There has been a dramatic decline in the number of Catholic marriages celebrated in the Diocese of Trenton over the past decade. Some of this decline can be attributed to demographic change; there are fewer Catholics of marriage age. Certainly this is part of a national trend in which a smaller percentage of single adults are choosing to marry at all. Analysis has revealed, however, that the number of Catholic marriages in our diocese has declined much more steeply than the number of marriages in the general population of the four counties. In addition, divorce and remarriage among Catholics in our diocese is a reality which presents complex pastoral challenges, and contributes to a decline in the number of Catholics who attend mass regularly. In an effort to care more effectively for the Catholic faithful, and in light of the importance of marriage and family life as basic building blocks of the Church, Bishop O’Connell has named strengthening marriage as one of three pastoral priorities for the Diocese 2014 – 2019.
Over the last several years, the diocesan staff has undertaken a widespread consultation among clergy and lay leadership to assess our pastoral practices in the remote preparation of children and youth regarding marriage, preparing couples for sacramental marriage and in sustaining married couples throughout their lifelong journey. The consultation laid the groundwork for a Study Commission on Marriage which was appointed by Bishop O’Connell in October, 2013 and charged to develop a set of recommendations for strengthening Catholic marriage at every stage of development and throughout married life. The Study Commission was made up of Pastors, Deacons, Vowed Religious, Lay men and women, from the full spectrum of educational, pastoral, and peer support settings. After a year of work, the Commission made a series of recommendations for the Bishop to consider. The following plan is taken from those recommendations.
The plan describes seven objectives and articulates necessary elements of outreach and evangelization, formation in Catholic doctrine, walking with couples in difficult situations, enlivening the faith of young adults, equipping parents as teachers of the faith and as witnesses of unconditional love, and sharing in the inevitable struggles and joys of lifelong Catholic marriage. It is essential that training and resources be made available in English and Spanish whenever possible. The necessary shift in our pastoral practices will take place in phases over a three year period beginning July 1, 2015.
In pursuing these objectives, our aim would be to realize:
We hope to not only increase the number of Catholic couples in the Diocese of Trenton who choose sacramental marriage, but also support all Catholic married couples in the hard work necessary to live the sacrament as Christ intended, with fidelity, permanence and openness to life. Implementation of the recommendations will take place in phases over a three year period beginning July 1, 2015.
In following this action plan, we would also expect to observe a greater willingness among couples to serve in parish ministry, a greater variety of marriage enrichment opportunities offered in our parishes, and more young adults inquiring about Catholic marriage. Though results may not be dramatic during the five-year implementation period, ultimately we would expect to find more married couples and families relying on the parish community for support in family life, and more families becoming active participants in the sacramental life of the Church.