QUAERITUR: Permission from your territorial pastor in order to marry elsewhere

From a reader:

I hope this finds you well! My question: if one is a registered member of a territorial parish in whose geographical boundaries you do not live, is it necessary to receive permission from your “territorial pastor” to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony in some other parish?

This seems to be common practice in my diocese, with an argument made that the “pastor of registration” has the care of that person’s soul, rather than the “territorial pastor,” thus rendering the permission of the pastor in whose geographical boundaries you live unneccesary.

The pastor (parish priest for those of you in England) has the right of marrying his subjects.  That means the geographic or territorial pastor, unless the person in question is legitimately a member of a personal parish (by virtue of ethnicity, nationality, language, culture or any other parameters which a bishop establishes for personal parishes, including personal parishes for charismatics, the Extraordinary Form, etc.).

Permission of the (usually geographic) pastor should be sought when one wishes to marry outside of one’s territorial parish.

That said, permission of the geographic pastor is not required for validity!

Can. 1109 in the Code of Canon Law establishes that the local ordinary and the pastor can marry “by virtue of their office and within the confines of their territory… not only their subjects, but also those who are not their subjects, provided that one of them is of the Latin rite.”  (If two Ukrainian Catholics come to him, no dice even though they live next door to the parish church.)

Can. 1110 covers personal ordinaries and personal pastors and is more restrictive – these gentlemen “assist validly only at marriages where at least one of the parties is a subject within the confines of their jurisdiction.”  Get that difference?  Validly?  Jurisdiction?

So, if you’re actually present for your wedding (which will hopefully be the case, although proxies are permitted!), then you are “within the confines” of the territory of the pastor – even if he’s not technically your pastor (you are within his parish’s boundaries and he has the right to marry people within his boundaries). No permission, strictly speaking, is required from your geographic pastor.

It is nevertheless good to seek permission from the pastor of the parish in which territory you actually live.  There may be particular law in a diocese which requires the permission of the territorial pastor.  This could be the case both to remind people of the normal territorial nature of the parish, and to also perhaps jog the conscience of the territorial pastor to remember to pray for all those souls entrusted to his care.

Moreover, such particular laws could also bring to the attention of the chancery certain demographic realities.  For example, if, in the course of a year, 50 couples who live in St. Dissentia parish are asking permission to get married at St. Fidelia parish, and no one from St. Fidelia parish to get married at St. Dissentia, that could be a a sign that the pastor of St. Dissentia might not be doing his job.  On the other hand, if everyone is going to Fr. Marrying Sam at St. Dissentia…

UPDATE: As a priest commentator adds, below, we must also give due regard to can. 1115, which concerns also liceity, though not validity.

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  1. michelelyl says:

    In the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, if permission is not requested/granted from the pastor of your parish of domicile, an annulment can and has been granted. The diocese requires permission regarding domicile for Baptism (unless an emergency) and for Marriage.

  2. Rellis says:

    In my area of the world (Diocese of Arlington/Archdiocese of Washington), the territorial/personal parish distinction is becoming distinctly-absurd.

    Most parishes have a decided “personality,” despite being territorial by design. For example, the parish next door to the one I happen to reside in is universally known as the kooky Baby Boomer “social justice” Obama parish. I would never, ever set foot in there (and never did when I lived in that part of town).

    Other parishes are “the Trid place,” “the reform of the reform place,” “the Irish nationalistic place,” etc. Note that all of these are supposedly “territorial.” None, in fact, act that way. They have become magnets for a consumer stripe of Catholicism.

    Part of this is that people around here move around a lot. That makes it practically difficult to establish a “territorial” rule. Therefore, people find a parish that comports with their Catholic worldview, and stay tethered there so long as they live within driving distance. That’s certainly what I have done, and it’s what most Catholics I know also do.

    In such a situation, I think it’s incumbent upon bishops and pastors to sort this out. Territoriality made sense when people didn’t move and when the difference between parishes was akin to the differences between McDonalds–same hamburger, different pictures on the wall. Now the hamburgers are very, very different. People will naturally go to the place serving the different type of hamburger they like. Let’s not pretend this is 1955 and the hamburgers are still all the same. Let’s embrace the choices we now we have, or start making standard-issue hamburgers again.

    The middle ground (supposed but non-actual territoriality) is a joke.

  3. ContraMundum says:

    … that could be a a sign that the pastor of St. Dissentia might not be doing his job.

    It could be a sign that brides don’t like churches with ugly modern and/or abstract art. She probably wants her church wedding to take place in something that actually looks like a church.

