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New York Lawyer Builds Marriages

A Harvard educated lawyer who worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, Edward Mechmann had a faith experience that led him off the fast track to employment with the Archdiocese of New York. Mechmann, 50 years old, is Assistant Director of Family Life/Respect Life Office (Public Policy Education and Advocacy) and Director of the Safe Environment Office which oversees compliance with the U.S. bishops’ charter regarding sexual abuse.

He lives in Yonkers, New York, with his wife of 24 years, Peggy, and their three children.

Fathers for Good: After 15 years of working with families and engaged couples in the Arhcdiocese of New York, do you see marriage and family improving?

Mechmann: I see a mixed picture. There are far fewer marriages than when I first started doing marriage work in 1994. So many more couples are choosing to live together now than ever before, many more couples are deliberately choosing to have children outside of marriage, and so many young people are scarred by the experience of divorce and broken families, and post-abortion and irresponsible sexuality. Added onto all that, we have to fight against laws that redefine marriage into something it is not, and other efforts that minimize the importance of marriage and family.

Ed and Peggy Mechmann

Ed and Peggy Mechmann

On other hand, the couples who are coming to get married seem to me to be so much more serious about the commitment they are making, and eager to make their marriages work. I think we are on the cusp of a very positive time for marriage, as more and more of the “John Paul II” and “World Youth Day” generation come into the marriage years. The influence of Pope John Paul’s teaching in Love and Responsibility and his Theology of the Body, and Pope Benedict’s teaching on love, is just beginning to be felt, and I am very hopeful about what is going to come of it.

FFG: What can the Catholic Church do better to help families and marriages?

Mechmann: The most important thing is to proclaim the truth about marriage and sexuality, boldly and without hesitation. This is a tremendous, positive message, and when we present it to engaged couples, married couples, and young adults, we can see how attractive they find it.

We need to enlist every part of the Church, from families, schools, religious education programs, new ecclesial movements, religious orders, and the pulpit, so that people hear this message consistently and clearly. The new documents from the USCCB are good, but what we need now is something like a Church “Marshall Plan” – a serious, heavily invested, broad-based effort across the entire Church.

It’s also vital that the Church provide more pastoral support to couples who are already married. We put so much effort into marriage preparation, but then we do little for the couples later on. It’s as if we put all our effort into building a house, and then never do any maintenance work. Groups like Marriage Encounter, which can help any married couple, and Retrouvaille, which specializes in troubled marriages, are doing the best they can, but the Church needs to do much, much more.

FFG:  Tell a bit about your own marriage.

Mechmann: Peggy and I have been very blessed that our marriage has been a living witness to others, not just in the marriage prep and natural family planning (NFP) classes we teach, but to our kids and our relatives, who have seen first-hand that marriage is good, despite what society says. We are also active in a volunteer work as a married couple, which we know has an impact on others. One time, we were approached by a young lady who was in a volunteer group with us, and she told us that she came from a broken family, but because of the example of married couples like us, she had come to believe that marriage was possible. She’s happily married now with two kids, so there must be something to it.

FFG: You’re also direct the Safe Environment program for the Archdiocese of New York. Some child protection programs have received criticism from parents for introducing some sexuality issues too early, or for talking about subjects better left for home. What is your view?

Mechmann: Some of the training programs across the country that were selected for children were rightly criticized because they were too secular in their approach, too explicit, or frightening, and thus were not appropriate for a Church setting.

The program and materials developed for use in the Archdiocese are very mild, and were designed to be integrated into the religion curriculum. That way, the children could learn about protection in the context of their lessons about holiness, virtue, modesty, chastity, etc. We also strongly believe that child protection should be primarily taught by parents at home, who have the best sense of the needs of their children, so we provide parents with resources to do so.

FFG: You graduated from Columbia University and got your law degree from Harvard and worked for the U.S. District Attorney. Do you ever think (or does your wife ever suggest) that you could be raking in big bucks at a New York law firm?

Mechmann: I actually have no regrets about leaving the legal world and coming to work for the Church. My change of career wasn’t the result of a mid-life crisis, but was actually the result of a religious reawakening. I was so wrapped up in my career and with success at work, that I had become very self-absorbed and proud.

But one day I made a humiliating mistake in the middle of a trial, which forced me to reexamine what I was doing with my life, and to ask what God had in mind for me. After that, I was committed to changing, and doing God’s work instead of my own. And in my heart, I know that this has been the right path for me.

There’s no doubt that has been a sacrifice. I look around and see what my classmates are up to, and the material success that they’ve had, and it’s very humbling. And my wife and I had to deal with a pretty massive pay cut, which for a family with three kids in the New York area was not easy.

But Peggy has been very supportive during this whole time, and never made me feel as if I were failing to be a good husband or father. In fact, she has been as supportive as any wife ever could be, and the struggles have brought us closer to each other, and closer to God.

Read Edward Mechmann’s blog, “Stepping Out of the Boat.”