Should we be like Monaco?

Should we be like Monaco? July 2, 2011

Below, a brief report on the Catholic wedding of Prince Albert (not, it seems, in a can) and Charlene Wittstock.  This came a day after their civil ceremony.

Given what has just happened in New York State with gay marriage, should the church in the United States get out of the marriage racket altogether and instead simply bless, or sacramentalize, already-instituted civil unions?

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36 responses to “Should we be like Monaco?”

  1. YES.

    And let’s find a new name for Catholic marriage that separates it from the merely civil definition. Something that is an unambiguous declaration to others that our marriage is something different, it is of God’s design and sacramental.

    I think Holy Matrimony is too cumbersome for practical usage – “I’m Holy Matrimonied” doesn’t exactly flow trippingly off the tongue.

  2. No, because to me that’d be saying “The state reigns supreme over the Catholic Church” unless … The Church creates a whole new program to make the couple understand the religious and sacramental portions of marriage and then they must be assessed to see if they agree. Only with evaluation of their understanding and their committment to the SACRAMENT of marriage (not just lip service or living day-to-day, perhaps this can include some kind of legally binding contract) then I’d say “yes”.

  3. We sort of, kind of, do this already. If a couple is married in a civil ceremony, the Church doesn’t consider them sacramentally married unless they later have a convalidation ceremony. The difference is that the state recognizes a church ceremony, but the Church doesn’t recognize a civil one. Speaking as someone who had two adult children get married fairly recently (in Catholic ceremonies), let’s just leave it the way it is. We do not need more stress-creating hoops to jump through. In most places, the couples do the FOCCUS, marriage prep classes, NFP classes, and Engaged Encounter. If they aren’t clued in about the sacramental and religious aspects of Catholic/Christian marriage by the time all this is said and done, it isn’t the Church’s fault.

  4. Why don’t we start by instituting the following in the Prayer of the Faithful every Sunday, right after the prayer for an increase in vocations to Priesthood and Religious Life:

    “For an increase in the number of couples willing to live their marriages as sacramental vocations, We Pray to the Lord…”

  5. One thing is for sure. If the Church took no part in the civil process, there will never be a lawsuit forcing us to have ANY participation in same-sex marriage.

    The state is forcing it’s way into the business of Catholic hospitals and adoption agencies because they have a relationship with the state. Right now the fights are related to so-called discriminatory use of tax money, but as the societal engineering to remove or take over religious institutions goes forward it will begin attacking on other issues as well.

    I have not given up on fighting same-sex marriage and I hope to see these laws overturned. But I would like to see the Church make a radical statement now, early on in the process before our hand is forced, to refuse to participate in the civil marriage process in any state that has redefined it.

  6. YES!

    That’s all I was going to say but after I hit submit I got a notice that said my comment was “a bit too short.”

    So I’ll say it again.


  7. I agree wholeheartedly with “Young RC Canadian Male” except for when he said no. He says that it would be saying that “the state reigns supreme over the Catholic Church.” I don’t think that’s what it would be saying at all. A couple being legally united so that they have the same civil rights as other couples seems fair to me. But it isn’t Marriage, as we are taught. The only problem is that young couples wouldn’t stand for the Church not letting them have a Sacramental Marriage/Wedding in their church buildings. Where will bridezilla have her big wedding? What about all those “sacred” elements like the unity candle and the multiple bridesmaids, the flower girls and the goopy bride/groom written vows?

  8. In my comment above I meant that young couples wouldn’t stand for the Church not letting them have a NON Sacramental Marriage/Wedding in their church buildings.

  9. I vote yes. As Christ said, “render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Civil marriage is a state function that belongs to Caesar which grants certain worldly rights and obligations, while Sacramental Marriage is a function of the Church which brings special graces and spiritual obligations. I believe they should be separated.

    As it stands the state already controls marriage in that it determines who might get married by requiring a marriage license, and I believe it also control who can perform a marriage be requiring a license. By separating civil and Sacramental marriages we would end state control.

    Mike L

  10. This of course assumes that the gay agenda is simple union forced on everyone else because their behavior is to be viewed as special and deserving of special rights. They want everyone including the Churchs to have to stop saying anything that would indicate that their lifestyle is anything but perfectly normal. When they succeed, or maybe even before, expect every form of perversion to use the same legal precedent to gain the same special rights. Lets face it, with the rulings of the courts, there is no way they can deny this same right to what most would consider other forms of perversions.

    Adult mom and son or brother and sister who are consenting, and who will not be having kids where genetic concerns could be used will demand the same special rights. To deny them would mean that the courts would indeed have to admit that the gay rights were not normal for equality, but special rights denied others. And then there is the poligamy fellow with his 6 fair brides who are all adult and all consenting and madly in love…maybe even born that way. Last comes Harry and his pet goat. Harry is consenting and the goat does not have rights since Harry could kill him if he desired and ol Harry was born that way and madly loves his goat. I have yet to have anyone be able to give a simple legal argument that with gay marriage, that these and other perversions will not follow along and not sure by what legal right they can be denied.