    [Because marriages are less about the sacrament and more about the photos?]

  4. RuralVirologist says:

    If two Ukrainian Catholics went to the Latin Rite priest where they usually attend Mass and asked him to marry them, and the nearest Ukrainian Catholic priest was in another country 5000 km away, what should the priest say? [The priest is obliged to help them get in touch with the Eparchy whose subjects they are. He can help them, but he has no jurisdiction on his own to marry them. Neither does the local Latin Church bishop. They are subjects of a different Church (the Ukrainian Catholic Church.]

    What happens if someone simply doesn’t know what rite they belong to? [Then steps should be taken to figure it out.] This is common enough where I live, as the Maronites and Syro-Malabars are as poorly catechised as the Latins. Many Lebanese and Indians just call themselves Roman Catholic and haven’t been to Mass in their own rite for years / decades / ever. [These are important matters and should not be glossed over.]

  5. Ed Mechmann says:

    There’s another factor to consider. By obtaining the permission of the territorial pastor (who frequently is the pastor of the parish where the person grew up), you can be assured about the person’s freedom to be married, since he will check their sacramental records. It does occasionally happen that a person presents themselves to be married, but they still have a valid prior marriage that was never declared null (they may have been improperly told that they can make their own judgement on the validity of their first marriage in the “internal forum”).

  6. John UK says:

    Such particular laws could also bring to the attention of the chancery certain demographic realities. For example, if, in the course of a year, 50 couples who live in St. Dissentia parish are asking permission to get married at St. Fidelia parish, and no one from St. Fidelia parish to get married at St. Dissentia, that could be a a sign that the pastor of St. Dissentia might not be doing his job.

    Or it could be that St.Fidelia ( in reality St.Pulchrissima) church is a grade 1* listed (the top English architectural grading) set in a beautiful, photogenic churchyard, and poor St.Dissentia (in reality St.Taberna Cassiterina) the proverbial leaking tin tabernacle, sandwiched between a speak-easy and a burger bar . . .

    Which leads to Rellis’s point
    people find a parish that comports with their Catholic worldview, and stay tethered there so long as they live within driving distance.

    Pick ‘n’ mix in worship can so easily lead to pick ‘n mix in faith and doctrine with disastrous results. This is one piece of Anglican “patrimony” which needs to be left firmly behind by those acceeptig the Holy Father’s generous invitation in Anglicanorum Coetibus. It has led to the collapse of almost every semblance of orthodoxy in the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Churches in Canada and in the British Isles are close on the heels of ECUSA. The dream of ARCIC has receded into the far distance as a mirage in the desert sand retreats before one…

    Kind regards,
    John U.K.

  7. ZadoktheRoman says:

    Father, I think you’re forgetting Canon 1115:

    Can. 1115 Marriages are to be celebrated in a parish where either of the contracting parties has a domicile, quasidomicile, or month long residence or, if it concerns transients, in the parish where they actually reside. With the permission of the proper ordinary or proper pastor, marriages can be celebrated elsewhere.

    In general, that means that the permission of one’s (territorial) pastor should be sought in order to licitly marry in another parish. [Nice to see you! It has been a long time. I focused, above, the point of validity, not liceity. Thanks for bringing in this canon.]

  8. RuralVirologist says:

    These are important matters and should not be glossed over.

    Thanks for adding your comment, Father. My discovery of the Latin Mass was through discovering the Eastern Rites. Yet, when I once asked someone to tell me when there was an Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy to be held, they looked at me strangely and said it’s the same as the normal Mass, except you just don’t understand it (non-English vernacular Byzantine rite in that case). Very sad. I don’t think many people care about the heritage of their sui iuris Churches, even those who know what it is. Unfortunately, glossing over it is all that will happen.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    As to residency, in some dioceses, one of the persons in the couple to be married need to be resident and active members of the parish for a minimum of five months. This was decided when couples would just turn up to be married without any involvement in the Church. The local ordinaries in some cases have extended that one month rule to five, and perhaps even longer. Therefore, permission to be married in another place would be in that context as well.

  10. mrsschiavolin says:

    Wow, news to me. So much for that MA in speculative theology.

    Our “parish” draws people from 75 zip codes. I highly doubt that anyone is asking permission from the pastors in those areas.

    So are you saying that even if you are a registered member in good standing at a particular church, you are canonically bound to your geographic parish?

