Although I know these programs are full of superstitious nonsense, they also do provide couples with counseling which gives them some insight on both their partner and themselves. My fiancée and I are going through premarital counseling ourselves with a psychologist, and it has been a very valuable experience, for learning what our real values are, and what things we're going to have to deal with to make our marriage work. I'd prefer that these Catholics go to a trained counselor or psychologist, but this is better than nothing.
This move is probably going to backfire on the church anyway. Creating more hoops to jump through will mean even less people deciding to get married in the church. And those who do go through the nine month course will be subjected to even more of the church's dogma. I suspect this will lead to more people realizing how ridiculous some of their theology actually is. In fact, why not test these couples on Catholic theology even more thoroughly. If you want to be married as a Catholic, and raise Catholic children, shouldn't you actually understand what the church holds as true?
The bishop in Phoenix cited four concerns which prompted the change:
1. Fewer marriage role models and increased cohabitation.
I think cohabitation before marriage is a good thing, you learn much more about a person when you live together and share responsibilities in this way. I do agree, however, that having role models for all aspects of life, including marriage, is incredibly important. I suspect the role models' behaviors to emulate offered by the church will include their superstitions, but again, its better than nothing. Counseling can certainly help with this.
2. A high divorce rate.
A legitimate concern, obviously.
3. A growing number of single-parent families.
This ties into divorce, which certainly affects children immensely. While there plenty of children in single-parent families thrive (I think I did), it is often more difficult for the parent, so I buy this concern as well (although probably not for the same reasons as the church).
4. "Increasing confusion" over the meaning of marriage in society because of efforts to legalize gay marriage.
Confusion? I know people who are against gay marriage because of what it says in the Bible, or because they think it's icky, or their pastor told them to be, or whatever else. But who exactly is confused by it? This sounds like euphemistic language designed to make the church appear less homophobic. If they make it sound like gay marriage negatively affects the marriage of others, their opposition is about love and respect for them, instead of what it really is: bigotry perpetrated by ancient superstitious nonsense. And if you want to get married in the church, then you're going to have to get on board with it, regardless of what common sense and compassion dictates.
I know what my marriage means, and I didn't need the Catholic Church to tell me. It means that I love my soon-to-be wife, and am committed to being her friend and partner for the rest of our lives. It means that we are a family now, we support each other and help each other grow. It means realizing that my actions and decisions affect her, and that her concerns are my concerns. I know there will be difficulties at times, but we are committed to working hard to make it through. Anyone who is confused about it, just because a same sex couple would like to what my fiancée and I are doing, should not be getting married. They are not mature enough to make that decision, regardless of what a celibate priest who has never been married has to say about it.