Ed Peters on civil effects of Church marriages

The Canonical Defender, the distinguished Ed Peters, has some comments on his fine blog In The Light Of The Law about civil consequences of Catholic marriage ceremonies. In the USA marriage ceremonies are also the civil act. In Italy, there are two steps, ecclesiastical and civil.

Some first thoughts on Weigel’s call to reconsider civil consequences for Catholic weddings

November 14, 2012

George Weigel writes in a thought-provoking essay that we should, among other things, “accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.”

Okay, a few thoughts toward that acceleration.

First for precision: the Church is not in the civil marriage business, we are in the religious marriage business. [Bingo.] Our clergy act fundamentally as ecclesiastical officers at our weddings. The few clerics who from time to time (notwithstanding 1983 CIC 285 § 3) attempt to act as purely civil agents at weddings do so with virtually no canonical support. See e.g., CLSA Advis. Op. 1984-55 Provost, CLSA Advis. Op. 1988-98 Wallace, and CLSA Advis. Op. 2005-76 Jorgensen (all rejecting civil-only agency) vs. CLSA Advis. Op. 1987-128 Cuneo (who leaves open a small possibility for such service).

Second and more important, it is not strictly speaking for the Church to “withdraw” from “civil marriage”, for the decision to accord civil recognition to ecclesiastical ceremonies like weddings is the State’s to make, not the Church’s. [hmmm…. well… a bishop could, probably, decide to tell his priests not to do anything with civil marriage papers/licences.] As Catholics we do what we do, namely, solemnize weddings as we think fit, while the State does what the State does, namely, accord civil recognition to those events (like, e.g., letting spouses file joint tax returns and inherit property) as it thinks fit. Now, I grant it’s very convenient for the State to recognize Catholic weddings, but if the State decides not to do so, well, okay.* Catholics are still going to marry in the eyes of the Church and ecclesiastical consequences will still flow from such religious acts—or not, as the case may be—but, in any event, independently from whether the State chooses to recognize that ceremony. In short, I’m not sure how the Church can “withdraw” civil recognition of its ceremonies or, for that matter, demand it. [Again, can’t a bishop tell priests not to do anything with civil paperwork?]

It is painful, of course, to watch the State’s definition of marriage careen toward something unrecognizable under natural or ecclesiastical law, but eliminating true marriages from the pool of unions treated as marriage by the State is not the solution to the State’s errors. [Hmmm… could it keep us from being sued by homosexual activists who want to harass the Church into obedience?] Moreover, if the day arrives wherein State power is turned against a pastor who refuses a “gay wedding”, we must and will refuse cooperation with that simulation of a sacrament (e.g. 1983 CIC 841, 1379) as best we can (e.g. 1983 CIC 1370 § 3, 1373). But, that day has not arrived yet [It will.] and I see no need to surrender societal goods (such as the convenience, and even meetness, [!  For those of you from Fridley, that means “suitability”, “propriety”.] of civil recognition of Catholic weddings) that have not yet been demanded of us.

Third, the Church’s interest in marriage predates and transcends the State’s, obviously, but the Church nevertheless recognizes the legitimate interests of the State in marriage and tries, in a myriad of ways, to accommodate those interests (see e.g. 1983 CIC 1071 § 1, n. 2). Sorting through those modi vivendi is not something for individuals to take upon themselves and to accelerate this discussion is not to go pedal-to-the-metal, folks! (Weigel did not suggest that, but we are posting before a public that does not always observe his prudence).

Fourth . . . well, there are several other aspects of this matter that need to be discussed, but this is just a blog post, and one can’t cover everything. + + +

* The American State does not recognize ecclesiastical annulments (even those declared on grounds identical to the State’s) yet no one seem the worse off for it. Canonists disagree, by the way, about whether the Church should grant canonical recognition to civil annulments. See e.g. CLSA Advis. Op. 1995-84 Ingels and CLSA Advis. Op. 1988-100 Provost (arguing yes) vs. CLSA Advis. Op. 1995-86 McKenzie (arguing no); either way, though, the granting of ecclesiastical effects to civil actions is clearly the Church’s decision to make, not the State’s. Mutatis mutandis, I suggest it is for the State to decide whether to grant civil effects to Catholic weddings.

It WILL happen that homosexuals harass the Church with law suits.  A foreshadowing was certainly the way poor Fr. Guarnizo was set up and then thrown to the wolves.  It is just a matter of time.

Again, could not bishops determine that priests will not concern themselves with any of the civil paperwork?  I don’t know.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Imrahil says:

    Well… it is true that priests assist at the sacramental wedding; which the State gives recognition to.

