The number of Catholic weddings in England and Wales has fallen dramatically in the last 25 years, according to new figures obtained from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) by the Daily Mail.
In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics have been recorded, there were 7,001 Catholic weddings – less than a third of the figure for 1990.
The decline is even steeper than for Anglican weddings in England and Wales, which have halved over the same period, from 115,000 to 46,000.
Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and consulting editor of the Catholic Herald, suggested aesthetic reasons might partly explain why Catholic weddings have declined more sharply than Anglican ones.
“Many couples who legitimately could get married in an Anglican church see a gorgeous little medieval affair that will look splendid in the photos,” he said. A nominal Catholic, on the other hand, “might look at the local church and think ‘this isn’t the prettiest of venues’ ”.
He also suggested that couples seeking to wed in an Anglican church would face fewer requirements. “I expect higher proportions of couples would be barred from a Catholic wedding than from an Anglican church,” he said.
The decline mirrors the overall trend in the proportion of weddings that are religious ceremonies: the proportion has nearly halved from 50 per cent in 1980 to 26 per cent in 2015.
Nicola Haines of the ONS said: “Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s. The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4 per cent in 2015, compared with 2014.”
Young people, in particular, are avoiding marriage: the average age to get married has continued the steady rise which began in the 1970s. In 2015 it was 37.5 years for men and 35.1 years for women.
Thomas Pascoe, campaign director at Coalition for Marriage (C4M), said: “The fall in the rate of marriage to an all-time low in England and Wales is a modern-day tragedy, and it is sad to find that this decline holds true for Catholic weddings too.
“Not only do statistics tell us that most marriages last, they also tell us that marriage remains by far and away the most stable environment for raising children. There is probably not a single concept in sociology so richly proven as the benefits of marriage to society, the family and the individual.
“Yet the message to young people from the Government, popular culture and sometimes even the Church does not reflect this.
Mr Pascoe said that the government “has failed to prioritise marriage in the education system for fear of causing offence … while the Church hierarchy often gives the impression of having more to say to each other about divorce than the crisis in marriage. It is time that those in authority started to speak up for marriage, recognising that it remains the gold standard for adult relationships and not one option among many equals.”
Bishop resigns over abuser priest
Bishop John McAreavey of Dromore, Northern Ireland, has resigned amid criticism over his concelebrating Mass with an abuser priest 18 years ago.
Fr Malachy Finnegan, who died in 2002, was accused of sexual abuse by 12 people.
Bishop McAreavey concelebrated Mass with him in 2000 even though he knew the priest had stepped down following the complaints. He also conducted his funeral Mass. Bishop McAreavey said he had resigned with a “heavy heart”.
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