.)

5. Be a loving husband and don't always try to 'understand' your wife.

(Here, he offers the old adage: women, being emotional, illogical, and troubled by hormonal imbalances, can never be understood. They can only be loved.)

6. Be expressive in your affections for her - use words and actions.

7. The man must give the family an identity.

Problematic and dangerous

It's one thing that the Church seems to be exonerating wife-beaters (Men get angry quickly). And eve-teasers (Men like to look at women). We are each free to find the priests and thinkers that reaffirm our views.

The real danger lies in the fact that this 'counselling' is mandatory.

If a Catholic couple wishes to marry, they have no choice but to complete forty-eight gruelling hours at a marital counselling retreat, take a test at the end of it, and pass. This ruling was passed unanimously in 2010 by all denominations of Christianity. With the declared objective of curbing divorce rates.

The idyllic option does not exist - one of a Catholic priest solemnising a marriage on a Goan beach to the seductive sound of waves and acoustic guitar. Every Catholic wedding must take place within the walls of a church, (unless, as is stated in the Christian Marriage Act, there is no church within 5 miles of the couple's residence).

This means that every Catholic couple you know sat through one of these.

Worse still is that the same priests have been counselling couples for over two decades. Because members of the Catholic community haven't found it in themselves to outrage sufficiently over it.

Sure, religions and cultural traditions are often outdated and irrelevant.

If a Catholic couple wishes to marry, they have to complete 48 gruelling hours at a marital counselling retreat

But this Head Priest of the Archdiocese of the National Capital could upgrade to powerpoint presentations. To the concept of couples' counselling (an import from the US, originally called pre-can).

But he couldn't find it in himself to embrace the notion of an economically productive, successful woman.

It isn't over yet

The presentation ends. I inform the priest that we wish to leave. He asks for the phone number of my parent.

Delhi is an unsafe city, he says. No girl can leave the premises without the explicit permission of her parent. I scribble a number and leave. We will receive no certificate. Ostensibly, there will be no church wedding either.

Fitting perhaps. Because the dystopian world-view of the church deserves no place in my marriage after all.

(Disclaimer: I have skipped at least three bulleted points, owing to a pressing need to visit the restroom.)

First published: 30 October 2015, 4:19 IST
Sneha Vakharia @sneha_vakharia

A Beyonce-loving feminist who writes about literature and lifestyle at Catch, Sneha is a fan of limericks, sonnets, pantoums and anything that rhymes. She loves economics and music, and has found a happy profession in neither. When not being consumed by the great novels of drama and tragedy, she pays the world back with poems of nostalgia, journals of heartbreak and critiques of the comfortable.