March 26, 1977, Saturday, Final Edition A word was dropped in the story on the number of divorced Catholics in the United States in Friday's Post. The estimated number was printed as 1 million; the correct number is 5 million.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced yesterday that starting June 1 couples who wish to marry in diocese churches will have to wait a minimum of three months after they first contact a priest to insure they have had sufficient premarital counseling.
The Most Rev. Thomas J. Welsh, bishop of Arlington, said the marriage preparation policy was instituted "because of the alarming rate of separation and divorce experienced in our society today."
Several Catholic dioceses around the nation have adopted similar marriage preparation guidelines and some have waiting periods from six months to a year. The Archdiocese of Washington which includes the District and the Maryland suburbs, does not have such a policy.
The aim of these programs, which require several counseling sessions and a priest's evaluation of the couple's readiness for marriage, is to prevent hasty weddings, particularly among youths, and shopping for priests whose requirements are not so demanding.
While marriage is a sacrament for Catholics and civil divorce is not recognized by the church, divorces have soared among Catholics as in the rest of society in recent years. There are an estimated million divorced Catholics in the United States.
Recently, a divorced Fairfax mother of five children said she was fired from her job as a secretary-receptionist for the Arlington Catholic school system because she planned to marry again without getting a church annualment of her first marriage. For Catholics, failure to get an annulment before remarriage mean automatic excommunication, which bars them from participating in the church's sacraments.
According to the new Arlington guidelines, engaged couples must have at least three counseling sessions with a priest who then, as in common practice among Catholics and others, can determine whether the couple is ready for the marriage or whether it should be postponed. The priest could also refuse to marry the couple.
Between the first and second counseling sessions, the couple must attend a Pre-Cana Conference, a several-hour discussion on various aspects of marriage, including finances, sexuality and church teachings about matrimony and family life, or an Engaged Encounter Program, a longer workshop on the same topics.
"A couple's desire to marry does not necessarily entitle them to be admitted to the sacrament," the diocesan announcement said. "Because a vocation to married life is so serious, the consulting priest may decide that one or both parties have not reached an appropriate level of spiritual or psychological maturity."
The wedding may be delayed for "lack of appreciation for the spiritual or sacramental aspects of married life; social immaturity; undue social pressure, such as an unhappy home; refusal to baptize or educate children as Catholics."
If either person is under 21 and the woman is pregnant, "the priest will confer with the parents of the couple and seek further consultation as to their spiritual and social maturity" for marriage, the guidelines state.
If the couple objects to a postponement, they may appeal to the bishop, whose decision is final.
About 1,100 weddings are performed in Arlington diocesan churches annually.