    So no, this solves nothing because it does not give the gay rights groups what they are truly after for an end game…

  11. I say yes for all the reasons given above. And I don’t think it will necessarily impose any additional burden or inconvienience on wedding planning.

    Couples already have to go to the courthouse or city hall to get a marriage license — an actual civil wedding ceremony would add, maybe, 5 minutes to that trip (it doesn’t have to be elaborate).

    Moreover, if there is no longer any legal connection between the church ceremony and the civil marriage license, the couple would not be obligated to have their civil wedding in the same jurisdiction as their church wedding. If they live in one state or county and are having their church wedding in another, they could have the civil wedding where they live, ahead of time. No worry about picking up the marriage license, handing it off to the best man or maid of honor, or getting it signed by the priest. All that could be done ahead of time.

    Finally, having two ceremonies MIGHT actually reduce the pressure placed upon the Church to accomodate the demands of “bridezillas” since they would now have another outlet for the “wedding of their dreams” if they insisted upon it. No need to complain that the priest won’t let them have a garden or beach wedding… they could have their civil wedding done that way if they wanted to.

  12. Just a quick canonical caution to all those persons who are tossing out the term “sacramental marriage,” remember:

    (1) that matrimony is an institution of the divine natural law, brought about by the properly-manifested consent of the parties. It pre-existed Christianity. Valid marriages can be roughly classified into two kinds: sacramental and non-sacramental.

    (2) a valid marriage cannot exist between the baptized without it being a sacrament. Thus, for virtually all baptized non-Catholics*, a merely civil wedding ceremony is sufficient to establish the presumption of a valid, sacramental marriage.

    (3) also, that the Sacrament of Marriage cannot exist at all, ever, when one or both parties are not baptized. So that even a marriage between a Catholic and an unbaptized person which is celebrated at a wedding “in the Church” is non-sacramental.

    *Orthodox and churches equated with them in Catholic law need to be considered separately here.

  13. No though that is exactly what the gay lobby and their symphathizers wants. The Church should continue to refuse to recognize civil marriages of any sort. The “gay marriage” bandwagon needs to be ignored by the institution that matters most in the world.

  14. Isn’t this standard in most European countries? some perspective from outside the US would be valuable. Everyone is throwing out all these obstacles -even canonical ones. But how is it dealt with in countries where this is standard?

    How were sacramental marriages dealt with in eras and countries in which the practice of the faith was illegal and underground?

  15. I love this posting; it’s the first thing to lift my spirits since that rotten law was passed (on John the Baptist’s birthday no less).

  16. If I am correct, couples can’t marry in any religious setting (Catholic or any other) without a marriage license issued by the county in the state in which they are marrying, with proof of age. So, marriage can’t happen without the government being involved, because it isn’t legal. Some choose to marry with only the state’s ceremony and some with a religious ceremony. Either way—the couple is married.

  17. It should be noted that in many (indeed, most) European countries, only the civil ceremony is recognized by the state.

    Thus, any couple has to have a civil ceremony at the local registrar’s office. Whether they want a religious ceremony as well is their choice. Obviously, the Church will only recognize the religious wedding.

    Therefore, Catholic couples will have to have a civil AND a religious ceremony, the former usually preceding the latter.

    In my opinion this creates no problems at all – “do unto Caesar” etc….

  18. I don’t like gay marriage much and I don’t like co-habiting much either, but a civil union considered legally separate from marriage is probably the best way to go. Churches should “own” the concept of marriage as holy matrimony, and the state can have its civil unions, with the state deciding how the laws will work for those unions.

    I might go so far as to say that for Christians, a civil union isn’t necessary and for the irreligious, a blessed marriage isn’t either. The only advantage to having both is in case of dissolution. It does occur to me that the big disadvantage to this is opening a door to polygamy since Muslims could do that as a religious work. Hmmmm.

  19. pagansister,
    I don’t think that is quite correct. What usually happens is that the priest performs 2 functions. He officiates at the sacramental marriage and also stands in for the state too. That’s why a marriage certificate is witnessed by the priest and the parish files it with the court after the ceremony.

    It has been the practice of the Church to require a marriage license, but I’m not sure it is canonically required if a couple chooses not to have a civil marriage and they are not attempting to do something illegal by avoiding it. I honestly can’t think of a good reason why anyone would want to though. But, they really are two separate kinds of marriage performed at the same time. (BTW, this is how muslims participate in polygamy in this country if they wish. They have multiple religious marriages without the civil equivalent and there is nothing the state can do about it.)