    But what is also true is that the State if he* introduces a civil status of “married persons”, is – in my humble opinion – naturally bound to grant this status to those religiously married; and I also think he might reasonably demand a bit of paperwork to get his records clear. [*Allow me to personalize him, analogously to the practice of referring to the Catholic Church as “she”; it feels so much more natural.]

    As those who gave me the undeserved honor to read some of my comments know, I’m often inclined to praise Continental ways over American ones, but not here. Amerika, du hast es besser. The separation of civil marriage from the Sacrament – even if a difference of statusses can indeed be traced into reality – has altogether been the work of Church-inimical governments, of which the Culture-struggling Bismarckians were only the perhaps most well-known example. It is fundamentally marriage (natural and sacramental, the former being the basis of the latter also) which is acknowledged and to a degree regulated by the State under the title “marriage”. Which is, on an aside, why a “Registered Partnership” for homosexuals, while also bad, plays in an entirely different league than does a “homosexual marriage”.

    As to suing homosexuals: Get the Church’s fortune to the Princedom of Liechtenstein, and then just keep disobeying the homosexual activists. If they will sue, they will find something to sue for.

  2. Lisa Graas says:

    This is a critical point. I’m glad it’s being discussed. I guess I understand this issue pretty well because of my own experience. I obtained a civil divorce with the blessing of the Church, per the reasons the Church gives for obtaining such, but there has been no annulment. Neither I nor my husband have pursued an annulment. I live the celibate life joyfully, now, and am quite content with it. My situation, though, makes no sense to a lot of people who have the idea that if you are “divorced” (in the civil sense) then you are absolutely divorced. Um, no. I’m not divorced except in the civil sense. In the eyes of the Church, I am still technically married. It’s possible that there are sound reasons for annulment, but since neither I nor my husband have pursued that, we’re still technically married in the eyes of the Church. My point in sharing this is to explain that our perception of the Church in association with the State can color our views of reality. My reality is what the Church says, not what the State says. The Church and the State disagree on my status, but this is not something that interferes with my life. It does not bother me what the State rules are about my “status,” so to speak. What matters to me is what the Church says about it.

    Protestants do not really have this luxury of being able to treat the Church and the State separately on the issue of matrimony. Most protestants believe divorce (not annulment, but divorce) is legitimate under certain circumstances, yet their pastors have no authority (neither do they claim authority) to issue a “writ of divorcement.” Protestants rely on the State for their divorces. They are inextricably tied to the State on the issue of divorce. Because of this, separating marriage from State law would have a more profound and disturbing impact on the “faithful protestant” than it would on the faithful Catholic.

    Sorry for the lengthy comment, but this is an important distinction between protestants and Catholics that I think should be pointed out.

  3. acricketchirps says:

    If I had money, I always thought it would be a fun test case to sue for divorce from my wife on the grounds that our so-called “marriage” is exclusive and unbreakable until death, open to life and intrinsically opposite-sex–in short, our relationship has nothing in common with marriage as defined by civil authorities in our jurisdiction. But I don’t have money.

  4. lelnet says:

    “Now, I grant it’s very convenient for the State to recognize Catholic weddings, but if the State decides not to do so, well, okay. Catholics are still going to marry in the eyes of the Church and ecclesiastical consequences will still flow from such religious acts—or not, as the case may be—but, in any event, independently from whether the State chooses to recognize that ceremony.”

    I do have to wonder about Can. 1071.1.2, in that case, though.

    Of course, one would hope that when the hardcore persecutions come, the Church will be willing to amend Canon Law, so as to avoid having to deny Catholics the right to the Sacrament of Matrimony on the say-so of an institution (the State) which is proving itself to be irrevocably aligned with Satan…but knowing how long such changes can take, I’m grateful that my wife and I made it to the altar before such nonsense as we’re about to see got started.

  5. PostCatholic says:

    I suppose you’re familiar with the French system. All civil marriages take place in a civil setting (typically the Hôtel de Ville of your city, with the maire or adjoint as the officiant). If you want to have a religious marriage, you may do so after the civil one. Consequence: very few religious marriages occur in France.

  6. anilwang says:

    “eliminating true marriages from the pool of unions treated as marriage by the State is not the solution to the State’s errors. [Hmmm… could it keep us from being sued by homosexual activists who want to harass the Church into obedience?]

    I doubt it. Priests are already harassed by those activists because when they are denied communion.

