My __ year old father and his woman friend would like to get married but not go through the government with a marriage lisence. Are there any patriotic priests who would help them? I found protestant pastors but as they are Catholic they would appreciate the sanctity of a Catholic church….dad is a widower and she is a widow both had long happy marriages.
The Church teaches that marriage is not just an agreement between two people, but is a public covenant. The Church has long cooperated with civil governments with regards to marriage, since marriage between one man and one woman is something that is to be valued both by the Church and the State.
In some places, the State has moved to distance itself from the Church and has ceased that cooperation. In France and Mexico, for example, the State does not recognize marriages celebrated in the Church as having any civil effect. In the United Kingdom, the State did not recognize Catholic marriages until 1836. The faithful in these places would need to exchange matrimonial consent twice – once for civil effect, and once in the Church truly to marry each other.
For now, these United States and the Catholic Church are still cooperating in the sphere of marriage, though as state after state changes the definition of marriage to include agreements that are NOT marriage, the time may come soon when that cooperation will have to cease. But… for now … the state authorizes priests and deacons to act in two capacities at a wedding. First, they act in their religious role as official witnesses of the Church to the exchange of matrimonial consent. Second, they act as agents of the State officiating at a wedding of two persons.
That said, the Church reserves the right to permit the celebration of “secret marriages” or “clandestine marriages”, that is to say, marriages that are not recognized by the State in certain circumstances. Canons 1130 – 1133 of the Latin Code (and can. 840 of the Eastern Code) provide the parameters.
A secret marriage can only be permitted by the local ordinary (i.e., the diocesan bishop, vicar general, or an episcopal vicar), the parties involved must observe secrecy (only the priest, the couple, and two witnesses should be present at the wedding), and the marriage is recorded only in a special register in the secret archives of the diocesan curia.
“But Father! But Father!”, you are probably saying by now, “Why would anyone enter into a clansted… clantstine… secret marriage? You surely hate Vatican II.”
Some reasons for secret marriages would include situations where the state law on marriage is unjust or contrary to natural law (e.g., in places where it was once illegal for a man and woman of different races to marry, or a free person to marry a slave, etc.). For example, when in its fourth term the Obama Administration makes it illegal to marry a Catholic, we will have more clandestine marriages. The local ordinary will have to see if the reasons for a marriage without a state license are justifiable.
These days there are two reasons normally given for wanting a secret marriage. First, one or both parties are undocumented immigrants and, next, one or both parties are senior citizens and concerned that marriage would affect a pension payment.
There may, possibly – but only possibly – be some justification for granting permission in the first situation, especially if there are children involved. I am not convinced that our current immigration laws in these USA are that unjust. In the second case, I do not see a justification for permitting a secret marriage. The terms of the pension are normally clear. To marry without a civil license merely to circumvent the pension contract is pretty dodgy.
The Church should be very careful in permitting secret marriages, because doing so puts the priest or deacon who officiates at such a wedding in danger of civil prosecution. A priest or deacon who officiated at such a wedding without permission of the local ordinary would acting illicitly, and be subject to civil and ecclesiastical penalties. It would also cast aspersion on the character of the other priests who are obeying both the civil and ecclesiastical law.