Taking a plunge: Catholic weddings drop dramatically

Taking a plunge: Catholic weddings drop dramatically March 20, 2011

Is the Church doing something wrong? Why are more people opting for weddings that have nothing to do with a church?

Details, from the Providence-Journal in Rhode Island:

Michaela Connors-Mare never set out to marry outside the Catholic Church. It just turned out that way.

It was 2005. Michaela, then 29, had met Nelson Mare when he came the previous August from Portugal to visit his parents, who lived next door to her in Washington Park. Now they were engaged — and eager to wed.

“There was no urgency, except that we were in love,” she recalls. “ We were thinking we could get married in four or five weeks.”

Michaela, a life-long Catholic, had been baptized and confirmed, and even had led religious-education classes. Nelson, too, had grown up a devout Catholic. When Michaela called St. Paul’s parish in Cranston to arrange a date, she thought there would be no problem.

She was wrong.

“They asked if I was registered in the parish, which I was not. Then they told me we needed to be engaged and be coming to the church for at least six months to a year. I started calling other parishes, and got the same thing. …

“I got fed up with the church at that point. I ended up having a big wedding outside” — at the Gatehouse on the East Side — “and had a judge marry us. My family was furious with us — and they still are.”

Michaela and her husband are far from the only Catholics in Rhode Island who have married without the benefit of a church wedding, if they get married at all. While the overall number of marriages slipped by 17 percent in Rhode Island between 1969 and 2009, the number of Catholic weddings in this most heavily Catholic state dropped far more severely. It plunged 71 percent — from 4,452 a year to just 1,300.

What happened?

The Rev. Joseph D. Santos Jr., pastor of Holy Name Church in Providence, contends that the falloff in Catholic weddings has its roots in the 1970s. That, he says, is when Catholic educators started revamping religious education and “basically destroyed or watered down” traditional teachings to the extent that increasing numbers of Catholics no longer understand what marriage and sexuality are about.

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23 responses to “Taking a plunge: Catholic weddings drop dramatically”

  1. So since 2005 they have done nothing to have their marriage convalidated? It seems that being validly married in the Church was (and is) not at all important to them.

  2. Here we are with data point #75,238 that the Church went to hell in a handbasket around 1970.

    Add this to:

    –priestly and religious vocations declining
    –mass attendance falling’
    –widespread lack of popular belief in basic things like transubstantiation

    We’ve been hearing these stories for 20 years, and it’s obvious what the causes are. It’s a little irritating to hear the question even asked anymore, in fact:

    –the faith was not taught or preached by the Church
    –the liturgy, primarily because of abuse and secondarily because of the novus ordo’s didactic form, failed to transmit the faith (remember that most people get 100% of their catholic experience at Mass). lex orandi, lex credendi.
    –the larger culture collapsed

    With a return to good theology (best progress), better liturgy (decent progress), and with no help from the culture, this has started to turn around.

    But we have a long way to go to undo the damage done by the over-50 set.

  3. In this case the Church does seem to have been over pendantic. They were observing Catholics. So she wasn’t registered for six months at a particular parish. So what?

  4. “we could get married in 4 to 5 weeks”

    REALLY? R E A L L Y?

    Every bulletin I read from each Church I EVER went to, says marriages should be arranged in the church office at least 6 months in advance. The Church’s teaching has always been to have proper preparation for marriage, including pre-marriage counselling. I think “leading religious-education classes” would have taught her that. It seems Michaela and Nelson wanted to do it their way and not God’s way.

  5. Being one of a few non-Catholics in the the state of RI, I’m not surprised by the numbers. I did teach 10 years in a Catholic school, however, before I retired. Michaela and her husband tried to marry in the church, but all the rules put an immediate stop to that idea. I would have thought that they were life long Catholics and had the desire to marry in the church would have been sufficient. Guess not. Glad they went ahead and did their own thing. Too bad the parents are unhappy. Stuff happens. Would the parents preferr they “live in sin?” I’d think they would just be happy their daughter was happy and had married the man she loves.

  6. The problem is that most couples are entering marriage without any marriage preparation. Often it comes with basically having a trial marriage first. Relationships start out with attraction, physical intimacy and sex, without ever communicating what are their objectives out of life, or really investing in knowing each other, and what challenges they can be facing.

    Finally, when they say “I do,” they’ve been “doing it” all along, so what does the commitment really mean? The church in its wisdom knows that this needs to be a serious discernment, not entered into out of passion.

    So when a couple these days go into an authentic church, and they’re told they need to stop living together, and have a 6 month discernment period of preparation, attend retreats, learn about natural family planning, the attitude is, “who gave you the authority to tell us what to do?”… of course, the answer is Jesus. But who wants to hear that?

  7. Pagansister — The attempt to marry in the Church was on their own terms. “All the rules” are there for a reason. If there had been a real urgency, such as imminent death, they could have had an immediate wedding. But they admit that the only urgency was their own impatience. They were so special in their own minds that the rules that apply to mere mortals should not have applied to them.

    As I read this, it is a tale of two of the ills that afflict contemporary America: impatience, and a sense of entitlement to whatever one wants.