    It’s clear that there are three views on marriage:
    (1) It’s a life-long covenant (i.e. vow to God), and as such can never be broken (Catholic, and Orthodox to a degree)
    (2) It’s a contract (i.e. promise to each other), which might be sanctioned by God, but can be broken if one takes responsibility for the consequences. (Protestant)
    (3) It’s just a social convention that recognizes relationships that already exist. What is and is not allowed will change as society changes. (Humanist)

    These three views are not compatible and any pretense that they do will only cause problems and confusion.

    Regardless of what the State does, we need to recover the Catholic terminology for the difference between Catholic Marriages and non-Catholic marriages and all other types of marriages. We need to say “Holy Matrimony” instead of Marriage, and “sacramentally marry” instead of “marry” and something like “life-long wife/husband” instead of “wife/husband” (and definitely not “partner”). We need to constantly remind society and all poorly catechized Catholics that Catholic marriages are supposed to be different and must be treated as such. Society might revert back to legally recognizing concubinage and even incest as valid “marriages”, but it doesn’t matter. Catholics have a higher standard.

  7. The bigger issue is not the state recognizing sacramental weddings, but the Church recognizing other weddings. Civil divorce has already made this tricky. Sham “gay marriage” is just another reason to NOT presume the validity of non-Catholic marriages.

    It seems to me that in furtherance of the truth, we should presume external “marriages” as INVALID unless a very well publicized set of basic conditions are met. They might not be exhaustive as that would complicate things, but sufficient for a presumption of marriage. I would call this the “presumed invalid unless…” approach. This is in contrast to our current presumed valid one.

    The legal challenge against the Church will be against our non-profit status in light of our “discrimination” against homosexuals — denying them the same services (marriage) we offer to heterosexuals.

  8. Lisa Graas says:

    George writes: “Civil divorce has already made this tricky.”

    Please see my comment on my situation above. It is only “tricky” for those who are not committed to what the Church says. It’s not the slightest bit “tricky” for me because I listen to the Church, not to the State. I do agree with George, however, that the use of terminology can make it seem “tricky” to those who look at this issue at face value without studying the matter in some depth. If the Church says “marriage” (instead of “Holy Matrimony”) and the State says “marriage” people can be confused on the matter.

    In the end, though, these things are only “tricky” to people who do not have a genuine commitment to knowing what the Church teaches and in following the Church in all things.

  9. Allan S. says:

    I respectfully disagree with M. Peters. I gather he is not a state-licensed lawyer in addition to being a canon lawyer. One of the main – if not only – wedges open to being used to advance lawsuits designed to force Catholic clergy to perform unnatural marriages is the very fact that, usually, these clergy are state licensed. Due to this fact, the act of solemnizing a marriage has a civil effect under state law, and (so the argument goes) denial of access on any basis at odds with state law is unlawfull, and capable of being remedied by civil courts (e.g. by ordering Catholic clergy to solemnize all marriages regardless of church law).

    If you take that ingredient away, all that is left is a lawsuit designed to force a religious minister into conducting a religious ceremony to garner only a religious effect (sacramental marriage). Such an action, respectfully, has no chance whatsoever of success, as no civil or state-regulated outcome is in play. The suggestion that Bishops get ahead of the game is an excellent one indeed.

    It is my understanding that clergy are required by canon law to obey every lawful order of their Ordinary. Perhaps M. Peters could opine whether or not a Bishop may lawfully direct that all clergy under his authority immediately surrender their state licenses to conduct marriages, and that they not ever apply or reapply for one. Certainly, subject to any contrary arguments, I believe such an order would indeed be lawful.

    I understand the USCCB is not a governing body, and exercises no authority, and that individual Bishops acting on their own initiatives could take this action in their dioceses.

  10. Allan S. says:

    Also, respectfully, I am puzzled by M. Peters’ argument against the suggestion on the basis of convenience for those being married. So they would have to go and have their marriage done by the state. So what? Big deal. This is already the case in other countries now. Whether or not the couple chooses to get a state license or not would be irrelevent. They could choose to do so for economic reasons (taxes, etc.) or not, as they wish. Their marriage is real in the ONLY way that matters. The Bishop and tribunals under him ought to adopt a position of utter indifference to state issued “marriage” licenses.

    I see no other way to put this: the state has gone to hell, so to hell with the state!

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Peters. I gather he is not a state-licensed lawyer in addition to being a canon lawyer.”

    Actually, he had degrees in both civil and Canon law.

    The Chicken

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    Increasingly, the Church and the (U. S.) State are coming to separate and divergent understandings of marriage. The State can offer no reasonably true reasons for its understanding of what marriage is, while the Church can offer no means to coerce society to accept its very properly reasoned truths. I guess this “marriage” is doomed to fail.

