Archdiocese reopens marriage, family life office closed years ago
By George Raine
Catholic News Service
SAN FRANCISCO (CNS) -- The Office of Marriage and Family Life in the San Francisco Archdiocese, closed several years ago because of budgetary pressure, has been restored in the fiscal year budget beginning July 1.
The archdiocese is in the process of hiring a director of the office, who must have experience in marriage preparation and other family life programs and be bilingual in English and Spanish, said Auxiliary Bishop Robert W. McElroy, who is helping to manage the program's revival.
The director and an assistant also to be hired will be charged with supporting and supplementing marriage and family life matters in the parishes, as an archdiocesan liaison, he said.
During the past 15 years, the number of sacramental marriages in the archdiocese, and across the nation, has fallen by almost 60 percent, an interim task force on marriage assembled by the archdiocese found. There is a constellation of forces behind the statistic, Bishop McElroy noted, including the growing secularization in society.
Launching an office amid those challenges, as well as managing other ministries, including support for separated and divorced people, aid to the grieving and support for people after they're married, is a tall order, Bishop McElroy said, and so part of the director's job will be to find volunteers to assist.
"The work of this office will be a lot of start-up work and work with volunteers, and it won't get done all at once," he told Catholic San Francisco, newspaper of the archdiocese.
Bishop McElroy is particularly interested in providing a service for couples before their children are school age. "We do not have a niche for that in parish life in general," he said.
He added that the Office of Marriage and Family Life is one that San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer "felt was needed and wanted to restore."
The director will report to Deacon John Norris, director of the Department of Pastoral Ministry, who said restoring the office "is a positive move forward to do more in ministry."
One hurdle to church marriages, according to Bishop McElroy and Deacon Norris, is unique to a multicultural archdiocese like San Francisco: The cost of a "quinceanera," the coming-of-age celebration for girls turning 15 years old.
They said the event can be so expensive for families that they postpone a church wedding because they cannot afford the costs of a wedding reception, and they may put it off again when children are born.
"We are addressing that," said Bishop McElroy, as numerous parishes are helping couples arrange for long-delayed weddings that will be recognized by the Catholic Church.
But at the core of the precipitous decline in Catholic weddings, said an archdiocesan marriage task force member, Libby Carthagena-Meyer, is that this generation of marriage-age adults doesn't value a sacramental marriage.
"Value is no longer placed on receiving fulfillment through one's faith, but on having the latest high-tech devices, in order to make our lives 'easy,' by having what we want 'now,'" said Carthagena-Meyer, a veteran medical social worker at San Francisco General Hospital who, with her husband, coordinates a marriage preparation program called Engaged Encounter.
"These are not Christian values and they're definitely not the values of a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church," she said. "The sacrament of marriage teaches us to love each other as Christ loves us and to selflessly share that 'couple love' with those around us. Preparing for such a lifelong commitment is far from easy. It is hard work, but our faith makes it possible."
- Raine is on the staff of Catholic San Francisco.