Sep 9, 2006

Religious vs. Civil Marriage

David R. Carlin is a former Senate Majority Leader of the Rhode Island Senate. He has written an article in the August/September 2006 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review advocating the separation of religious from civil weddings. Carlin proposes that Catholic priests abandon their practice of performing civil marriages because they conform to secularist ideas that allow same-sex weddings and divorce.

I thought of Carlin's recent article while talking to an elderly man at a luncheon held last week. He explained his wife had died about seven years ago and his next door neighbor's husband had died about the same time. The result was that the widower moved in with the widow without the benefit of marriage.

The elderly man explained that if they married, they would lose both medical and retirement benefits. His last comment was that they had discussed this situation with their family and friends and no one thought what they were doing was wrong. I suggested that perhaps they at least could have a small ceremony with family present. Frankly, I was thinking of the children and grandchildren who were seeing their parents and grandparents living together "in sin." Not a good example if you want to teach young people to avoid copying this lifestyle!

A civil marriage is authorized and recognized in the "eyes of the law," and a religious marriage is authorized and witnessed in the "eyes of God." Wikipedia has a fairly thorough discussion of the distinction between religious and civil weddings (that appears to have been partially written by a Catholic).

The Wikipedia article notes

there are examples of people who have a religious ceremony that is not recognized by the civil authorities. Examples include widows who stand to lose a pension if they remarry and so undergo a marriage only in the eyes of God and the community... retired couples who would lose pension benefits if legally married, ... and immigrants who do not wish to alert the immigration authorities that they are married either to a spouse they are leaving behind or because the complexity of immigration laws may make it difficult for spouses to visit on a tourist visa.

So, is it possible for a priest of the Catholic Church in the U.S. to witness a sacramental marriage between couples who do not want to be married civilly? Can a religious wedding occur independently of a civil marriage in U.S. states? Does anyone want to volunteer answers to these questions?


Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...
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Jovan-Marya Weismiller, T.O.Carm. said...


Hope this answers your question. However, given the provisions of Canon 1131, 2ƒ, the parties would be not be able to tell the family unless they witnessed the marriage and this would open up the way for a slip of the tongue possibly leading to prosecution of the Priest for performing a marriage without a license (a crime in Kansas, and I'm sure in most other states) and possible prosecution under federal statutes of the couple for "fraudulently" obtaining benefits.

Book IV, Part I, Title VII, Chapter VII of the Code of Canon Law (1983)


Can. 1130 For a grave and urgent reason, the local Ordinary may permit that a marriage be celebrated in secret.

Can. 1131 Permission to celebrate a marriage in secret involves:

1ƒ that the investigations to be made before the marriage are carried out in secret;

2ƒ that the secret in regard to the marriage which has been celebrated is observed by the local Ordinary, by whoever assists, by the witnesses and by the spouses.

Can. 1132 The obligation of observing the secret mentioned in can. 1131 n. 2 ceases for the local Ordinary if from its observance a threat arises of grave scandal or of grave harm to the sanctity of marriage. This fact is to be made known to the parties before the celebration of the marriage.

Can. 1133 A marriage celebrated in secret is to be recorded only in a special register which is to be kept in the secret archive of the curia.

Dymphna said...

My uncle is doing the same thing. He and his lady friend fear that she'll lose her widow's pension so they see each other every day and evening and maintain separate homes. The rest of the family ignores the situation.

There will be more of this as the Baby Boomers age.

Radical Catholic Mom said...

How sad. I don't know what needs to change to remedy the situation, but losing ones' income is pretty serious penalty for marrying one's love. It seems absurd.

Tony said...

They ought to do like my grandparents comtemplated. They had been married 60 years prior, and they were going to go to a lawyer, get divorced (no fault) and live together.

Since the church doesn't recognize divorce, they would be still married and living under the sacramental convenant. Since they were divorced, they could each get the benefits.

So this coupld could get a marriage license, get married by a Catholic priest, then go to a lawyer the next day and get divorced. Then they would be living under the sacramental covenant, not living in sin.