    For practical purposes a priest would advise against it for the protection of the parties, especially the children. In most cases I would imagine that when a married couple separates and minor children are involved a priest would advise a legal separation or even a divorce to protect the interests of the children, even though it would not be a divorce in the eyes of the Church.

  20. momor: I didn’t know that a priest could stand in for the state—but would that be legal in all states I wonder? Interesting. I was married in the Methodist church many, many years ago and had to have a marriage license even though being married by a minister.

  21. You have it the wrong way. The STATE should GET OUT of licensing marriages (as it did until the early 1900’s).

    That would leave marriage to private individuals and their voluntary associations, such as Churches.

  22. I really, really object to your charicature of marriage (sacramental or otherwise) as the “marriage racket.”
    Some commentators have said that Gay “marriage” has become so acceptable to non-Gays is that heterosexuals who should have a high regard and respect for marriage are the worst insulters and betrayers of marriage. Sorry to say that is what I consider a deacon who here refers to marriage as merely a “racket.”
    I guess Christ was a racketeer at the wedding feast at Cana. He probably had a cut of the wine payouts.

  23. pagansister,
    I think you misunderstood me. The priest (or any other minister) stands in for the state by performing the same official function as a judge or justice of the peace and completing (not issuing) the license. The state still issues and records the marriage license. I’m pretty sure it’s the same in every state.

    As a protest, I would like to see priests removed from that civil function in states where marriage has been redefined.

  24. Sorry to have offended you, John, but when again and again I hear married couples talk about their wedding and their impending marriage in purely secular terms, it’s disgusting. And it becomes little more than a racket. Small wonder so many of the marriages don’t last.

    Example: one couple was so annoyed at the restrictions that our parish was placing on them for the wedding, that the bride huffed, “Of all the vendors we’ve dealt with, you’re the most uncooperative.” And then there are the wedding planners, who know nothing at all about canon law or the sacraments, and want to make demands that are impossible to fulfill and can’t understand why (like having the wedding at a catering hall instead of the church). And then there are the videographers. And — horror of horrors — the brides themselves.

    These people aren’t celebrating a marriage. They’re staging an event. And yes: it’s a racket.

  25. By way of sacramental/historical background: If one studies the history of the sacrament of matrimony, we find that it has always been tied to what the civil authority is or isn’t doing. If the state (such as the Roman empire) was fully engaged in recording and sanctioning marriages, then the church really didn’t get all that involved. That’s not to say the church wasn’t concerned with marriage: it’s just that if the state was taking care of that, it was presumed that when two Christians married, a sacrament took place (even if the whole process was done through the civil system). Remember, these were the days of Church and State working together, where BOTH were understood as operating under the authority of God.

    In fact, the first CHURCH laws on the books regarding matrimony involved the situation when a cleric (bishop, deacon, presbyter) was going to marry. THOSE marriages needed to be done within the church.

    In parts of Western Europe during the period we used to call the “Dark Ages,” when civil authority was in tatters, the church began to take a more active role.

    Later in the Middle Ages, people would be married (civilly) and then go to the outer portico of the Church, and the bishop or priest would come out and “bless” the wedding. Eventually, by the 12th Century, we finally find a full-blown ritual for a church wedding.

    So, this notion of a civil wedding under the auspices of the State, followed (perhaps) by a Church ceremony (such as we have just seen in Monaco) has a long, treasured history to it. When I was stationed on Okinawa in the early 1990’s, and serving as deacon at Kadena Air Base, all of the weddings we celebrated either in the local parishes or at the various base chapels, were ALL done only AFTER the couples had fulfilled all the civil requirements down town. Technically (legally, in the eyes of the State), they were already married when we witnessed their exchange of consent in church.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  26. Deacon Bill,
    Can you answer my earlier question? Canonically, could a couple be married in the Church without a civil marriage taking place?

  27. Dear momor,

    I will have to defer to a canonist and/or civil lawyer, but from my own experience I would have to say that it would depend on the law of the State. Under US law, I believe that the answer to your question would be “no.” My understanding is that because the State has a legal interest with marriage, and therefore, even when one of us (deacons, presbyters, bishops) witnesses a marriage, we do so in a dual capacity: church ministers as well as licensed officiants by the State.

    If the government were to decide that it no longer cared about such things, and that marriage was to be understood solely as a RELIGIOUS reality, then the government could change the law and we could move into the realm of “church-only” marriage.

    Wish I could help more; maybe a lawyer can chime in!

    God bless,


  28. Deacon Bill,
    To clarify, I am asking from a purely sacramental view, not what the state cares about, i.e., it would not be a marriage from a civil point of view, only in the eyes of God.

    Do you think the Church could/would separate sacramental marriage from any civil recognition? I know it would be rare but suppose there was a couple who wanted the sacrament, but didn’t care anything about having the civil seal of approval?

