05 March 2015, The Tablet

Finally, the Church has noticed single Catholics

by Gary Spence

Being single in the Catholic Church is not fun. I have to agree with the French bishop reported in The Tablet this week, Hervé Giraud of Soissons, who said single Catholics felt “forgotten, even devalued, by the Church.” The idea singles want to stay silent is an anathema to me. As Bishop Luc Ravel, founder of a network for single Catholics says in the same story: “The singles question must not be left to shrinks and Internet sites.”

The French bishops’ Family and Society Council are preparing a theological analysis of the situation of single Catholics, a group it said has been overlooked by the Synod of Bishops on the Family. This is long overdue.

It is as if the Church only considers young people from baptism as a little child until the end of secondary school. From my very subjective experience, the message seems to be: if you are married, then we are interested in you; as you are single, we do not care about you.

This is only the case because singles feel that there’s no forum where they can speak and be listened to. A standard parish church caters for very young children well and runs coffee mornings that are attended largely by OAPs. I wouldn’t turn up to these because my life right now does not quite mesh with them. The priests' intentions are good. But sadly the large gap between 18 and 35 is not catered for in ways single people need.

Pope blesses married couples It is a sorry state of affairs that singleness is only officially addressed in the Catechism in paragraph 1,658. The part which is applies to me is that people who are single – “often not of their choosing” – “are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.” The French bishops’ Family and Society Council is right to expand this section of care to singles in the Church in their forthcoming theological analysis of our situation – which is grim.

Provision for young singles is patchy and cathedrals are more likely to run an 18-30+ group than a parish. It would do the Catholic Church in England and Wales no harm to run more groups like the Leeds Cathedral 20-35 Group which I attended while I was studying at Leeds Trinity University. It meets for spiritual fellowship and friendship and offers opportunities to get involved in charitable and social activities. I would like to thank Mgr Philip Moger, the cathedral dean, and everybody else who makes such a group work. Another good example takes place at the Jesuit church in Farm Street in London, where First Sunday Plus follows a similar model.

These need to be promoted by local bishops and tried in parishes and cathedrals throughout the country. Groups such as these are the only way the Catholic Church can fill the massive void in how singleness is dealt with.

Gary Spence is an unemployed theology graduate in the diocese of Hexham and Newcastle

Above: Pope Francis greets newly married couples at the Vatican. Photo: CNS

What do you think?


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User comments (23)

Comment by: Eddie
Posted: 19/12/2015 21:02:57
I"m 59, never been married and still single at 59...Lately I've begun to realize that our holy mother church just doesn't care about us...they do care about marrieds but are clueless as to how and even IF Catholics marry.

I give up ...

Perhaps , if I ever do marry, it won't be a Catholic girl....
Comment by: EllaRose
Posted: 17/05/2015 11:27:50

Thank you for this article.

Recently my church has referred to Pope Francis' document 'Evangeli Gaudium' when reflecting on the life of the parish community.

One of the key areas of concern was that people are moving away from the Catholic Church in favour of the Pentecostal Church. One of the solutions was 'perhaps we could be more welcoming as a Church'.This issue I address is relevant because we are discussing inclusion.

I have in the past attended a Pentecostal Church, although I am Catholic. An aspect of the Pentecostal Church I found interesting is that they encourage people to get married and also to look within the Church. You wonder why their church is thriving with young adults and many young married couples and their kids to replenish their congregations.

There are several singles conferences for Christians in the Pentecostal Church and other activities for this group of people. In the UK Catholic Church why don't we have similar conferences and/or events?

We are increasingly being pushed to go online to meet our 'perfect match' which is off putting for several of us. It will just result in some of us marrying outside the Catholic Church, seeking common ground with other Christians and ultimately attending the same church as our non - Catholic husbands.

When will the Catholic Church wake up and do something about this? It's a serious issue and something that should be addressed.

Our American counterparts are trying with an upcoming National conference!

Comment by: SophieEvans
Posted: 27/03/2015 01:46:42

Thank you so much for this full of truth article. It a sad state of affairs for faithful single Catholics. There's nothing for us. Unless you choose to be a single, celibate for life then being single is not your vocation. Yet no one cares to speak to us and of us and lift us up. It's very disheartening and no wonder so many don't go to church.

Comment by: A
Posted: 20/03/2015 18:06:59

The Church may indeed say that "the single life is a legitimate choice" on those very rare occasions it bothers to look our way but its actions speak far more. Why, for example, was absolutely no mention give to single people in last year's Synod? Why are their countless pastoral letters written for married people and NONE for single people? Why do we hear many homilies about marriage but none about being single? The examples go one.

I am thrilled that the French bishops have recognized this and are urging that the next meeting of the Synod include single people. Sadly, in another example of how marginalized single people are two weeks after this article appeared it remains the ONLY information about this call I have been able to find online.

