Around the lunch table a few days ago, myself and a few brother seminarians raised this question:
If a priest hears the confessions of a couple to be married the day before the marriage, and one of them has an impediment to marriage they confess, must the priest still carry out the wedding?
On one hand: the priest would be knowingly carrying out an invalid sacrament. That’s a no-no.
On the other hand: CIC 983.1 states “It is a crime for a confessor in any way to betray a penitent by word or in any other manner or for any reason”, the prime words in there being ” or in any other manner “. It would seem that calling off the wedding would betray in some way, shape, or form. He could call it off but not mention the reason (lying about the reason of course not being an option) but that would still arouse suspicion. Furthermore, I have found that on Nov 18, 1682, a decree from the Holy Office stated that “confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in confession that would displease the penitent, even though the non-use would occasion him greater displeasure.”
Calling off a wedding would cause the penitent displeasure.
This is all of course assuming the priest’s own instructions in the confessional to the penitent presumably saying to call off the wedding themself were ignored.
Can you shed any light?
If a priest hears a confession wherein one party revealed an impediment the day before the wedding, and he went ahead and officiated at that wedding, the priest would not be “knowingly carrying out an invalid sacrament”. The priest’s job at a wedding is not to “carry out” a sacrament, but rather to act as an official witness to the couple who will be administering the sacrament to each other.
In dealing with some impediments, the priest has the authority to dispense from them in danger of death situations, or in “omnia parata” situations, wherein everything is prepared for marriage and the impediment has just now come to light. In such a situation, the priest might legitimately dispense the impediment and proceed with the wedding.
If the impediment is not something from which the priest can dispense, he is in a precarious position.
He should do all he can in the confessional to urge the party who is confessing not to go through with the wedding if there is an impediment. If the impediment is one of divine law, he could inform the confessee that proceeding with the wedding as planned places his or her soul in the most grave danger. Even if it’s an impediment that could later be dispensed and sanated, it would be unwise to proceed. Yet, in the end, that is on the conscience of the confessee, not of the priest who will be witnessing the vows.
The priest is not able to act on what he learns under the Seal.
Should the parties still determine to go through with the wedding, he should show up, smile, witness the exchange of consent, and make the appropriate notations in the appropriate books. Even if there remains an invalidating impediment, known only to the priest confessor and the confessee, the marriage now enjoys the presumption of validity until proven otherwise.