  29. Dear momor,

    On a purely hypothetical level, then, I think the answer to your question would be “YES”.

    However, I would stress how extraordinary this would be, because I’m not aware that the Church has EVER done such a thing (namely, married folks with no civil effect).

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  30. Yes. Absolutely yes. The state does not and has not ever performed marriage as a sacrament. It has never and will never define marriage for one denomination or faith. The Church has no right to legislate Canon law for the rest of us or to act in a civil capacity. Churches should have the absolute right to marry, or refuse to marry anyone under the terms of their religious law and custom. On the other hand those seeking civil recognition of their union are entitled to do so according to the civil law, which is not subject to approval of any pope, bishop or anyone else.

  31. Bruce T,

    There is an excellent discussion in the combox at the link you provided. Thanks for posting it.

    Of particular note, one person, a convert, raised a very good reason for the Church to withdraw from being associated with the civil form of marriage:

    Andrea says:
    July 1, 2011 at 1:09 pm

    It does make one wonder how it will affect annulments, especially of those coming into the Church for the first time who may have had one or multiple civil marriages and divorces before discovering the Church and what marriage really was. As a convert, this is something I’ve mulled over a bit – why the Church would even recognize a civil marriage in these days with the kind of secularization there is out there. I certainly didn’t know what real marriage was until I became Catholic. If they only start annulling Catholic matrimonial marriages, and saying the rest don’t count, bet the number of American annulments starts dropping considerably, and more conversions happen. I know a lot of people who didn’t make it through RCIA because old civil marriages/divorces kept them from ever getting to the point of full communion (the 18-24 months for the typical annulment, coupled with the lack of any followup or support from the Church, as well as a ‘not-good-enough-for-us” feeling you get combined with the fear you will never be in full communion – its hard to keep going and make it all the way through – all for something you did thinking it was a financial civil contract – yeah its hard). I figured maybe the lack of people actually getting married even civilly would help take of that problem long term – living together doesn’t require an annullment. But maybe the retraction of true marriage, without mixing it up with ‘governmental marriage’, would be an even better solution of sorts for this conundrum. And I always wondered, just to wonder, what would happen if someone had an official civil ‘gay marriage’, converted, then decided they wanted to really marry someone (talking real marriage – female.male sacramentally) – would they then have to go through the same annulment process that a civil ’straight’ married person would have had to do? They should, otherwise that would be unfair. Just some thoughts

    Msgr. Charles Pope says:
    July 1, 2011 at 3:29 pm

    Another question that comes to mind for me based on what you have said, the Church currently does not recoginze as valid a civil marriage contracted by a Catholic. BUT we do recognize a civil marriage by Protestants and non-Chrisitans. I wonder if we ought to reconsider that ALL civil marriages are invalid and recognize NONE of them?

    And here is an interesting thought from an Orthodox perspective on the sacrament. I have always thought the Catholic perspective on how the sacrament is conferred is odd and not in keeping with how all the others are conferred (except emergency baptism by a layman of course).

    Anthony says:
    July 1, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Monsignor, I am an Orthodox Christian monk. We have a bit of a different theology of the Mystery of Marriage. Unlike the Roman Church, it is the priest who is an icon of Christ who marries the man and woman, it is not considered a contract but a covenant. The Church of Rome still has, I believe the phrase “Ego conjungo vos…” but the theology behind it is that the man and woman are the ministers fo the sacrament. Unfortunately the general public think that if they can “make” the sacrament, they can also “break” the sacrament. I, for one, would like to see the Church of Rome not recognize any civil marriages like the Orthodox Church. When I studied in Rome I saw people get their marriage “registered” in the City Hall then blessed by the Church. So there is precedence for some adaptation to local situations by the bishops.

  32. Maybe 50 years ago the state and the church had the same understanding of marriage. but now that states are changing marriage, it would seem the sooner the church got of having its ministers also being certified/registered by the state to completing the marriage license, the better. in states like NY there is some legal protection for churches to refuse non traditional marriages, but no one knows how long that will last. and it seems the big open door in all this is that the ministers also validate the civil marriage. the state issues the birth certificate and the death certificate, so there is no reason a couple cannot go and get their civil marriage before or after they celebrate the sacrament of marriage from the state. down the road when all this blows up in litigation, it will be because the church left this door wide open when it had a chance close it and keep the state and church separate on this issue.

  33. Because some people are “out to lunch” or are in desperate need of catechesis on marriage or are beligerently ignorant doesn’t mean ALL marriages are part of a “marriage racket.”( Which was the clear blanket type comment you made.) When you refer to all marriages as part of a “marriage racket” you degrade and insult your own wedding, my wedding and the weddings of my children.
    I presume you no longer celebrate marriages for anyone since I am sure you don’t want to be a cog in the “marriage racket” machinery.

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