Archd. of New York’s particular law forbidding Catholic ministers any participation in same sex “marriage”

The Canonical Defender, Prof. Ed Peters, author of a useful book on “annulments” (paperback and Kindle) has posted at his excellent blog In The Light Of The Law about particular laws for the Archdiocese of New York issued by Archbishop Dolan.

This merits attention because, as I see recent developments, the harshest attacks on the Catholic Church are going to come, not from the pro-abortion industry, but from homosexuals.  Also, Peters says that “other bishops” have issued similar decrees. Therefore, priests should double check the state of the question in the dioceses where they serve and also inform their employees about this matter.

Thus, Prof. Peters:

I understand that other bishops have issued decrees similar to the one issued by New York Abp. Timothy Dolan a few days ago, but anything that New York does inevitably serves as a reference for other local Churches, and so “Dolan’s Decree”, as it has been dubbed, against formal ecclesiastical cooperation with so-called “same-sex weddings”, deserves a closer look. Catholics striving to think with the Church will, I think, like what they see.

Preambulatory matters

Most of the first paragraph of the decree is taken directly from Canon 1055 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The last sentence of the paragraph resonates strongly with Canon 747 § 2.

The second paragraph recites facts not in serious dispute.

The third paragraph begins with themes enunciated by Canon 386 § 1 and, drawing on episcopal authority recited in Canons 381 § 1 and 392, proceeds to enact particular legislation for the Church of New York. My lone quibble with the decree is here, with +Dolan’s use of the word “moral” to describe the authority he has over those subject to this decree. I would have suggested that he say “canonical” authority, as its meaning is clearer in this context, but “moral” works too.

Disciplinary matters

Norm 1. Catholic clergy belonging to or working within the AONY are expressly forbidden from taking any part, at any time, in “same-sex wedding” ceremonies. While ministry to homosexual persons, even those claiming to be married to a same-sex partner, is not prohibited, of course, I would take the decree to prohibit clergy’s mere attendance (as a type of ‘advantage’) at a “same-sex wedding”. Canon 209 § 1 is also relevant here, as is, of course, Canon 273.

Church lay and religious employees acting in the course of their duties are also prohibited as above, but it’s not easy to think of how they might actually be involved in such ceremonies, except as specified in norm 2, below.

The reference in the last sentence of norm 1 to canon law expressly prohibiting ecclesiastical solemnization or celebration of “same-sex marriages” comes about, I suggest, as follows:

Canon 1055 defines marriage as a consortium between a man and a woman, and Canon 1066 requires Catholic ministers to assure themselves, before any wedding is celebrated, that nothing stands in the way of its valid and licit celebration. Such could never be verified of a “same-sex wedding”, of course, so a Catholic minister could never lawfully participate in such a ceremony. Indeed, to attempt to do so under these circumstances would be to violate Canon 1389. Moreover, among Catholics (and for that matter, among baptized persons), marriage is a sacrament (c. 1055 § 2) and, where a wedding would be null on its face (as would the case of two persons of the same sex attempting marriage), to attempt that wedding would be to simulate a sacrament, an action forbidden by Canon 1379. For the ecclesiastical would-be officiant, such would again be a violation of Canon 1389.

Norm 2. Specification of directives contained in norm 1.

Norm 3. In part, a specification of directives contained in norm 1, but also an application of Canon 1376.

Norm 4. It is not necessary, for the enforcement of most canonical penalties, to recite this kind of warning, but it serves to underscore the gravity of formal cooperation with actions forbidden by divine and canon law.

Finally, the decree became effective as soon as it was issued (as opposed to after 30 days, per c. 8 § 2), another sign of the immediacy of the problem that the Church is confronting here.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. I am glad that my weak words have struck but thus much show of support from Fr. Z.

  2. wmeyer says:

    My one point of confusion is why the particular law was needed, as the canons seem to have covered pretty much everything. Or is this simply a we of emphasizing the canons and saying “I am watching”?

  3. wmeyer says:

    Dr. Peters, if you are still observing, your book on the annulment process helped me to understand, and more importantly, helped me find the patience for what took almost three years to finish.

