In March 1920 an advertisement appeared in a German Catholic newspaper that would change the history of the Catholic Church. It read: “Middle ranking civil servant, single, Catholic, 43-years-old, immaculate past, from the countryside, is seeking a good Catholic pure girl, who can cook well, and who can do all housework, who is also capable of sewing and a good homemaker in order to marry at the soonest opportunity.”
It was through the Altöttinger Liebfrauen Messenger newspaper that Joseph Ratzinger met Maria Peintner. They soon married and Maria gave birth to three children; Georg, Maria and Joseph.
As Valentine’s Day approaches the majority of us may not be inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s father’s business-like approach to romance. But the modern equivalent – Catholic dating websites – are producing happily-ever-afters for Catholics. In some respects, this makes sense. What are the odds of meeting a devout Catholic at a friend’s birthday drinks in central London? In our busy single lives, how often do we attend Mass at the same time and same location every week? How regularly are we free to attend parish events and how often will we meet someone young and single there?
I made friends with Clare shortly after her engagement. The natural question I asked was how she met her fiancé. Suddenly it became a little awkward. “Catholic Match,” she replied bashfully. “It’s a Catholic dating website.”
Clare was in her early 30s when I met her but looked younger. She was striking, exceptionally bright and heavily involved with her university chaplaincy. I was shocked and a little disillusioned that she had resorted to a dating website and had not met a Catholic spouse sooner. Surely she’d had Catholic men queueing up to take her out?
But Clare was at a different point in her life than most of her fellow Catholics at university. She was slightly older, a recent convert to Catholicism and was still considering her vocation. After a period of discernment, Clare returned from a pilgrimage in Rome having realised that her vocation was marriage and motherhood, not religious life. Two of her close friends had both met their husbands through Catholic Match and encouraged her to follow their example.
“You need humility to sign up to the website because you do feel embarrassed, especially when you spot people from you local parish,” Clare told me. “But in many ways a dating website makes sense because you are removing the initial physical attraction and so it’s easier to establish a relationship of the mind first. By meeting on a Catholic site, your relationship is grounded in the faith from the outset and God is at the centre.”
When you sign up to Catholic Match, you begin by answering basic questions about your weight, height, eye and hair colour in order to create a profile. The website also asks if you have tattoos or piercings. Once you have covered the basics, you are then asked to answer “yes” or “no” to whether you support Church teaching on the Eucharist, contraception, the sanctity of human life, premarital sex, the Immaculate Conception and Holy Orders.
Some Catholics may be put off at this point. Is it really necessary to include a questionnaire checking if Catholics accept basic Church teaching? But painful as it is, at least such questions sharpen the process of elimination. Thanks to this section, you are less likely to endure a steak dinner while your date insists the Pope is personally responsible for the Aids epidemic in Africa or that she thinks she has a vocation to the Catholic priesthood.
Of course, no tick-box exercise can completely assess romantic compatibility. A lawyer first made contact with Clare and they seemed to get on reasonably well over email. But when they exchanged pictures of their social activities, Clare’s match included pictures of him judging a bikini contest and she promptly put an end to the contact.
Providentially, Clare soon heard from James, a 36-year-old teacher. He had been using Catholic Match on and off for five years and was about to give up. James had initially signed up because he was a busy bachelor who worked long hours in the week and often felt too exhausted to socialise at the weekend. For him, Catholic Match was a perfect way of meeting new Catholics.
James initiated communication once Clare’s profile appeared and he and Clare exchanged daily emails for nine days before arranging to meet. They agreed they would start with Mass at Westminster Cathedral. But they both spotted each other praying in the Lady Chapel beforehand. After eight months of courtship they were engaged and then married. Clare gave birth to a baby boy this Christmas.
Of course, Clare and James’s story sounds a bit too good to be true and you may remain sceptical. But if you find yourself this Thursday clicking on the “like” button through bitter sobs as half of your Facebook friends announce what a fabulous Valentine’s Day they are having, perhaps it is time to log out and register with Catholic Match instead.
Alternatively, if you are a modern-day Mrs Bennet, desperate to find your daughter a devoutly Catholic Mr Darcy, Catholic Match gift cards start from about £8 a month. When you send her your usual Valentine’s card, signed by her, “secret admirer,” why not pop a gift card in the envelope as well?