    The Chicken

  13. Joe in Canada says:

    Is it the case in the various states that the state grants “civil recognition of Catholic marriages”? In Canada, the minister licensed by the Church must also be licensed by the state: so as far as the state is concerned, he is acting as an agent of the state. The fact that the state allows the Church to submit his candidature upon presentation of celebret indicates the historical relationship between the Church and the state, but it remains the minister is functioning in 2 different ways. People who function as purely civil administrators of marriage (Justices of the peace, etc) do not have the right to refrain from same-sex marriages. I believe that this is what Mr Weigel was writing about. I could easily see the state demanding that all those authorized by the state to solemnize marriage be available for all “marriages” as defined by the state.

  14. Father K says:

    ‘Again, can’t a bishop tell priests not to do anything with civil paperwork?’ I don’t think so, but I am not familiar with the American set-up. But this is what happens in Australia.

    In Australia, all marraige celebrants must be registered by the civil authority. If the marriage celebrant is also a minister of a religious denomination then he/she will fill out the requisite paperwork required by the civil authorities, send them to the Registrar and then do the marriage according to his/her own religious denomination rites. [and only those]. For example as a Catholic priest, duly designated by my local Ordinary to the civil authorities, I have a licence from them to perform marriages which are civilly recognised. However, as a Catholic priest I can only marry people according to the Rites of the Catholic Church. I could not perform a purely civil ceremony for anyone under a palm tree in the local park or on the beach. A purely civil celebrant can and often would.

    On the other hand, if I or any Catholic priest refused to handle the civil marriage papers then we would have our licences revoked by the civil authority. Thus, if I married a Catholic couple in a Catholic Church and had full faculties from my Ordinary to do so, their marriage would be invalid as far as the civil authorities are concerned with all sorts of consequences for that couple.

    So, is this a similar scenario that exists in the USA? I would be interested to know.

  15. fvhale says:

    The course of social events may push the Church to consider again how to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Civil legal documents and public records such as birth certificates, death certificates, passports, etc. are already not often the concern of the Church. And the civil authorities have no interest in ecclesial baptismal records and their sacramental annotations.

    The difficult point seems to be only marriage. In my case, I married when I was an evangelical Protestant, before returning to the Catholic Church. That marriage was strictly a civil, legal procedure, according to the custom of the Christian community which did not consider weddings to be part of the church’s business, although a virtuous married life was indeed part of Christian life. Later, we celebrated with our church community and families with a wedding banquet, which was neither a legal action, nor an ecclesial action, but social. Upon returning to the Catholic Church, on the twentieth anniversary of the civil marriage, our marriage was convalidated in our Catholic parish, and noted as a sacramental action by the Church.

    The culture seems to be conflicted on this matter, and perhaps the Church is also. Culture has all the images of the big, glorious Church wedding, but wants nothing of religion or what the Church actually teaches (about marriage or much else). The Church also seems to be conflicted with fewer Catholics marrying as Catholics and to Catholics, or paying attention to what the Church teaches; and the whole issue of past failed marriages (for whatever reason) is a great cause of suffering. The topic is very emotional, and clear, compassionate paths are difficult to discern.

    And this is all before even coming to the “one man, one woman” point of the modern discussion.

  16. Athanasius says:

    Weigel has it backwards (as usual), it is the state that should get out of the marriage business altogether. Civil marriage is nothing more than the state usurping the Church’s authority. Period.

  17. wmeyer says:

    Athanasius, I am inclined to agree that the state should not be in the marrying business; it is a religious issue and ceremony, and has been for a very long time. That said, I do not believe they will give up that business, any more than they will give up any other territory into which they have intruded. Consequently, I would settle for the Church removing the overlap by renouncing secular licenses. It’s not perfect, but better than what we have now.

  18. Phil_NL says:

    Well, the matter is even more complicated, I fear.

    In marriage cases, it (and judging by some other threads here quite frequently) pops up that people who married civilly while outside the Church (e.g. prior to conversion) still see that element being taken into account when judging their marital status in the eyes of the church (e.g. https://wdtprs.com/2012/11/quaeritur-marry-us-or-youll-drive-us-out-of-the-church/#comment-374822 ).

    Now if the church does take into acount action of the state, even to the point that civil marriages may be valid in its eyes (or assumed to be until proven null), than we do have a messy intertwining of the two. Logically, we then cannot say that what the state does or neglects will not have an impact on the Church. Now the church can indeed choose not to seek any civil effects from its sacramental marriages – which sounds like a good idea to me, in the sense that you at least keep control over the definition of marriage. But if we go that route, it would be rediculous to maintain a situation where civil marriages would have an effect in the eyes of the Church. One basically would say at the same time: we don’t think the civil effects are worth one penny, but you’d still have to get an annulment from them.

