ASK FATHER: Valid marriage in hospital room?

From a reader…


My wife and I were married in my father-in-law’s hospital room. He was dying of stomach cancer and we wanted him to witness our marriage. We had planned on holding the ceremony in the chapel of the Catholic hospital he was in, but he was too weak to leave the room. Our priest decided to marry us in his hospital room. There was a crucifix on the wall. Can you confirm this was a valid Catholic marriage due to the circumstances and due to the fact it was in a Catholic hospital? Side note: after the ceremony my our priest administered last rights to my father-in-law. He died the next morning. My wife and I have been married for 12 years. Thank for any comments.

The wedding would be valid. If the priest had the faculty to witness the wedding in the chapel, he would have the faculty to witness is throughout the hospital. He probably should have gotten permission (and maybe he did) from the local ordinary to change the site from the chapel to a hospital room, but even without that permission, the marriage is presumed to be valid.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Father P says:

    Also, in danger of death the priest witnessing the vows can dispense from all impediments except those of natural or divine law or reserved to the Holy See (e.g. prior bond).

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    What a beautiful story, and what a _really_ pastoral priest! It makes me appreciate how generous the Church is, and how motherly. On this day of danger for all marriages, it gives me hope.

    St. Valentine, patron of true Christian marriage, pray for us!

  3. dans0622 says:

    I suppose the priest would have made sure another person was present to witness the wedding…

  4. frbkelly says:

    Actually, Fr. Z’s answer is better.
    Presumably neither of the parties to the marriage was in danger of death, since they are still alive and well, (and still married ;-) ) 12 years later.

    Father P’s answer is true, but does not seem to apply to the case presented.

  5. madisoncanonist says:

    Fr. P, you are correct in a literal sense, but in this case neither party was in danger of death; only a third party was. The father-in-law’s illness might have combined with other factors to give rise to the far more limited expansion of dispensing authority envisioned in canon 1080, in which an occult impediment is only discovered after everything is prepared for the wedding and a delay would probably cause grave harm.

  6. Random Friar says:

    While neither party in this case was in danger of death, one could see compelling circumstance here. But yes, he really should call it in (who can say he didn’t here) — and I would always presume validity in this case.

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    What a dramatic situation. Heartwrenching. It really illustrates the priestly capacities, to join two in a lifetime marriage bond one moment, send another soul off to eternity in the next.
    That’s better than being Superman!

  8. Titus says:

    Fr. Z’s answer sounds right, assuming the priest had faculties to witness weddings in the hospital. The only way to be sure is to follow up with the priest or better yet the diocese. (A similar question was recently considered here:

  9. FrAnt says:

    Fr. Z., My thought would be that the marriage is not valid unless the priest sought and received delegation from the bishop or the pastor of the parish where the hospital is located. Priests do not have delegation outside their parish to officiate at a wedding.

    [No. I stand by what I wrote.]

  10. Father P says:

    Sorry, read it quickly and wrongly. In this case it would be the case that all things were prepared for the wedding but a circumstance arose at the last minute that could not be foreseen and so the sacred minister can dispense from sacred place. In any case, nothing in the situation would have effected the validity since the couple was free to marry and married according to the canonical form.

  11. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Faculties for ministry and faculties for marriage are not identical. It is faculties for marriage that matter. Also, there had to have been TWO other witnesses, not just one as suggested above. All of these problems go away if we drop canonical form.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Presumably the whole family that was in town would also have been coming to the wedding that had been planned in the hospital chapel. So they would also have come to the hospital room wedding (although some probably ended up in the hall outside).

    And honestly, this being a hospital and word traveling fast, there were probably nurses and doctors rubbernecking also. A veritable cloud of witnesses! :)

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