Comment by: Jon Stettin
Posted: 16/03/2015 22:38:44

To broaden this discussion somewhat, while agree that single Catholics are marginalized, married couples with no children fair even worse. Here, their peers are busy with their children and many groups exist within the church to support these young families. Couples without children are often viewed as unnatural or outsiders at best and with gross suspicion, particularly married men with no children, at worst. Moving into a new area, we deliberately joined a parish with no school attached so that we could stand a chance of establishing ourselves in the community life of the parish. Since this demographic has more time than others, it should be obvious that they should be encouraged to participate. Sadly, this is rarely the case.

Comment by: Ronk
Posted: 14/03/2015 06:26:23

I think the author needs a reality check. If you think single people are "forgotten, even devalued in the Church", take a look at how they are treated in secular society and in other religions! The Catholic Church is the only institution I have ever heard say that the single life is a legitimate life choice in itself, just as much so as married life. In secular society, or protestant churches, singles are treated as social lepers or at best the objects of pity for whom marriage should be arranged as soon as possible at all costs.

Yes the Church quite rightly talks a lot about families. Every single person belongs to a family, unless he is an orphan brought up in an institution, and has no brothers and sisters and all of whose grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins etc have also died.

The parishes I have known have clubs, groups etc for young singles, middleaged singles and elderly singles. If your parish doesn't have something to suit you, organise other singles into doing it, instead of whinging that "the Church" hasn't provided it for you ready made.

Comment by: A
Posted: 13/03/2015 18:16:48

Young adult ministry and single's ministry are NOT the same thing. Not all single people are young adults, and not all young adults are single.

Comment by: Happy Catholic
Posted: 13/03/2015 02:00:38

I am a single person and have never felt left out. I took part in many different church ministries over the years. For the 18-35 age group most parishes have a young adults group. Is this article speaking about the world at large? I live in the USA

Comment by: Helen
Posted: 12/03/2015 02:56:42

I resonate somewhat with Gary's comments. The reference from the Catechism I find to be rather patronising. ( The part which is applies to me is that people who are single – “often not of their choosing” – “are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors.”) EVERY SINGLE ONE of us is especially close to Jesus' heart and just because I am single does not make it any more so. "often not of their own choosing" it difficult to take in also. There are many single people I know who have consciously chosen the single way of life for many reasons. I believe it is time that it is considered as a worthwhile and serious vocation in life. Too many times the vocations considered are religious life, priesthood and marriage. Singleness for me and many others is a vocation in life and it is time it was acknowledged in this way and that we are not considered second rate and that Jesus loves us more because of what the Church considers an 'unfortunate' way of life. It is a wonderful way of life and an enormously fulfilling choice in life. And I believe it is a way of life that will become more so in future years. It is a group of women and men that could be looked at and involved more within the Church structure and the many ministries that are available.
Yes our Churches are family oriented all the time while many of us wonderful single people long to feel more acknowledged and at home.

Comment by: Cathy Cash
Posted: 12/03/2015 00:24:56

Thank you for posting this. My sincere gratitude is extended to the French bishops as well. John G makes a very valid point as we'll-don't put an age limit on the support that should be afforded to singles. There are more and more of us over the age of 40.

For anyone who's interested here's an excellent article on single Catholics, the Synod, and ways in which the church could better support its single members. http://catholicexchange.com/single-catholic

Comment by: Catherine
Posted: 10/03/2015 18:58:40

I agree with Gary. I shared his experience in several parishes in my 20s and 30s. Then in the parishes in Chester, someone started a house group for people aged 35 -55 giving the reason that she had found it difficult to meet people of her age group in the church. The purpose was to socialise, discuss faith issues, politics, arts etc. It wasn't limited to singles and was a great experience and although it has now folded, we got to know eachother and now don't feel so "alone" amongst the young parents and old friends. Don't be afraid of setting up a similar group - there are other people out there who feel like you do.

Comment by: Tara
Posted: 09/03/2015 08:51:25

As an unmarried person who has no relatives nearby, I am fine until I become unwell. The last few months I have had a bad back and no one to call on for assistance around the house as I am in so much pain. My parents are six hours away and getting too old to help. I have no one to support me in handyman stuff and have no one to ask for just support. I have tried to start Catholic Bible Studies etc but have had little interest. But I'd love a brother in Christ to help with handyman stuff, a sister or brother in Christ to provide a lift from the bus stop when I've been interstate as taxi's are a horrible lonely way to return home whereas a sibling in Christ would make the homecoming warmer. I of course off these services to others, such as housework and a coffee aswell as lifts. It would be nice to have some help. What happens if I die alone?

Comment by: Jim McCrea
Posted: 08/03/2015 20:50:14

"the message seems to be: if you are married, then we are interested in you; as you are single, we do not care about you."

Ah, but only if you are married in a manner that "the Church" finds acceptable. Otherwise, you are a pariah and of even lesser status than a voluntarily single person.