    In all, I think life would be a lot, lot easier if the Church would take the position that civil cermonies and any legal effects do not matter one yot one way or the other, and just disregard the lot. I’d even go so far as to say we should extent that to marriages of various other churches. I fail to see how a marriage in a church that allows no-fault divorce is any more sacramental than a civil cermony, which, IMO, should be not at all. It’s just a piece of paper allowing joint tax returns, visitation rights, recognition of children and the lot, none of which should have any religious significance.

    I assume learned canonists and theologians will see things differently, and I accept whatever the Holy Church decides on this, but to me it does seem needlessly troublesome to keep civil marriages as well as civil effects of proper marriages as part of the equation.

  19. frjim4321 says:

    A possible effect of this would be an understanding that the church is encouraging couples to marry invalidly, which I would assume we don’t want to do.

  20. priests wife says:

    This is one place where Europe probably has it right- civil wedding and then the actual sacrament for those that can be sacramentally married and actually care about it- for those who do care, they would understand that the state ceremony does not permit them to live together as husband and wife (which is why the civil marriage is done maybe an hour before the couple goes to church)

  21. Minnesotan from Florida says:

    Lisa Graas, your civil divorce would mean for most people, if perhaps not for you, that you could not file a joint income tax return with your ecclesial and sacramental husband, that you could file an “ordinary” unmarried return without the disadvantage (at least usually) of having to use the “married filing separately” status, and perhaps other things as well. Thus I question your indication that the civil divorce makes no difference in your life.
    Conversely, wmeyer and Athanasius, do you not think the legal effects of being married (in many other areas besides federal income taxation) are useful and potentially good in civil society? If they are to exist, the state is will he nil he in the marriage business.
    Thank you, Masked Chicken, for pointing out that Edward Peters has an “ordinary, secular” degree in law (Anglo-American common law, with probably a good bit of attention to federal statutes and the usual patterns of state statutes). Very possibly he has obtained and maintained a license to practice law in some state, but I don’t believe he states anything on that matter in his blog.

  22. robtbrown says:

    PostCatholic says:

    I suppose you’re familiar with the French system. All civil marriages take place in a civil setting (typically the Hôtel de Ville of your city, with the maire or adjoint as the officiant). If you want to have a religious marriage, you may do so after the civil one. Consequence: very few religious marriages occur in France.

    1. You’re quite right that the state doesn’t recognize religious marriages, but I’m not sure that there is any obligation to the order. I had friends married in France at Fontgombault, and the civil ceremony was done later.

    2. There are few religious marriages in France because few French are actually practicing Catholics–not even 10% of the population.

  23. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Minnesotan from Florida: I was admitted in Missouri (but did not practice there) from 1983 to 2006 when I let my civil license go to inactive status.

  24. jhayes says:

    In the United States the laws related to marriage are established by each state. In Massachusetts, where I live, it is a three-step process.

    1. The couple goes to the city or town hall and files a written statement of intention of marriage.

    2. Three days later, you go back there and, if the statement you filed shows that you meet the requirements to be married in Massachusetts, the city or town Clerk gives you an unsigned certificate of marriage to be signed and returned there by the person who witnesses your marriage.

    3. You have two choices:

    a. You can have the Clerk witness your marriage right there in the city or town hall


    b. You can take the certificate to any person authorized to witness marriages. After witnessing it, that person signs the certificate and returns it to the city or town Clerk.

    Persons authorized to witness marriages are:

    a. A town or city Clerk
    b. A Justice of the Peace
    c. A priest or deacon, minister, rabbi, imam, or similar, listed in an annual list filed by his/her denomination with the state or who applies for and receives authorization from the state for a specific wedding.
    d. Any person (friend or family of the couple, etc.) who applies for and receives authorization from the state for a specific wedding.

    If I understand Weigel’s proposal, the only change would be that, in Step 3, all couples would exchange vows before leaving the Clerk’s office so that the certificate would never leave there.. They would be civilly married but Catholics would not be sacramentally married until they continue on to the church and their vows are witnessed by priest or deacon who would record it in the church records but not send anything to the Clerk.

