Archdiocese of San Francisco sees “huge decline” in weddings

In the last 20 years, the number of times the sacrament of holy matrimony has been celebrated by Catholics in Fog City has plummeted by nearly 50% even as the total population of Catholics there has grown by nearly 10%. Something is obviously wrong with this picture, and the Archdiocese is seeking to understand what’s behind this disturbing trend and what it can do to reverse it. I’d welcome comments and theories from everyone on this issue, and in particular those of you who live in San Francisco. What do you think are the reasons for this drop? I have my own ideas, but I’d really like to know what you think.

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. . . . (continue reading)



  1. skeeton

    Is there really any mystery as to the problem? What plagues SF also plagues the rest of us. This is the fruit of the Spirit of Vatican II, desacralization of the liturgy, flimsy to non-existent catechesis, and abdicated leadership by the episcopacy. Personally, I agree with Bp. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, who wrote in his Oct. 2009 pastoral letter Ecclesia Semper Reformanda, “The so-called ‘spirit’ of the Council has no authoritative interpretation. It is a ghost or demon that must be exorcised if we are to proceed with the Lord’s work.”

  2. Ian

    I would bet money that the conclusion reached will NOT be that a lack of solid catechesis from the pulpit and marriage prep programs has anything to do with this.

  3. Diakonos09

    As a deacon of the arhcdiocese I would agree with the statistic. In my parish I have not seen a wedding scheduled in several years. I think one significant factor is our stance on cohabitating couples. We do not require separation or at least the pledge of celibacy during the 6 months of preparation. What message does this give to them and to their wedding party friends? I fear it simply bolsters the idea that the wedding is a formal cultural ceremony when a couple feels like bringing their relationship to that level. Benedict XVI recently reminded us that no one has a “right” the sacrament of matrimony if they do not approach it without proper intention. One priest told me, “If you require this separation or celibacy, no one will come to get married.” Hmmm….sounds like a defeatist attitude to me.

    Militant homosexuality is of course extremely present in our archdiocese but I think that we need to shift from “fighting for marriage” against the gay activits to the way more influential large segment of our heterosexual cohabitating couples and secularized married couples. This is where the real defense of marriage can be fought.

  4. KathleenS.

    To answer the question of where have all the weddings gone demands the question of how did the preparation for the sacraments of Initiation and Reconciliation fail in the life of our Catholic families. After attending three ceremonies including Confirmation and first Holy Communion this weekend in the Diocese of San Jose (within the Archdiocese of San Francisco) I can tell you that is where the root of the problem exists.
    Firstly, I would make it clear that the faithful who work hard with the resources given to prepare the children are to be appreciated, but the programs are not adequate for the nourishment required to sow the seeds of faith. The Confirmation classes are rooted in social justice which should be the fruit of the deepening of the faith.
    When you ask what did you learn in your classes, the answer usually involves what we did. It is the feel good of working in a volunteer activity which should be a part of the family experience in the first place. The music of the ceremonies with titles such as “Go Make A Difference” show no sense of adoration or acknowledgement of what is happening in the sacrament. The sacramental Masses are more events with the candidates gathering around Mass-in-the-round altars and the message of “we are church” that do not give the newly initiated the sense of the transcendent and the precious relationship with God in prayer along with adoration and the sacraments to those in full communion with Christ.
    And to my final point, last week while on a call about a totally unrelated matter, I found out in the discussion that the person assisting me was a Catholic high school educated mother who sent her kids to the Diocesan high school in San Jose. In the course of the conversation she told me what she liked about the high school. She said her kids learnt that you can be a good Christian without believing in Christ and that all faiths are good and have the same truths. She was urging her grown children not to get the kids baptized until they decided for themselves and she discouraged her son from baptizing the kids to avoid the family pressure thing. That Catholic high school message along with the messed up message about accepting homosexuals and what they actually mean about that (I take it to mean, love the sinner, not the sin and reminding them that to live the lifestyle is disordered and sinful, and telling them that God with His Church is there in fighting with this struggle) leaves the children confused about the Church and marriage and a disordered sense of fairness. Of course, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that many are living out the trauma of divorce and that they know their moms had a right to choose which must leave any child of teenage years scratching their heads (another problem-generational miscatechesis).

    The agenda of the secular world has been to obliterate marriage and the Church in America must ask itself how it contributed to that goal with the emphasis of liberation theology that we have tolerated much too long in our curricula,attitudes and liturgical abuses.