    And who says that they would have had to live in sin? In fact, if they are the believing Catholics that the story would have us think they are, they have been living in sin ever since their invalid marriage. That is why their parents are upset.

  8. With the high incidence of divorce and the numbers of annulments — which are saying that the original marriage was in effect invalid, it only makes sense for the Church to require that couples be sufficiently prepared so that they know clearly the commitment they are undertaking.

    The story may prompt reasonable consideration of whether a full six months of advance notice has to be insisted on in every single case. But clearly there is reason behind a requirement of a preparation program of sufficient depth to insure full understanding of the sacrament — as there is for every other sacrament — and of sufficient length to allow both parties time to be know that they are not just experiencing a passing infatuation.

  9. Maybe, one of these days when I’m really retired, I ‘ll write a book on just how much of what some American Catholics believe about marriage — including marriage preparations and customs — are simply human innovations that have nothing at all to do with the cosmic choice of a man and a woman committing the rest of their lives together. Let me just drop a few (out of almost a hundred) of those weird truths on all of you:

    Traditional American Roman Catholic teaching insisted that a sacrament “was instituted by Christ to give grace.” In the case of Marriage as a sacrament, those pre-Vatican religious education textbooks always insisted that this “institution” was done at the Wedding Feast of Cana. The problem, historians insist, is that Jesus never officiated at that wedding — he was a guest. In fact, we have no evidence whether any religious official — Rabbi or Coheni — ever officiated either. The “presiders” then — as has been always — are the couple themselves. In fact, I would note that the Sacrament of Matrimony is the only one that not only pre-dates the public ministry of Jesus, it goes back to the beginning of time and is built into the very “operating code” of human nature.

    We have absolutely no record of any formal ritual/ceremony for the Catholic Church’s involvement in presiding at Marriage Ceremonies that date before about 1400. None! We have the medieval equivalent of both “Pontificals” (ceremonial books of bishops) and “Sacramentaries” (ceremonial books for priests — at least for those who could read!) that date back to around 1000 in England and even earlier on the continent. None of them have any structured ritual for a Marriage ceremony.

    In the early American frontier, Catholics were a rare breed and priests were even rarer. John Carroll, the first Bishop of Baltimore, had less than twenty priests to cover all of the Atlantic seaboard from the Canadian border to Savannah Georgia. If Roman Catholic men and women wanted to get married to each other during that time, it was not uncommon for them to have a small but respectful ceremony among witnesses — perhaps even a civil official — which was then “regularized” by a priest at a later date.

    Then, finally, consider the customs of France — “The Eldest Daughter of the Church.” For almost 200 years now, France has required that all formal marriage ceremonies be presided over by a secular official — usually a mayor but maybe a judge. Religious leaders in France do not have the legal right to preside at a wedding (as they do here in the US). So while 100% of the weddings in France are “civil” ones, perhaps less that 20% of even the Roman Catholic couples there even bother to go to their parish priest and have a religious ceremony. Legally, they do not have to.

    Does that mean that the marriages of all the couples which would have been included in my examples above were invalid? Does that mean that all of the couples whose marriages fit into these three story lines I’ve given were “living in sin”?

    I would be very cautious about making any pronouncements about all of this in the short few sentences of a blog response. Once deacon recently told me that the “official” manual about marriage preparation in is diocese is 300+ pages long!

  10. Drop Pre Cana. It’s a waste of time. I went to the courthouse and got married and we had our marriage validated later. That was not good but I was about as dumb as this woman was back then and there was no way we were going to sit through those classes every week for months and since we weren’t having a huge wedding we didn’t want to wait 6 months anyway.

  11. The problem is not simply that Catholics are not marrying in church. The problem is that even those Catholics who do have a Catholic wedding ceremony see marriage in the very same terms as those who do not–in fact, very like the people quoted in this article see it. Like those couples, they know that a church ceremony would please family members, so they jump through the requisite hoops, but the whole thing has no more significance than a wedding on the beach in bikinis. In fact, we ought to issue annulment applications with marriage certificates to save time and trouble later on.

    The basic problem seems to be what Ryan (above) called the collapse of the culture; simply put, we live in a society that no longer affirms lifelong marital commitments and two-parent families. Young Catholics badly need to be taught a counter-cultural viewpoint on this topic throughout their religious formation, but the Church could only do that if we were willing to risk (further) offending parents like the ones mentioned in this article. In an era of seemingly infinite tolerance for all sorts of evil, few of us would willingly take such a risk.

  12. “Does that mean that the marriages of all the couples which would have been included in my examples above were invalid? Does that mean that all of the couples whose marriages fit into these three story lines I’ve given were “living in sin”?”

    Basically yes. If those that are required to have their marriage witnessed by a civil authority and then not to have it convalidated by a priest/deacon it would not be a sacramental marriage.

  13. Well said, Deacon Norb.

    The decline of marriage trends with the rise in divorce. More and more young adults are the products of failed marriages. Add to that no understanding at all of the faith. Then add to that the general sexual promiscuity. It’s a disaster.

