Catholic Marriages Plummet in Britain

In the lead-up to the pope’s visit, the Catholic bishops have striven to create a positive spin on the situation of the Catholic Church in Britain, but statistics have shown dramatic drops in most indicators of Catholic life since the 1982 visit of Pope John Paul II. Most significant, particularly in the light of Pope Benedict’s emphasis on the value of marriage, has been the precipitous drop in Catholic weddings in all dioceses in the country.

Figures released this week by the Daily Telegraph show that in the archdiocese of Westminster, the largest and statistically healthiest UK diocese, the number of marriages has plunged from 3,178 in 1982, to 1,139.

Overall, the Catholic population in the central London archdiocese has risen by over 40,000, likely due to immigration. So have the numbers of adult converts, priests, child baptisms and women entering religious life. But at the same time, five parish churches and 44 Catholic schools have been closed.

In a recent interview with Rome-based Zenit news, Westminster pastoral affairs director Edmund Adamus called Britain the “geo-political epicentre of the Culture of Death,” a country that has abandoned marriage and legal protections for the unborn and vulnerable people. These comments, the first from a high-level diocesan official that show anything other than a rosy picture of British Catholic life, were immediately repudiated by his boss, Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

Kieran Conry, the bishop of Arundel and Brighton, went as far as to state that there are no problems in the Catholic Church in Britain.

Conry told the Guardian, “Pope Benedict is coming to a country where Catholicism is unusually stable, cohesive and vibrant enough in the current overall context of decline of interest in the church in Western Europe.” In fact, the pope, he said, “may well be relieved to be coming to a place where, unlike some of his other recent trips, there are no big problems for him to sort out.”

In Conry’s southern coast diocese, however, while the overall Catholic population and the number of child baptisms have increased, the number of marriages has fallen since 1982 from 890 to 501. There are 33 fewer priests (210 to 177) and the number of women religious has dropped from 90 to 57. In addition, three parishes and 26 schools have closed.

Around the country, the statistics are even less encouraging.

In the diocese of Plymouth, the overall Catholic population has risen by 8,921, but 27 parishes and 21 schools have been closed and the number of priests has dropped by 18. Child baptisms are down, as are adult conversions and the number of women in convents. Between 1982 and 2010, marriage numbers have fallen 60 percent to 187 from 467.

In Nottingham in central England, there are 31 fewer priests, 12 fewer schools, drops in child baptisms and adult conversions and the number of marriages fell from 1,131 to 383. In Leeds marriages dropped from 1,334 to 104. In Salford the number plunged from 2,402 to 688.

Fr. Timothy Finigan, a parish priest in the London diocese of Southwark and founder of the Association of Priests for the Gospel of Life, told that in general Catholics of Britain have followed the trend in the secular world of rejecting marriage.

“Sadly, Catholics who are not well catechised tend to follow the prevailing culture.”

“In the UK, marriage is regarded by many as risky because of the possibility of divorce,” he said. “They have not been helped to understand that non-marital relationship are far more likely to break up.”

He also pointed to a deeper cause, saying that men in particular are unwilling to commit to a permanent relationship. They suffer from “a mistaken belief that commitment involves predicting the future instead of making a promise whatever the future holds.”

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