  11. Supertradmum says:

    Ed Mechmann, in some dioceses, the parishes turn the sacramental records over to the chancery offices after a certain period of time. This depends on the diocese. For example, my own personal sacramental records are not kept in the church where I was baptized, received First Holy Communion, First Confession and Confirmation. Those are in the archives of the diocesan chancery office. Annulment records are always in the diocesan offices. Looking for these records takes time, as I know from chasing down records for RCIA candidates who had to regularize marriages, prove previous sacraments had been given, and even procure baptismal records. Getting married should be a long process, and some churches in my own diocese have a rule for over nine months in the waiting. As to giving permission, I personally had a bishop for my wedding, coming into a parish which was not in his diocese, as he is a personal friend, and permission was given. However, I was a member of that parish for quite some time and the priests knew me and the bishop. Catholics should not assume anything about wedding plans, and plan for long preparations. In addition, the preparation must be done by the presiding priest, which may mean trips, etc. Most priests who marry a couple want to be the one’s to do the pre-Cana prep as well. I do not know one case where the presiding priest was not the one to give the pre-Cana prep or the pre-nuptial interview now required. Also, some bishops want the decision on these happenings, especially if the parish involved is a popular place for marriages, such as a historical church, or one of particular beauty. For example, I know some beautiful churches, where the rule is that one must be a parishioner in order to be married there, period.

  12. JaneC says:

    I had no idea that there was such a rule. I have never in my life been a regular attendee at my geographical parish. At the time when I got married, I didn’t even know which of the four parishes within four miles of my apartment was my territorial parish, or how to find out. I was registered as a parishioner across town, and that is where I got married. No one seemed to care.

  13. ReginaMarie says:

    As you may know from attending the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (or St. Basil the Great), there is very little similarity between the Novus Ordo Mass & the Divine Liturgy. My first experience of the DL had me transfixed…it was so unlike anything I had ever experienced in the NO. That was 6 years ago & we have not returned to the NO since. Sadly, the majority of Roman Catholics I have met (whether tradition-minded or not) have no idea that the Eastern Catholic Churches even exist.

  14. Bender says:

    re: Diocese of Baker

    With all respect, it sounds as if they are looking for excuses to grant annulments. In too many places, in their zeal to want to see people regularized and restored to full communion and the sacraments (which is a good thing), they see annulments as a good thing (complete with advertisements in the diocese newspaper — “come learn about how you can get an annulment!”) to the detriment of defending pre-existing marriages.

    They don’t see that every annulment granted is a sign of scandalous failure — failure if they are decreeing void those which are in fact valid marriages and, if the decree of nullity is legitimate, scandalous failure of the marriage preperation process, which should have better prepared them to eliminate any future nullablity issues or even prevented them from wedding in the first place.

    But, perhaps I am jumping to conclusions with respect to Baker.

  15. Rellis says:

    @JohnUK, what’s the problem with going to a parish which emphasizes different aspects of faith and worship, assuming everything is on the orthodoxy up-and-up? I go to the liturgy-focused parish. Someone else wants a social justice parish (which barely stays in the lines, but does). Yet another might want a devotion-heavy, liturgy-light place.

    Rather than pretending that all parishes will be the same (at least around here, that’s just not the case and never will be), why not abandon the pretense? Make those parishes that have a distinct character “personal parishes” for various charisms? That’s what people are using them for today, and that is not going to change.

    What I’m suggesting is not a change in fact. What I’m suggesting is that the law change to reflect the overwhelming majority experience in the area of Washington, DC.

    Your concern is that some of these “charisms” would become heterodox or even heretical. That isn’t the case in Arlington (I hope), and is, in any case, the responsibility of the bishop.

    This is the way forward, at least in major cities in America. Many readers of this blog experience this all the time by belonging to a TLM parish outside of their “territory.”

  16. Father K says:

    Re Comment on Contradmundum [who makes a good and valid point btw]

    Oh come on – if your parish church looks more like a pizza hut than a church and Father Trendy likes to do his own thing – who can blame a couple looking elsewhere- isn’t this what your blog is all about – good and decent liturgy? Don’t assume the worst about fastidious people that they are so shallow that is it all about photos and make snarky comments which btw are unjust and unkind.

  17. Bender says:

    No matter how much we may convince ourselves, parish-shopping and liturgy-shopping are not virtues. Rather, they are signs of division in a body that should be one. Nevertheless, if going to the territorial parish is going to cause more spiritual harm than good, if you really cannot get past X or Y, then perhaps a little leeway might be allowed.*

    That said, going to other parishes now and then is good. Parish-shopping, not so much, but bouncing around once in a while is good, even when you end up going to parishes where you really don’t feel all that comfortable in — too liberal, too conservative, too modern, too traditional, too loud, too quiet, too many old folks, too many young people, good music, bad music, uplifting homilies, and homilies that bore you to death.