  25. Imrahil says:

    Dear @priests wife,

    This is one place where Europe probably has it right

    Europe has it right in many places. But it does not have it right here. The state acknowledgement of the religious marriage was taken forcefully away in Europe on laicist/anticlericalist/etc. grounds; these forces set a side, it would have and should have remained. In truth, there is one marriage (though the theologians may well differ between natural and sacramental marriage); there is indeed a real difference between the civil and the religious implications of marriage, but there are not two marriages.

    Which is why the Church when she could do so, as she could in the Austrian concordate (which, as far as I see, is regrettably not implemented today), took care that the religious marriage is acknowleged as a civil marriage also.

  26. Michelle F says:

    I don’t understand why everyone is fussing about State marriage versus Church marriage.

    The State and the Church are two separate entities. They have two separate sets of regulations and definitions for marriage. At some points their regulations and definitions overlap, but that does not change the fact that the systems are separate.

    It is simply a matter of convenience for the couple getting married that their priest has a license from the State to declare the marriage “legally valid according to State law.”

    If the priest is not licensed by the State to administer marriages in accordance with State law, and the couple wants the benefits the State gives to married couples, then the only thing the couple has to do is get registered at their local City Hall or County Court House after they are married by their priest.

    If the couple does not want the State benefits, then they do not need to do anything else; as far as God and the Church are concerned, they are married.

    As for my personal opinion on this, I think the Catholic Church in the United States should start preparing to give up the State’s licenses for priests. It is the only way I can see at this point that the Church can protect itself from government investigations and lawsuits when the State starts requiring all of its license-holders to “marry” whatever kind of couple or group shows up on her doorstep.

    Oh, and give up the 501(c)3 status and every other government “benefit” that comes with any kind of string attached. We must get the State out of the Church, and the sooner it’s done, the better.

  27. Allan S. says:

    Michelle F., I agree completely. Walk away from the table, batten down the hatches, save as many souls as you can. Unfortunately, this will mean that hospitals we founded but now run with the state will be gone, likewise educational institutions possibly. There will be pain, but a purifying pain.

    I forget who said it (perhaps Fr. Z?), but our Lord never said we would have big pretty buildings or other trappings of establishment…only Him. Deo gratias!

  28. Bea says:

    Mexico has long had the solution.

    There is the civil ceremony (matrimonio civil) recognized by the government.

    Then Catholics would have the Sacramental Wedding (matrimonio Sacramental), not recognized by the government.

    Catholics would not consider themselves married until they had the Sacramental Marriage, the Church Wedding, the REAL Wedding.

    The civil ceremony was simply viewed as we view today as “getting the license”

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t often agree with George Weigel, but he’s right on this one. We need to separate the civil process from the sacramental process and then scale back the lace and hankies business to nothing. What we’re doing now isn’t guaranteeing anything about the vitality of the marriages whatsoever, while leaving us totally open to all kinds of abuses and pretenses.

    Catholic couples need to go through a solid sacramental preparation period that presupposes some commitment and fidelity to the process, and then get both the sacramental marriage and the civil ceremony on their wedding weekend, after which they will be considered married by everyone.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    PostCatholic says:
    I suppose you’re familiar with the French system. All civil marriages take place in a civil setting (typically the Hôtel de Ville of your city, with the maire or adjoint as the officiant). If you want to have a religious marriage, you may do so after the civil one. Consequence: very few religious marriages occur in France.


    That’s actually an honest consequence, given the general state of religious behavior in France. I have no idea what you think you might gain by hoping that people, who wouldn’t drive across town to get a religious marriage, would instead get a Church marriage with religious content implicit in it, unbidden. This kind of arrangement doesn’t really work, and it’s amazing how many people haven’t caught onto that, considering what the track record has been on this kind of thing.

    I mean it’s too bad there aren’t more practicing Catholics in France, but trying to make them into Catholics by trading stealth for bells and whistles is hardly the way to evangelize them. Probably they should start with the Gospel instead!

  31. jflare says:

    Athanasius, wmeyer,
    The State DOES have a legitimate interest in the “marriage business” at least as far as ensuring that a couple will not be too closely related. God creates life to be virtuous, but the Church DOES warn against close relatives marrying on grounds of..well, genetic..degradation. That’s not the right term, but after a few generations, people who’re too closely related will tend to bear children who’re..mentally challenged.
    Not a good thing to encourage.
    I believe the Church DOES look at this for the purposes of the sacrament, but since the Church can’t actually dictate how all people shall be married…..

    I would firmly disagree with Dr Peters’ assessment on this matter. Essentially, Dr Peters argues that the convenience we’d lose and the sin and/or scandal we might encourage weigh heavily against “withdrawing from civil marriage”. I agree on both counts.

