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“Huge decline” in Catholic weddings as archdiocese reviews marriage prep
May 24th, 2011
By Valerie Schmalz

Archbishop George Niederauer has formed a task force to study marriage preparation in response to a sharp drop in the number of Catholic weddings in the archdiocese.

The number of Catholic sacramental marriages in the archdiocese dropped 47 percent from 1990 to 2010, with 1,985 marriages in 1990 falling to 1,060 marriages 20 years later.

Over the same period the number of Catholics in the archdiocese grew from 395,000 to 444,008.

Father Raymund Reyes, pastor of St. Anne of the Sunset Parish in San Francisco, said the “huge decline” is something priests are struggling to understand.

The task force will examine marriage education with an eye to revamping it, San Francisco Auxiliary Bishop Robert McElroy said.

Bishop McElroy said the task force is addressing several points raised by a committee of the Council of Priests, an advisory body. The task force will focus on renewing existing marriage preparation programs, making parishes as inviting as possible to engaged couples and making the moment of engagement a substantial time of catechesis for couples.

The task force will address the issues in the context of the diverse cultures of the archdiocese. The group will examine how the growing multiculturalism of the Catholic community plays a role in the trend and how it can be a means for reversing the decline.

The task force chairs are retired Msgr. Mickey McCormick, a canon lawyer and former pastor and director of adult and campus ministry, and JoAnne Norris, an auditor in the Metropolitan Tribunal.

“There is a concern across the board from our priests, not just about the number of marriages, but as to the quality of marriage preparation -- that has to be revisited,” said Msgr. James Tarantino, vicar for administration and moderator of the curia for the archdiocese.

Marriage preparation should be more welcoming to couples, he said. In addition, the decline in the number of church weddings “points to a deeper issue of people not being as well educated as to what a sacramental marriage means and how that is important in helping a marriage,” he said.

The drop in sacramental marriages in the archdiocese mirrors national trends. About 72 percent of all U.S adults were married in 1960 but by 2008 the figure was down to 52 percent, according to a 2010 Pew Research Institute report, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families.”

Msgr. Tarantino said a rise in cohabitation and rejection of the idea of traditional church weddings are factors in the drop. “Another factor is the way our system of marriage preparation works or doesn’t work. Sometimes it is not as conducive as it might be in showing hospitality and welcoming people to marry in church,” he said.

Although the total number of sacramental marriages is down, the percentage of sacramental marriages with Catholics marrying Catholics rose from 67 percent in 1982 to 77 percent in 2010, according to P.J. Kenedy & Sons’ The Official Catholic Directory.

Those who are choosing to marry are more likely to marry another Catholic than in earlier years and are now in their early 30s, up from their mid-20s in 1985-95, said Joe D’Aura, who leads marriage preparation classes with his wife Connie in the archdiocese.


From the May 27, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.



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