The Catholic online singles service should be their first stop to find a spouse, insists the group's president, Anthony Buono. The service, he says, caters to orthodox, single Catholics who want to meet their best friend, court, marry and live according to the teachings of the Church.
He explained to ZENIT why so many faithful Catholic singles are having a hard time finding a match and how they discover hope in meeting a spouse through his Web site.
Q: What inspired you to start Ave Maria Singles? How does it work?
Buono: I got to travel quite a bit while working for a Catholic book publishing company, and on my trips I would meet many single Catholics.
I found that they all had the same common complaint: They found it very hard to meet someone as serious about practicing their Catholic faith as they were, in particular when it came to the issue of the Church's teachings on the use of contraception.
The single Catholics I met were fed up with meeting so-called Catholics who really did not practice their faith 100%. It seemed that all they needed was a place to come into contact with each other.
Q: Why would Catholics opt for a high-tech dating method? How is this different than a dating service?
Buono: In "traditional dating," you meet someone in person and spend time together, which is essential in knowing if they are the right person. But as there are not many places to meet good Catholics who are single, the Internet has become a primary place to meet people.
Our service differs from a typical dating service because we bring up a lot of core issues that are important in building good, strong, healthy families.
It's not just about the personal needs of one person who seeks another. It is about a lifetime plan. And our service is only interested in getting a person married, not just being single and finding other singles.
We have fewer members than the dating services because there are fewer completely committed practicing single Catholics out there, and they are attracted to our concentrated, focused community of Catholics like themselves.
And we work hard to make sure certain persons do not join; namely, those who are not eligible for sacramental marriage, who have a contraceptive mentality, or who are not serious about marriage.
Q: How do you attempt to maintain the personalistic aspect of relationships?
Buono: We ask members to write a lot about themselves and we encourage letter writing, not just chitchatting. Our profile is quite lengthy, but our essays are essentially where unique attraction takes place.
You get to see the heart and mind of a person as they express themselves on very key issues such as papal authority, the use of contraception, abortion, confession, family life and raising children.
It takes quite a long time to talk about these kinds of things in traditional dating, if ever. It is a very wholesome thing. And in a world where problems with chastity are widespread even among Catholics, this concept of "letter writing" is truly an old way of forming relationships that has become new again.
Q: What special issues do modern Catholics face in dating and finding a spouse? How have these issues changed since, say, their parents' generation?
Buono: There are many, but the two main issues are: You can't be sure people who say they are "Catholic" are truly Catholic; and the world is small, busy and very affluent, people are very mobile, and the concept of the "community" has been dismantled. It is no surprise that the Internet has picked up this concept of forming communities.
For Catholics who have discerned a marriage vocation, meeting your future spouse has become a very difficult thing to do. Our parents had it easier. They lived in a community where everyone was Catholic and people believed in community. It was easy to meet someone who shared everything, not just your faith.
College would traditionally be another place our parents would have met their spouse, but people were ready to marry at a younger age back them. Today, people are waiting longer to marry.
The fact is, environments for meeting singles who are 100% Catholic are scarce. Even really good Catholics have been influenced by the worldly attitudes on marriage, relationships, sexuality and treatment of the opposite sex.
Today, a site like Ave Maria Singles is something all serious single Catholics must consider as a first option, not a last resort out of desperation. Our members are always amazed there are so many Catholics like themselves when they join -- this brings them great hope.
Ave Maria Singles specifically exists because we need strong, Catholic families to combat the "culture of death," to bear witness to Christ and rebuild society as the Holy Father has said. These families are the hope of the future of our society and the Church.
Q: How does Internet dating change courtship and the nature of dating relationships? What are its advantages?
Buono: I don't see much promotion of "courtship" on the Internet. Most dating sites still adhere to society's concept of dating, which is to meet people, have fun, have love and be excused from any responsibility or moral code.
Christian sites attempt to bring back what is necessary in a relationship -- namely a Christ-centered approach. But most of these sites don't take the responsibility to care for the inclinations that individuals will have as they use a singles site.
There are great advantages to using the Internet to find the right person, but most sites fall short of taking advantage of the opportunity. These sites turn into meat markets and places for idle conversation and activity.
True Catholic "dating" is about being marriage-minded. A true "date" should be something that takes place between two people who are open to answering a marriage call.
It is irresponsible to fall in love when one or both are not serious about marriage. So why date? You shouldn't. Courtship presumes both people are called to marriage; they seek to discern if they are called to each other first through friendship, then courtship.
And as I mentioned earlier, the advantage of the Internet for promoting courtship is that it brings back the ancient, wholesome concept of "letter writing," which really fosters love between two hearts.
Q: What are your costs and success rates?
Buono: Because those who are anxious to meet that right person are impatient, we discourage leaving prematurely by charging a one-time fee of $99 to become a member and use the site for as long as it takes to find a spouse. I have observed that it takes God's time, not ours, to meet our match.
We currently have more than 250 marriages, more than 100 engagements and more than 900 members of all ages in serious relationships.
Q: Do you see this as a replacement for spouse-searching or a stopgap measure, given the cultural environment?
Buono: This is hard to answer. As long as society and individuals continue in their current direction, there will always be a need for online dating sites.
I personally pray we will one day be out of business because online dating will have become unnecessary. It is unnatural. But today, it is imperative that we continue to do our work and help fill the need.
Q: What is the biggest criticism you hear about online dating services?
Buono: That it's too impersonal. People do not like to communicate this way.
These sites are popular only because people fundamentally do not like being lonely, and the desperate need there is for community and environments that single people can meet someone like themselves.
But the very impersonal nature of using a computer to meet someone is something people feel is strange, scary, challenging, frustrating and empty. It takes away the human element in a very real way.
Q: How have John Paul II's teachings on marriage and family influenced the current generation of single Catholics?
Buono: The Holy Father has had a tremendous influence on this generation. Most revolutionary are his "theology of the body" and writings on family life.
So many single Catholics are coming to an understanding that they have been deceived by society. This generation and generations to come are truly blessed to have Pope John Paul's influence to which to clasp hold.
But there is still so much work to be done and people needed to get this work accomplished for single Catholics.
Ave Maria Singles accepts the responsibility of this work and strives to create an increasingly improving environment for serious people to meet quality Catholics like themselves. We also strive for an uncompromising integrity and quality of service that a Catholic would expect to find in a service that is striving to be an instrument of Christ for his Church.