    I disagree regarding whether these concerns outweigh the risks we assume by continuing as we are.

    I think we’ve already essentially LOST the battles that we’d need to have won to make our present approach workable.
    As Fr Z says, we WILL have activists coming after priests and parishes because a priest refuses to “marry” them in accordance with the State’s wishes.
    We will certainly risk dissuading some from being sacramentally married. I must contend though, if someone doesn’t wish to go through that extra step of having a priest and a faith community witness their marriage, such a couple quite likely won’t be that much more interested in worrying about their faith in daily life anyway.

    In other words, I think we need to give couples the challenge to decide to be married in the Church. Making it “easier” by having the priest witness the marriage for the State likely won’t encourage the couple to take their faith more seriously.

    I don’t care for being “exclusive” more than anyone else.
    I DO think we need to be much more clear about our expectations.
    Right now, it’s simply too easy for a couple to go through the motions, but reject most everything of the faith in daily life.

  32. Imrahil says:

    It is not true that the State’s Marriage is a thing totally devised by the State’s statute-givers without an intrinsical connection to Marriage (plain and simple). Even if they who argue along this path may well admit an extrinsical connection.

    There is an intrinsical connection: The State regulates Marriage (plain and simple and existing before the State’s actions) in certain respects (in certain respects he may do so).

    On an aside, this is where our whole opposition against homosexual marriage comes from. (Though I begin to understand why people always argue with “badness of homosexuality”, which these days and setting Revelation aside is highly under attack and not the easiest thing to be seen true, and not from “simply what does marriage mean?”, which, still even these days, admits an obvious answer and a common consent of common-sense people. Of course, if in your theory civil marriage is only an artificial thing created by the State as he sees fit, then the latter and much easier argument falls away.)

    The State violently pushed the Church out of civil-marriage business. (Dear @robtbrown, dunno whether you’re interested, but in Germany there was this obligation of order until 2009, and until the middle of the 20th century noncompliance was criminalized.) May the Church not give up her position without being pushed.

    And as to suing: If courts don’t let the Church apply to God’s law and to common sense to the effect that marriage is simply a heterosexual thing, and that homosexuality is wrong, and so on – then giving up some position will not make the problem go away; they will just sue for something else; criminal slander comes to mind (though I guess that is not yet a crime under US law).

  33. JonPatrick says:

    The only problem with the “batten down the hatches” approach is that real marriage then becomes strictly a religious thing and we concede what has long been held which is that marriage has benefits to civil society by providing security and a stable environment for the raising of children.

    We must not concede this to the Modernists that wish to replace it with a partnership of 2 or more people of whatever sex who wish to share living space for some period of time and get the tax benefits for so doing.

  34. jhayes says:

    Michelle F wrote:

    If the priest is not licensed by the State to administer marriages in accordance with State law, and the couple wants the benefits the State gives to married couples, then the only thing the couple has to do is get registered at their local City Hall or County Court House after they are married by their priest.

    I don’t think that a Catholic priest will perform a wedding ceremony unless you bring him a wedding license. The current license confirms that you meet the state’s requirements to be married – even though you will not be legally married until you express your marriage commitment in the presence of the priest.

    I believe Weigel’s proposal is that the license you bring to the priest would confirm that you are already legally married to each other. That would be similar to the Mexican system that Bea described

  35. catholicmidwest says:

    JohnPatrick, you said, “We must not concede this to the Modernists that wish to replace it with a partnership of 2 or more people of whatever sex who wish to share living space for some period of time and get the tax benefits for so doing.”

    But now, think about this thing you’re saying. Are you saying that two people who won’t listen to the Gospel, don’t care about getting married in the Church, whom we haven’t even reached with evangelism, can’t “share living space for some period of time” as a de facto matter? I beg to differ. This goes on all the time whether you care to acknowledge that or not. I’m not claiming it’s all right because it’s not, but that doesn’t really stop it.

    And about the tax benefits business: People get money from the government for all kinds of reasons, which we can’t really control. But then, that’s not really a religious issue anyway, is it? I believe that’s politics.

    We need practical solutions to the Church’s problems that align with the truth of the Gospel but are also workable, practical and prudent. Throwing grenades isn’t one of them.