  5. Ronald Jones

    I have to say I am really tired of people using Vatican II as a scapegoat for all our ills in the Catholic Church. I live in the SF bay area and yes, we have big problems and deep issues to work through. But the answers are found in the ongoing and historical battle against secularism not only in our society but in the church herself. Not only has religion in general taken a back seat in our American culture but our Catholic faith takes a daily back seat in our lives, individually (and I mean OUR LIVES). This is not a new thing unique to our times. If you know chuch history or just read the lives of the saints, you come to understand that it has never been easy for the church in any age. The Holy Spirit sends great and simple souls to inspire, convince, and convict our minds and hearts to a life of personal spirituallity whenever needed. Think Bernardine of Sienna and Philip Neri… think John Bosco and Catherine of Sienna, think Francis de Sales or Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, and Therese of the Child Jesus, reformers all, great and small, working in society and even within the Church herself. Where are those spiritual leaders today? What do each one of us do daily to lead and inspire others? Compared to past history, Holy Mother Church is hanging in there quite well. We have no Arians running around, no anti popes splitting the church in two (or three), no sitting Pope running off to France, and no Protetant rebellion popping up all over the world. We do have the blood of new martyrs blessing us and giving us strength (although we never hear enough of their stories).
    I think there is a solution to our woes but it isn’t in slamming recent church councils. It’s in our individual willingness to accept the responsibility of evangelism to any and all people God sends our way. We must transform the hours we spend complaining and finger pointing into deep personal prayer and living the beatitudes daily. Behold – we are witnesses! But are we really?
    My favorite quote from Theresa of Avila is, “”Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
    How can anyone read that and still complain about Vatican II? The next time you are so inclined as to point a finger… try standing in front of a mirror.

  6. Jim

    Well, I won’t do it on a public website, but I bet I can name several of the parishes that have seen a significant decline and two I can think of that probably saw the rate stay about the same. It would be interesting to see the data by parish. Given the city’s history with the “free love” among heterosexuals and the saturation of a homosexual culture, what is marriage to the population as a whole? Now if the priests aren’t speaking out about the sacrament of marriage, only offer confession for 20 min. on a Saturday because, “in this day and age, mortal sin is rare”, and are hyper sensitive to “gay rights”, then what is marriage? This is the city that produced Gavin Newsom, who has claimed to be a practicing Roman Catholic, but criticizes the Church and instituted “gay marriage” while mayor. Should we really be surprised to find out Catholic marriages have experienced a significant decline?

  7. TeaPot562

    A byproduct (not necessarily an intended result) in the USA of V-II was a “school” of theologians deciding that misuse of sex was NOT an occasion of sin, but merely something needing psychological counseling. IF that is true, then cohabiting (my generation called it “shacking up”) was merely a lifestyle choice. Our youngest child attended 8 years of catholic school, 4 years of catholic high school, entered a Jesuit-run college and dropped out in her Junior year to carry a baby to term. Surely some of the blame is on us as parents for not pushing the concept that sex outside marriage is sinful. Did our generation in school in the 1940s & 1950s focus too much on “All sex outside marriage is a mortal sin!” ? Maybe we did. But the catechisms offered to us in courses following V-II didn’t seem to address the sixth commandment at all.
    If instructors in the seminaries are teaching the candidates for priesthood that sex outside marriage is o.k., then “Why buy the cow, when the milk is free?” Not for nothing has the group of adults coming to age in the 1960s been referred to as “the contraceptive generation”. If you are not intending to have children, why get married? A purpose of marriage, if children are expected, is to provide a recognition of economic support intended for the children and their mother. But this is merely a “practical reason”, absent any recognition of a spiritual dimension.
    If marriage in unnecessary to enjoy sex, then ordinary people will think of marriage – a wedding – as an expensive, optional party. Theologians and others who rejected Humanae Vitae (Paul VI) surely bear some responsibility.

  8. Ellen

    Many factors aren’t being considered:

    the popularity of destination weddings – from Mexico to Italy to Hawaii to Disney – to the park. These can’t generally be Catholic weddings – let’s just say the *could* be (except in Disney!) but most people who want to get married in Cabo aren’t looking for an RC church to do it in.

    The explosion of the wedding industry and the expectation of a big wedding for everyone. This makes weddings into extravaganzas that must be planned at least a year in advance and that necessitate parishes installing all sorts of defensive policies against Bridezillas, their moms, and wedding planners.

    So – you are a couple who wants a small wedding and wants in the Catholic Church and..oh..can we schedule it for six months from now? Hardly. Those dates have been booked a year in advance and there is no wiggle room at all – because parishes and parish personnel are basically trained to be extremely tough on wedding policy (because if you’re not… get run over.)

    So it can’t happen. so you go to the JP and hope you can get it blessed later.

    Of course – I don’t deny the other business – what is marriage when you are cohabitating anyway? And why bother with the church if you haven’t been since you were confirmed?

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