    It’s good going to parishes where you are confronted with people you otherwise might never have anything to do with because we have to remind ourselves that the Church is all one big family. And like any real family, there are people you like, others not so much. But they are all our brothers and sisters, so it is good to go worship with them once in a while, rather than sticking with “our own kind” all the time.
    * I personally am close to four parishes. The closest is a Vietnamese personal parish (where they have beautiful sounding Masses that I do not understand a word of). Then there are two parishes and the Cathedral-parish, all within about the same distance. And, as noted by Jane above, trying to learn what the geographical boundaries are took quite a bit of sleuthing (I suppose I could have just picked up a phone and called the diocese instead). After trying many times the Cathedral (which, with its wide-open spaces, can practically trigger a sense of agoraphobia) and the other parish (with its LOUD rock-band – ‘nuf said), it was not until I was fairly established at the third that I learned that I was about a quarter/half-mile outside its boundaries. So, yes, I too am outside my territorial parish. It is not the ideal, but Bishop Loverde and most pastors do allow some degree of leeway in these things.

  18. Rellis says:

    @Bender, if the Church isn’t going to provide a uniform parish experience (which She no longer does), how can you begrudge people taking advantages of the choices that have, de facto, been offered to them?

    Conversely, why do you want to trap people in a “territorial” parish which is actually a de facto personal parish? Why do you want to pretend that something isn’t the way it actually is?

    I agree, however, about occasionally poking your head in a different de facto personal parish. I refuse to call most parishes in Arlington or DC territorial. It’s absurd.

  19. DelRayVA says:

    When I moved into the diocese of Arlington, VA, I wasn’t sure which was my territorial parish–there were four nearby. I called the diocese, and gave them my address. The diocesan office told me that I lived near the border of four different parishes, and suggested I just try all four and see which one I liked.

    We currently are registered at the parish next door to our territorial parish, but we got a letter from our territorial pastor granting permission to do so, first.

  20. Bender says:

    why do you want to trap people in a “territorial” parish

    Did I neglect to say that we are not an insular congregational Church, but that we are one?

    And the uniform parish experience that does exist is the One Mass. We all celebrate ONE Mass and we are ONE people, a communion of many persons in one being, the Lord. Uniformity in music tastes or in architecture or in preaching styles is not necessary, rather, there is unity in diversity, the diversity of personal tastes. This is to be embraced — do you really think that when you get to heaven that you won’t have to associate with those who have other tastes and preferences?

    Territorial parishes provide this valued unity in diversity, where a multiplicity of persons are one community even despite their differences. It is right that this should be the norm and that their should be a higher standard of justification for parish-shopping other than mere personal preferences and tastes.

    While we might blur the territorial boundaries a bit to allow people some flexibility, especially where there are tightly-packed parishes, that the parish within your territory might slightly lean in a direction other than what you would like is not enough — only if it continues to interfere with one’s faith and spiritual life progressing toward holiness, notwithstanding one’s best sincere efforts to go along, or if one has an established presence and then moves — should it justify joining (or remaining in) a parish that is far away.

    By the way, before I joined my present parish, in addition to going to the others nearby, I went occasionally to the parish that is very enthusiastically traditional. I had been of a mind to join, despite it being much further away. But they are so traditionally-minded that they take the territorial boundary rules seriously, and they do not permit registration of those outside the boundaries.

  21. Alice says:

    Ed Mechmann,
    Both my husband and I were required to call the parishes at which we were baptized and ask them to send a Baptism certificate to the parish at which we were planning to marry. Our Confirmations were recorded on the back and our parish sent notice of our marriage to the parishes in which we were baptized for their records as well. A few parishes are probably lazy about updating records, but in general, a current Baptism certificate should tell the priest whether a person has received Baptism and Confirmation and whether they have made public vows, been ordained, or married in the Church. The pastor of the territorial parish in which my husband resided could have checked every record in the parish’s 100+ year history and not found anything about him since he had received all the Sacraments of Initiation by the time he moved into the parish at 24 or so.

  22. ContraMundum says:

    Because marriages are less about the sacrament and more about the photos?

    You do realize that I’m of the wrong sex to answer that question? I’m a guy. I see funerals arranged within 3 days of an unexpected death that are decorous and reverent, so I can’t understand why planning a wedding requires a year of stress.