  36. Marriages ought to be performed by deacons, as much as practically possible. A priest can say Mass in accompaniment with that. Make no mistake. The state is coming for us teeth bared. If at all possible, we need to unplug from the civil side of marriage. Think about this hypothetical case: couple marries, has children, gets a civil divorce, applies for annulment and is denied, then the couple reconciles. Does the couple need to get re-married civilly to be viewed as married in the eyes of the Church? No, since the denial of nullity has already affirmed that a sacramental marriage took place and therefore necessarily persists. I see no distinction whatsoever between that situation and a couple having only a Church wedding without state recognition, except for the tax and similar consideration. With regard to children, virtually nothing changes: child support is enforced/sought by the state on unmarried fathers already and child custody and the like have already been so tilted in the mother’s favor, the father incurs incremental disadvantages by not being seen as married by the state. A potential side benefit: if a couple is not married in the eyes of the state, the illusion of divorce as a possibility disappears and changes the dynamics of conflict within a marriage for the better, since the sacred vows now are thus highlighted rather than obscured. Additionally, if we have a shortage of deacons currently, the Lord will provide. Why deacons? First, they are married clergy and less susceptible to the charge of being “out of touch celibates” (which is baloney anyway, but). Secondly, I’d rather see our deacons hauled into court or thrown in jail, not our priests and bishops. It will take some brave new men, but then again, it takes courage to follow a calling.

  37. Imrahil says:

    Dear @BenedictXVI,

    do you really think they will, if they go, go for the clerical assistant (possibly deacon) only and leave the priest alone who added a blessing and said Holy Mass?

    And do you think they will, if they go, care the slightest bit whether it was a civil-also marriage or a sacramental-only marriage?

    On another point,
    Does the couple need to get re-married civilly to be viewed as married in the eyes of the Church?
    Of course not, as is clear. But I do think that, in the normal state of affairs and exceptions excepted, they will both want to and morally ought to be re-married civilly, the latter because this is the normal way of married couples to step onto their social position as married couples.

  38. Imrahil says:

    Besides, one of the practical senses of clerical celibacy is that if anyone goes in jail, it ought to be rather the unmarried ones. (Allow me to be so frank as a layman.)

  39. Supertradmum says:

    Civil marriage laws only came into being after the Reformation, and in fact, well into Enlightenment times when governments took away power from the Church. That is the whole point of civil unions. We do not need them, really. In England, the situation is more complicated, as one has to have a civil license in order to get the Catholic one. Here is a link. Roman Catholic Marriages
    If both of you are Roman Catholic, the publication of banns goes ahead as normal but they do not form part of the legal preliminaries. If only one partner is Roman Catholic, banns are not published and the priest of the Roman Catholic partner will have to give permission for the marriage to take place either in a Roman Catholic church or a non-Roman Catholic church. http://www.weddingguideuk.com/articles/legal/englandwales.asp#catholic and a long quotation from the site…

    The legal requirements to be fulfilled for a Roman Catholic wedding ceremony are those that apply to civil marriages. However, if the church is in a different registration district to where you live, you need to prove to the superintendent registrar that the church is your normal place of worship. If you cannot do this, you will be required to give notice in the registration district in which the church is situated after having met the necessary residency requirement.

  40. acardnal says:

    Supertradmum, good to see you online again!

  41. Supertradmum says:

    acardnal, ta muchly. The marriage license question is tricky, as the State, whichever, whether France, China, England or America, wants to take power away from the Church. That is the entire point of all of these movements, as well as the undermining of the family. Tax reform will happen to punish families even more. Just watch. This was seen before as in fines and punishments. We are on the edge.

  42. cl00bie says:

    Let me preface this by saying that I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. However, perusing the pertinent NY statutes has uncovered Art 3, Sec. 17 of the legal code:

    If any
    clergyman or other person authorized by the laws of this state to
    perform marriage ceremonies shall solemnize or presume to solemnize any
    marriage between any parties without a license being presented to him or
    them as herein provided or with knowledge that either party is legally
    incompetent to contract matrimony as is provided for in this article he
    shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof shall be
    punished by a fine not less than fifty dollars nor more than five
    hundred dollars or by imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year.

    So a priest is de-facto “authorized by the state” to perform weddings. Should the priest perform a wedding for a couple (of any configuration) who does not possess a “license” (permission from the state), the priest might find himself $500 poorer, and imprisoned for a year.

    This seems to me to be the case of the state deciding what sacrament I’m allowed to receive from my church. What’s next? “communion licenses”? State approval for ordination (like in China)? Seems like this is a direct violation of the first amendment’s establishment clause.

    If you are an agent of the state (either willingly or unwillingly) it seems to me that the state would have the right to force you to marry whoever the state chooses. New York State currently issues marriage licenses to homosexual couples, so it would seem a short hop to me to the forcing of their “agents” to solemnize those “marriages”.

    Again, I’m not a lawyer, so YMMV.

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