SAN FRANCISCO — In a city with a reputation for homosexual activism, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, one of the architects of California’s Proposition 8, considers supporting couples in the sacrament of matrimony a higher priority than repealing same-sex “marriage” laws.

Proposition 8, a much publicized ballot proposition and state constitutional amendment passed in 2008 that recognized marriage as only between a man and a woman, was overturned last year following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Along with defending the principle that children deserve both a mother and a father, there is the need to rebuild and restore a marriage culture by educating archdiocesan Catholics about the sanctity of marriage and its natural connection to family, according to Archbishop Cordileone, who was installed in the San Francisco Archdiocese in 2012.

“The Church, and the Archdiocese of San Francisco in particular, seeks to fulfill the need of supporting and strengthening couples in marriage and family by teaching and forming them in their faith through retreats, seminars and ongoing programs which provide information and formation for engaged and married couples,” the archbishop told the Register.

Archbishop Cordileone, together with his fellow U.S. bishops, urges Catholics in San Francisco and throughout the country to pray and sacrifice for the rebuilding of society, especially in the matters of marriage and protecting life and religious liberty.

Top priorities for the archdiocese’s first marriage and family life director hired in 10 years are strengthening and standardizing its diverse marriage-preparation programs in English and Spanish, further developing natural family planning (NFP) education and training and introducing marriage-enrichment opportunities, such as a parish couples program that has been successful in the nearby Oakland, Calif., Diocese. Among other goals are ministering to those with same-sex attraction and those who are separated and divorced.


Culture of Support

As part of efforts to promote God’s plan for marriage by establishing more parish-based programs, creators of a nationally recognized marriage support and enrichment ministry called Covenant of Love (COL) will give talks and retreats in San Francisco and other Bay Area parishes.

“Many parishes lack ongoing marriage-enrichment programs, which nurture a culture of support for married couples,” according to Archbishop Cordileone. “We want to help men and women deepen their understanding of their own marriages — and look forward to actively assisting all married couples in this growth here in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.”

Last year, a task force — formed two years ago to consider ways to strengthen marriage in the archdiocese — recommended filling the marriage and family life director position, which had been vacant because of budget constraints. (The archbishop is currently considering the task force’s other recommendations.)

Selected six months ago to fill the position was Ed Hopfner, who headed the Oakland Diocese’s marriage and family life department under then-Bishop Cordileone. In Oakland, Hopfner placed special emphasis on marriage preparation and enrichment and education programs, priorities he brings to San Francisco.

“We need to educate people, but we also need to strengthen marriages — to offer resources for marriages that are struggling or to prevent them from struggling; to strengthen them and help them to flourish,” he explained.

Many dioceses have marriage-preparation programs and offer help for couples going through marital difficulties, but fewer offer marriage enrichment that can help couples grow and deal with problems in their marriages before they get out of control, Hopfner said.

“We want to have some kind of programs that people can plug into,” said Hopfner, who hopes to see each San Francisco parish establish a marriage ministry.


Have a ‘Date Night’

While in Oakland, Hopfner encouraged the introduction of COL, which was created by Greg and Julie Alexander of San Antonio. Now he is working to bring it to San Francisco. One of COL’s parish-led programs called “Date Night” brings couples together to focus on issues including understanding God’s plan for marriage, communication, forgiveness and healing, chastity and prayer.    

Inundated with negative media images of marriage, couples often don’t learn the Church’s view of the sacrament. Parishes need the tools to provide marriage support and enrichment, Greg Alexander said.

“Typically, with the exception of Marriage Encounter, the Church never offers anything else for marriage enrichment; so here couples are, trying to live this lifelong marriage relationship, never having any additional resources or tools to be able to do that,” he said.

Scott and Julie Genung helped found a COL program at their parish, St. Michael, in Livermore, Calif., last year, with the goal of inspiring couples to have God-centered marriages, Scott Genung said.

Up to 20 couples, along with several mentor couples, attend monthly meetings that usually include a talk or video, small-group discussion and one-on-one time for couples.

The parish didn’t have a marriage ministry before this, Julie Genung said. “Just being involved in the parish, we see the need to have a ministry that does appeal to marriage,” she said. “That’s the heart of our faith.”

Fifteen couples — from the newly married to those married many years — have attended Date Night meetings at St. Joseph Basilica in Alameda, Calif., and the five-couple core team that organizes the program hopes to encourage nearby parishes to get involved.

“The most important thing in my life on this earth right now is my marriage,” said core team member Rob Call. “I want to give attention to that and get support from the Church and my community. That’s why I was interested in this.”

In bringing them together with other couples, God is also helping individual couples grow closer, added Michelle Call. If couples see their marriages as a sacrament and blessing from God, they will want to invest in the great marriage God intends for them, she said.


Help for Difficult Situations

While ministering to San Francisco married couples, Hopfner said the archdiocese hopes to reach out more to the separated and divorced, whom he said often feel alienated from the Church.

In a recent talk, Pope Francis said pastors should search for ways to minister to divorced and separated Catholics, “so that they do not feel excluded from the mercy of God, the fraternal love of other Christians and the Church’s solicitude for their salvation,” and help such persons keep the “faith and raise their children in the fullness of the Christian experience.”

On Feb. 28, the Holy Father reiterated the need to help couples who are hurting from failed marriages: “How beautiful love is, how beautiful marriage is, how beautiful the family is, how beautiful this journey is — and how much love we too [must have], how close we must be to our brothers and sisters who in life have had the misfortune of a failure in love.”

Supporting the separated and divorced would be easier if parishes had programs for married couples, Hopfner said.  

Ultimately, supporting marriage is also about caring for and nurturing children, according to Archbishop Cordileone, who stated that it’s not possible to be consistently pro-life without being pro-marriage.

“The challenge is one of rebuilding and restoring a marriage culture, which begins — and certainly doesn’t end — with preserving the principle that children deserve a mother and a father and that society should do everything it can, and offer all necessary support, to help insure that children get what they deserve.”

Register correspondent Susan Klemond writes from St. Paul, Minnesota.