HAVERHILL — Family and friends cheered and cameras flashed as the bride walked down the aisle in the arms of her new husband at Sacred Hearts Church yesterday.
For generations, this was the idyllic example of a marriage.
But the wedding of Kaitlin Barry and David Pellerin of Groveland is fast becoming more the exception than the rule. They are bucking the trend in the Catholic church, where fewer couples are going to the altar to say "I do."
According to statistics from the Archdiocese of Boston, only 3,727 couples were married in Catholic churches last year, less than half the 8,343 marriages celebrated in 2000. Across the border in New Hampshire, figures from past years weren't immediately available, but church officials said the 403 weddings celebrated last year in the Diocese of Manchester also represented a steep decline.
The Rev. David Costello, deacon at St. Mary and Joseph Parish in Salem, remembers officiating as many as 18 weddings a year when he first became a deacon 26 years ago. Today, the number is less than five annually.
"I feel very concerned," he said.
The decrease in weddings has become such a concern that the four bishops of Massachusetts have called for a campaign called "The Future Depends on Love," the goal of which is to educate Catholics about marriage and in turn have them explain its importance to the community.
Local Catholic priests said there are numerous reasons for the decline — including the growing popularity of "destination weddings," higher numbers of unwed couples living together, and the fact that there are fewer practicing Catholics than in the past. Many longtime Catholics were driven out by the priest abuse scandal, and the younger generation just isn't producing as many churchgoers.
The Rev. Dennis Nason, pastor at All Saints Parish in Haverhill, said the church is just not relevant for many people today.