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Archbishop calls task force in response to marriage crisis across Australia

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Supporting couples: “The Church has to accompany engaged and married people at every stage of their nuptial journey, and the task force will help us see in concrete ways how this might be done.”

BRISBANE Archbishop Mark Coleridge has called a task force to address the steep decline in Catholic marriages and the implications of same-sex marriage legislation in Australia.

Archbishop Coleridge has appointed 10 people from the Archdiocese of Brisbane to the Amoris Laetitia Task Force (ALTF) which will “develop and implement a strategy to promote Catholic marriage and family” in the archdiocese.

“There was a time when the Christian, even the specifically Catholic, view of marriage and the family were generally supported by the wider culture, but it is now becoming more and more counter-cultural,” Archbishop Coleridge said.

“In light of the recent change of definition of marriage in Australian law, and the Pope’s teaching in his letter Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), I have convened a task force with a brief to develop and help implement an archdiocesan strategy to promote, encourage and support Catholic marriages as well as work to heal the wounds of broken marriages.

“The Church has to accompany engaged and married people at every stage of their nuptial journey, and the task force will help us see in concrete ways how this might be done.”

One of the aims of the project will be addressing the steep decline of Catholic marriages, which have dropped by about 60 per cent in the past 15 years nationally.

In 2016 there were only 8603 Catholic marriages registered in Australia.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows civil marriages are on the rise nationally, at 76.4 per cent of all wedding ceremonies, while marriages officiated by ministers of religion only count for 23.6 per cent.

Between 2013 and 2016 the number of weddings officiated by civil celebrants has increased from 86,301 ceremonies to 90,444, while religious weddings dropped from 32,601 to 27,901.

An ALTF spokesman said marriage formation needed to occur “from birth to death” which involved reconsidering how marriage was witnessed or taught in all areas and ministries of the Catholic Church.

The group will advocate that marriage education begins at home with the example of the parents, who are the first educators.

Nuptial catechesis, however, must be integrated into parish life, and schooling, particularly high school, where teenagers are beginning to form romantic relationships and can at times do things in these relationships that become problematic for a future marriage.

The task of marriage education will go beyond schooling to tertiary institutions, parish communities, specific preparation for couples getting married, and then support for couples and, later, families throughout life.

The task force will also attempt to address issues related to parenting and family breakdowns, which are likely to influence a child’s understanding of marriage

“Marriage education is very crucial at a time where divorce rates are high,” the spokesman said.

“How do you teach long-term commitment in a culture that doesn’t commit to anything?”

The ALTF follows the Archbishop’s calls for a “new nuptial catechesis” in a letter he distributed to parishes following the legalisation of same-sex marriage last December.

In the letter he said it was time for Australians to “respond in practical and positive ways” to Pope Francis’ call to strengthen and renew marriage catechesis in the Church following changes to the definition of marriage in Australia.

In 2016 Pope Francis released his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) to address concerns related to marriage and family, including nuptial formation, divorce and the importance of advocating Christian marriage.

This document will inform the development of an archdiocesan strategy proposed by the task force.

The Pope warned that the Church had in recent times “not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite”.

“At times we have also proposed a far too abstract and almost artificial theological ideal of marriage, far removed from the concrete situations and practical possibilities of real families,” the Pope said.

“This excessive idealisation, especially when we have failed to inspire trust in God’s grace, has not helped to make marriage more desirable and attractive, but quite the opposite.”

The ALTF is planning on holding a public meeting for people interested in contributing to the task force’s strategy.

For more details contact the task force executive secretary on marriage@bne.catholic.net.au.

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