Comment by: Philip
Posted: 08/03/2015 18:58:08

As a parish priest, trying (and more often failing) to ensure every age group and state of life is specifically catered for in a given section of Christ's Church, 'John G's' comments about forming communities where there is 'a real experience of shared life' must be the way forward. In most parishes, including the one to which I belong, the 'group model' is fairly established. Everyone likes to have a group to belong to - and up to a point, this is good. But, there will always be those who will feel left out. A young adults group will not suit every young adult, and nor will a youth club, or a group for senior citizens, or a men's or women's group. In the workplace and indeed in family life, people don't just hang out with others of their own age, or of a similar state in life - and the same should be true within the Church. At the end of the day the group that really matters in a parish is simply the group that is known as 'the followers of Jesus', who gather in a particular place and time, welcoming everyone, irrespective of age, state of life, gender, or whatever else. How can we make the Church reflect this more clearly?

Comment by: Kim
Posted: 07/03/2015 23:27:20

I am in exactly the same situation as John G and I agree 100% with him.

Comment by: John G
Posted: 06/03/2015 22:44:50

Whilst I agree with the overall sense of what has been said, I think it doesn't go far enough. To limit this to a 20-35 year-old age group just creates another group from which other single people will feel excluded. I speak as a 55 year-old, also single.

It seems to me that the challenge for the Church, and the local parish in particular, is to form communities where there is a real experience of shared life. Community is truly such when it is not a homogenous entity but recognises and welcomes diversity; and that means the inclusion of people in their various states, whether married or single.
I suppose that targetting certain specific groups (families, single people, etc..) might begin to meet a need but I think the real challenge is to build something where all can feel they belong and are valued.

Comment by: Marie
Posted: 06/03/2015 19:35:22

And what about singles over the age of 35? Do they not matter either?

Comment by: karen
Posted: 06/03/2015 17:36:09

i was so delighted to see this. i am single and happily so… but at the same time i am a bit disgusted that we are not considered to be a ''group'' in the eyes of the institutional church. most of us are not parents…and don't want to become parents (otherwise we would be considered a 'family' and worthy of the synod. ) 'singleness' could be the wave of the future. people are delaying marriage and children…. so institutional church : just make sure that you cover your bases--- and a place for all of God's children, not just the ones that you love and/or the ones that you love to hate.!!

Comment by: Kippy
Posted: 06/03/2015 13:33:33

I'm single (although I always thought I'd be a mother), and the backbone of my church choir consists of mostly single women. The other organist and I are also in that category. This is a vital subject, especially if the Church continues to consider it the ideal state for homosexuals, too.

Comment by: Geraldine
Posted: 06/03/2015 11:05:24

Although the point you make is very true, and singles are rarely catered for, the other side of the coin is that singles of this age rarely want to meet within the realms of a church group. We run such a group in our parish, called the CELL group and we are really struggling, even though the group has been running for 2 years now. It is mainly populated by foreigners, which is great, as we offer a port when they first arrive in this country and don't know anybody. However, this is normally short-term and the group becomes very transitory and lacking cohesion and stability. Any ideas for making it easier? We have, by the way, been up to Farm Street for link-ups and we have no university in the town.

Comment by: Philip
Posted: 05/03/2015 22:40:09

It seems that the Church on a universal level has always had an eye for single Catholics, especially those 18-35 ish. The focus on World Youth Day is an example of this. However, on parish level, I'd agree that the 18-35 generation (who aren't yet parents) tend to be a bit left out of things. For a parish it's not easy to identify what to do. Young adults will sometimes say that parish life is not for them as it's full of families and elderly people - and parish activities reflect this. On the other hand, it's families and elderly people who present themselves in the largest numbers and with the most immediate needs - and parish teams tend to be pretty 'flat out' catering for them. On the occasions we try to start groups and activities for young adults, often it is too late - for they have already made up their minds - and thus begins a vicious circle. In our parish we've started a monthly young adult group, 'Young Adult Catholics of Staines', where we meet on parish premises on a Sunday evening for an hour of 'something serious' (usually a discussion about something topical such a Charlie Hebdo or Stephen Fry), and then head off the pub for 'something even more serious'. The group is only very small (around 5 - 10 people), but even if there were just two or three, it is worth doing - as you have to start somewhere. A group, however small it may be, is always something you can invite others to join.

Comment by: RETEACHER
Posted: 05/03/2015 19:29:56

What exactly do you wish the Church to provide??

Comment by: Franci
Posted: 05/03/2015 18:59:49

I agree with everything that Gary Spence says. The hierarchy's preoccupation with "the family" does mean that single people feel that they are not important. And if you are gay in the Catholic Church, you especially feel unloved and abandoned. Not so much under Pope Francis but under his two predecessors, gay people were not spoken to directly, but spoken about, and in the most horrendous and pastorally-insensitive way with statements that reeked of homophobia. And John Paul is now regarded as a saint. Why?

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