  4. MyBrokenFiat says:

    I apologize if this is redundant to the point of ignorance, but for my feeble-minded sake…

    Does this, then, prohibit LAY-PERSONS for attending these marriages as well? I see where it stipulates this for clergy and those lay-folks exercising duties within the Church, but what about attendance as a member of the family or friend?

    I, myself, feel this is a way of condoning or accepting that such a marriage is licit, but would it be considered sinful? In my eyes, yes. Does the Church specify this, though? Don’t wanna be putting words into the mouth of Dear Mother. :)

    Thank you in advance for condescending to answer.

  5. Rob Cartusciello says:

    It is sad commentary that such an instruction needs to be issued by the Archdiocese. It is even sadder to know that such instruction is necessary because of the conduct of certain clergy within the archdiocese. I know from first-person sources in another archdiocese that the blessing of “same-sex weddings” was occurring at a parish there.

    At least now the standard of conduct has been published. Whether it will be obeyed, and what the sanction for its violation will be, is another question.

  6. wmeyer, glad you liked the book. the decree is useful because, while consistent with canon law, it makes a practical application of the canons to concrete circumstances. the law is a teacher, and this decree teaches well.

    brokenfiat: attendance by laypersons at such ceremonies is not forbidden by the decree, but canon 209, not to mention moral theology (say, that against giving scandal), need to be recalled.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    from Mortalium Animos, a forgotten encyclical of Pius XI on the idea of “pan-Christianity”, which is to me the philosophy behind this false idea of same sex marriages:

    “Who then can conceive a Christian Federation, the members of which retain each his own opinions and private judgment, even in matters which concern the object of faith, even though they be repugnant to the opinions of the rest? And in what manner, We ask, can men who follow contrary opinions, belong to one and the same Federation of the faithful? For example, those who affirm, and those who deny that sacred Tradition is a true fount of divine Revelation; those who hold that an ecclesiastical hierarchy, made up of bishops, priests and ministers, has been divinely constituted, and those who assert that it has been brought in little by little in accordance with the conditions of the time; those who adore Christ really present in the Most Holy Eucharist through that marvelous conversion of the bread and wine, which is called transubstantiation, and those who affirm that Christ is present only by faith or by the signification and virtue of the Sacrament; those who in the Eucharist recognize the nature both of a sacrament and of a sacrifice, and those who say that it is nothing more than the memorial or commemoration of the Lord’s Supper; those who believe it to be good and useful to invoke by prayer the Saints reigning with Christ, especially Mary the Mother of God, and to venerate their images, and those who urge that such a veneration is not to be made use of, for it is contrary to the honor due to Jesus Christ, “the one mediator of God and men.”[19] How so great a variety of opinions can make the way clear to effect the unity of the Church We know not; that unity can only arise from one teaching authority, one law of belief and one faith of Christians. But We do know that from this it is an easy step to the neglect of religion or indifferentism and to modernism, as they call it. Those, who are unhappily infected with these errors, hold that dogmatic truth is not absolute but relative, that is, it agrees with the varying necessities of time and place and with the varying tendencies of the mind, since it is not contained in immutable revelation, but is capable of being accommodated to human life.”

    AS such, may I add, that to attend a ceremony pretending to be something it isn’t, as there is no such thing as same sex marriage, is to commit a fraud and enter into witnessing a deceit and condoning one of the Four Sins Which Cry Out to God.

  8. wmeyer says:

    Dr. Peters, I did like the book, though there were many questions for which I did not find answers, mostly in my wife’s case (native Chinese, married to a Chinese, in China, neither then Christian). But obviously, the possibilities are nearly endless, and you did a much better job than the diocesan pamphlets which left me befuddled and unsatisfied.

  9. ah, yes, well, as an annulment case, it would have been covered in the book, but your facts suggest this could have gone p.f. as well, which is only mentioned. different process, etc. best. edp.

  10. wmeyer says:

    Dr. Peters, thanks. I have taken the liberty of e-mailing you on

  11. What, no Episcopal Spine Award for my Archbishop? Heaven forfend!

  12. jhayes says:

    MyBrokenFiat said:

    Does this, then, prohibit LAY-PERSONS for attending these marriages as well? I see where it stipulates this for clergy and those lay-folks exercising duties within the Church, but what about attendance as a member of the family or friend?