    I keep mentioning this to priests and bishops, and it’s met with a shrug:

    In the prayer of the faithful, every week we pray for an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We NEVER hear a prayer for an increase in vocations to the permanent deaconate. We never hear of a prayer for an increase in the number of couples willing to live their marriages as a sacrament and vocation. NEVER.

    Our communal prayers reflect the values of those who craft them. We reap what we sow, and no more.

  14. Thanks for the post, Deacon Norb! I’m with ‘France. Though my husband (of 46 years) and I married in the Methodist church, and gave our parents 4 weeks notice (dated 1 1/2 years) we would have preferred a civil marriage. We married in the church to please the parents (at least mine). I don’t regret it, but it would have been a lot easier and less expensive to do the civil ceremony. Would have been just as married. In fact, no one has ever asked for our marriage certificate! Hummm. And no, no 6 months of pre- marriage ed. I’ve known more than a few young Catholic couples who were living together and going to the premarriage classes. One even had a 2 year old who was in her huge wedding.

  15. As Deacon Norb pointed out, it has only been in very recent history that the Church has involved itself in marriage rights, and still teaches that the couple themselves bestows the Sacrament upon themselves.

    I find it obnoxious that Catholics today allow the civil state to control the sacrament of marriage. I found this out in talking to our Deacon: by law he may not marry anyone that does not have a marriage license. I did find out that there are ways that one can enter a valid sacramental marriage without recourse to either civil gratuity or Church procedures. Of course you cannot claim tax exemptions if you follow that path. I also wonder what those people living under communist rule did when no priests were available. Live in sin seems to be the pronouncement by many like RomCath.

    If I have a sacramental marriage, then does it matter whether or not I have a civil marriage license (required to get married) or a Church pronouncement?

    And what marriage preparations and teachings take 6 months. They are simple, Marriage is permanent, abortion is wrong, birth control is wrong. This takes six months to teach? How stupid do you think Catholics are? We have a very low opinion of ourselves, I think.


    Mike L

  16. Re: RomCath Post #13.

    Frankly, I do not think you are correct here but since I’m not a Canon Lawyer, I will ask you to bounce the story lines and your own ideas off of one at your earliest convenience. I’m sure your local diocesan tribunal has one that can explain all this top you.

    Furthermore, I’d like to suggest that the marriages in all three of Deacon Norb’s Post #9 stories are perfectly valid.

  17. My parents could never understand why the Church makes couples wait so long to get married – doesn’t that just encourage premarital sex and cohabitation? Secondly, it may be advisable for two 18 year olds to wait 6 months to get married, but a 35 year old bride and groom? Perhaps the problem is the ridicules red tape and bureaucratic snafus that drive Catholics to city halls across America. And I agree with Dymphna, Pre Cana is a colossal waste of time for most couples.

  18. Mike L,
    “Live in sin seems to be the pronouncement by many like RomCath.”

    I don’t make pronouncements, the Church does. A Catholic marriage has to be witnessed by a priest/deacon before two witnesses (unless dispensed from form) to be valid. If it isn’t valid, the couple is “living in sin”. Simple. Are you saying that 2 unmarried people living as husband and wife are not “in sin”?

    “If I have a sacramental marriage, then does it matter whether or not I have a civil marriage license”

    Well it would certainly matter if you divorce and there are issues like alimony and child support involved.


  19. Fiergenholt,

    I think there are some countries where a couple must get married before a civil official first. Then they go for a religious ceremony to have the marriage “blessed”. Unless there is some church/state agreement to recognize the civil marriage as valid in the eyes of the Church eg a sacramental marriage, I don’t know.
    However the article quoted was about Rhode Island, not France. In the US, the priest acts on behalf of the Church and the state in witnessing a marriage. It is therefore both a sacramental marriage and a legal one. No need for two ceremonies.
    As for the question about waiting 6 months, is that too much to ask to make sure a couple knows what they are doing? Looking at the divorce rate, I doubt it.
    Pagan, you married in a church to please your parents? I would expect more from you!

  20. If these are all true then what would be the Catholic belief on a marriage that was not done in church due to a deployment. My husband got his deployment orders right after we started our counseling. It only gave us 32 days until he deployed. so we rushed to the courthouse and said forget the counseling. (I’m lutheran not catholic but he was catholic) We understood more than most the severity of marriage. I learned the hard way of how short life can be. Since he has passed, would the catholic church allow me to remarry if they even recognized our marriage? I’m just curious about the catholic church since I never had much of a chance to learn.

  21. Mandy …

    From the sounds of it, you had only a civil wedding. If so, you could in theory remarry a Catholic in the Catholic Church. A “defect of form” citation would be needed, but that’s usually easily handled by your local Tribunal. Check with a priest in your area.

    Deacon Greg

  22. Mandy & Deacon Greg — do Mandy’s words “since he passed” mean that the husband has died? If so, there is no impediment to a marriage that could be recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, as I understand it. But if he were alive, the “defect of form” annulment could be pursued if Mandy had a reason to do so.

    [Good catch. You’re right. Dcn. G.]

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