    In any event, there is a world of distinction between a marriage and a wedding. “Marriage” is the sacrament; “wedding” is the liturgical rite that makes the marriage possible. As a result, a parish that takes the liturgy seriously will make for better wedding pictures, something I’m sure you’ll agree is true.

  23. jhayes says:

    The Ukranian Catholics whose nearest priest is 5000 miles away but can’t be married by a Latin-rite priest made me think of the the reverse situation.

    For Latin-rite Catholics who can’t reasonably expect that a competent person (priest, deacon, etc) will be present within the next month – and they can’t travel to where one is within that time without grave inconvenience – Canon 1116 says they “can validly and lawfully contract in the presence of witnesses only.”

    People in danger of death can do the same if there is no “competent person” available.

    So, get a couple of neighbors to stop in while you make the promises to each other.

    Obviously, the situations in which the conditions can be met are rare.

    See details here: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P40.HTM

    I don’t know what the Eastern rite code says, so I don’t know if this helps the Ukranians

  24. Tim Ferguson says:

    The Ukrainians (and other Easterners) can be helped by having their eparchial bishop delegate the local Latin pastor to officiate. The Latin pastor would use the Latin ritual books, and the marriage would be recorded in the Latin parish, but elsewise, the marriage would be considered a Ukrainian marriage (any necessary dispensation would come from the Ukrainian bishop, et c.). My area of the country is rich with Catholics from the various ritual Churches, most of whom – but not all of whom – have their own pastors. Many of the local Latin priests have received delegation from Eastern hierarchs to officiate at weddings.

  25. CharleyCOllins says:

    I refuse to believe the Diocese of Baker is granting annulments based on lack of permission of the pastor of domicile. That is just not a valid reason for an annulment, and I am sure michelelyl is mistaken. As for parish membership, many (if not most) dioceses have rules that you can “belong” to any parish at which you register (which should not replace your rights if you do not “register” for your territorial parish – those rights are fixed by the universal law.) Some dioceses even have policy that say you “belong” to the parish you attend!

    Given this fact, I do not think laypeople should have to worry to much about permissions from territorial pastors when they are getting married in the parish in which they attend. Both pastors (the territorial pastor and the pastor of the Church you attend) would probably be very confused if someone brought it up. Just do what the priest marrying you asks, and don’t make life more complicated than it has to be.

    But it is important to remember that a territorial pastor does not have the ability to validly marry his subjects outside his territory without proper delegation. This is a huge problem when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic in the non-Catholic’s church, with the Catholic priest celebrating (a fairly common “compromise” for mixed marriages). The Catholic priest will often just assume he can officiate at this wedding, without noticing this particular Baptist church is one parish over!

    And as a final point, your post points out a fundamental problem of the personal parish, which is an often foggy notion of what a subject is. If a personal parish is established for Spanish-speaking persons, and yet the Church has one English mass (which is often the case), what happens when two non-Spanish speakers approach the pastor for marriage? I know of one such parish, which because of the Liturgy Wars, ended up having more English masses than Spanish ones (it was conservative, the territorial parish very liberal – they shared the same territory). Over the years, the pastor ended up being an Anglo who made the parish into one of the largest in the Diocese. Because of the turmoil of the post-Conciliar period, everyone seemed to not notice it was a personal parish. A new bishop was installed, and looked at the diocesan map, and wondered why two parishes shared the same territory. Oops! Thousands, yes thousands (this was going on for decades), of technically invalid marriages, because the pastor was not a territorial pastor. But which marriages were invalid, when a parish is established for “Spanish-speakers”? Is it native Spanish speakers? Does it include their non-Spanish speaking children? How about their grandchildren? What if they do not have Spanish speaking relatives, but took it in high school? Are they Spanish-speaking enough to qualify for a valid marriage in a personal parish for Spanish speakers?

    This also applies for personal parishes for those “attached to the pre-Conciliar liturgy”. How attached? What if neither party likes the old mass, but are friends with the priest?

    Dearest bishops, when appointing pastors to personal parishes, please do everyone a favour, and grant the pastor general delegation to perform marriages within the territorial parish in which his personal parish’s parish church is located. Pretty please?

  26. James Joseph says:

    That was interesting… something I have thought about before but never asked.

    Now that we know what a rule on two of getting married is… where does one find anywhere within the confines of North America an unmarried, member of the opposite sex who happens to be both Catholic and not completely geriatric? I only ask because there never seems to be any at church on Sunday.

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