    As written, it doesn’t include even church employees outside of work hours (otherwise it would have said “any person employed by the Church” rather than “any person while acting as an employee of the Church.”). In other words, it doesn’t bar a teacher at the parish school from attending a same-sex wedding outside of school hours, or the church organist playing at a same sex wedding on his/her own time, or the school food service director from catering a same sex wedding on her own time – as long as the wedding isn’t on Church property.

    It doesn’t bar family or friends of the same sex couple from attending their wedding.

    It probably won’t be until a Catholic priest attends (only as a guest) the same sex wedding of his friend the Episcopal priest that we will find out what the diocese intended “participate in” to mean.

    I’m commenting only on what the “Dolan Decree” says. As Dr. Peters has pointed out there are issues other than the decree that would need to be taken into account in deciding whether to attend a same sex wedding.

  13. PostCatholic says:

    It doesn’t bar family or friends of the same sex couple from attending their wedding.

    My reading of it is that it does, if that family or friend is a priest. But you’re probably right with your second paragraph.

  14. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Thanks, all. I feel as though I’m of the same school of thought that Supertradmum relays. I, too, believe that it’d be a sin to witness something that is obviously in direct conflict with God’s commands, thus, to partake of a wedding celebration in which a licit wedding very obviously did not occur would be fraudulent (and an act of condoning the behavior).

    Thank you all for your input! Definitely is much clearer now.

  15. catholicmidwest says:


    I’m always left wondering this myself, when the church has to come out and tell some people something that ought to be as obvious as dirt. But I suppose some people either have a) the comprehension skills of a bag of hammers, or b) no motivation to do good on this topic, or as is usually the case, BOTH. In each case, I think we’d ought to be blunt about a & b when we come across them, because I see no good that comes from glossing it over and pretending it’s perfectly all right to act in public like a farm animal in heat.

  16. Supertradmum says:

    Why would anyone attend something which is called a wedding, a marriage, but it isn’t? Why would anyone support the relationship between a same sex couple? Basically, that lay person would be stating publicly that sodomy is ok and I stated four sins, but the Catechism rightly, of course, my mistake, lists Five: # 1867 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church,the sins which cry out to heaven for God’s vengeance are:

    (1) Wilful murder – the blood of Abel, [Gen. 4:10]

    (2) The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]

    (3) The cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, [Ex. 3:7-10]

    (4) The cry of the foreigner, the widow and the orphan, [Ex. 20:20-22] and

    (5) Injustice to the wage earner. [Deut. 24:14-5; Jas. 5:4]

  17. jhayes says:

    Supertradmum said:

    (2) The sin of the Sodomites, [Gen. 18:20; 19:13]

    According to the NAB, that sin was:

    Sodom and Gomorrah became types of sinful cities in biblical literature. Is 1:9–10; 3:9 sees their sin as lack of social justice, Ez 16:46–51, as disregard for the poor, and Jer 23:14, as general immorality. In the Genesis story, the sin is violation of the sacred duty of hospitality by the threatened rape of Lot’s guests.

    As to why anyone would want to attend a same sex wedding, one obvious situation is the mother of a child who is entering a same sex marriage. It’s a matter of prudential judgment.

  18. Supertradmum says:


    As a mum, I can assure you I would not attend a non-marriage wedding. I have two friends, both mums, who did not attend their childrens’ wedding to non-baptized persons, as the marriages were not Catholic, one witnessed by a woman priestess.. I have a priest friend who did not attend his brother’s civil only wedding. These are not questions of prudential judgement, but public scandal and assent to evil. If you assent to evil, you are sinning as well by supporting it.

  19. Supertradmum says:


    from the life of Queen Blanche of France:

    “Saint Louis had the additional advantage of a strong-willed, pious mother who created the proper ambiance for spiritual and intellectual improvement. This influence was such that his sister Isabella also devoted her life to God and has been beatified. Blanche of Castile in an often-repeated remark told her son that she would rather see him die than commit one mortal sin.”


  20. One possibility that has not been mentioned is for a lay person to attend such a ceremony, but to wear all black (and preferably not elegant black clothing, but something simple) as a sign of mourning for unrepentent sinners. A woman would wear a black veil.

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