Marriage on a whim

When two air stewards on the papal flight over Chile requested a blessing on their relationship Pope Francis opted instead to conduct an impromptu wedding. As senior legislator of the church he is able to bypass canon law in this maverick manner. But whilst the media delight in the feel good story, and the Holy Father presumably understands better than me, I confess it leaves me uneasy as it feels more ‘PR stunt’ than ‘properly conducted sacrament’.

Does this impromptu convalidation witness to the seriousness of holy matrimony? The wedding liturgy states – marriage must not be entered into lightly- yet this feels light given that we are told nobody expected it to happen. So unless this was a stunt, and the couple were secretly prepared, questions arise regarding discernment and validity. Were the couple suitably prepared? Did they feel able to say no after the Pope suggested it? And if the Holy Father did not know the couple – well how can he have discerned suitability? What if there were impediments? What checks were conducted?

It is being suggested the couple were ready because they were already civilly married. But the reverse seems true to me. For if they cherished Catholic teaching regarding marriage and family life and understood its importance- well then why neglect it to date? And whilst it is claimed the couple would have married in church but an earthquake thwarted plans… it is eight years since that earthquake!! Making this sound unconvincing as a reason for not having sought God’s blessing.

Finally the Pope himself is on record stating clergy are not exhaustive enough when it comes to marriage preparation. This event undermines that message profoundly. What would a bishop say if a priest married, outside of church and on the spot, a couple he met that day?  Quite often members of the traveller community demand on the spot marriage from me. How do I now explain this is not possible? They are not a group to be trifled with! Such example undermines clergy who must abide by rules.

Naturally I wish the couple well. And I don’t doubt the good intention of what was done. But it seems misjudged. Maybe I am a rigid sourpuss, and if so I apologise, but I cannot see how knee-jerk nuptials convey the true message of the church regarding Christian marriage.

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37 thoughts on “Marriage on a whim

  1. Are you surprised? Why would you expect him to take Christian marriage seriously? He’s been doing his damndest to destroy marriage and the family since he eerily appeared on the loggia that night back in 2013. Utterly irresponsible and superficial. Stupid I dare say. But the good news is that at least it’s all very much in character. God help us.

  2. I would say that we ought to go with the Holy Father’s gut feeling.
    If he sensed that they were ready for marriage then who are we to contradict his feeling about this. Only time will tell..
    Having just celebrated our Goden Wedding, my wife and I often wonder if those two twenty year olds had a clue what they were doing in 1968.

    1. David, I agree that this may well have been the work of the Holy Spirit opeeratiing through Christ’s Vicar and, like everyone else, I don’t want to seem curmudgeonly. However I also agree with Ken Adams that you could drive a coach and horses through this canonically if either of them sought to repudiate it later. Leaving aside the question of due form (and I accept that the Pope can dispense all sorts of things and may well know the Spanish form of the relevant bit of the marriage service off by heart) there is the question of informed consent. The couple didn’t ask the Pope to marry them apparently: it was his suggestion and they were hardly going to turn him down in those circumstances were they?

      Even more worrying, given their relatively mature ages at the time of their civil marriage in 2008, it seems to me more than possible that one of them has been married before and that failure to apply for or obtain an annulment is the real reason for them not having married religiously in the intervening period despite having two daughters. That seems to me to be a lot more feasible than their church having been damaged ten years ago.

      I hope I am wrong but, if that were the case and it came out it would have the opposite effect to what the Pope – I am sure in all good faith – intended.

      I do of course wish them well but, just as this may have been the direct action of grace it may just as easily have been the Pope opening his mouth before engaging his brain as he is wont to do. Not for nothing do the Itallian press refer to him as Papa Blabbermouth!

      Congratulations on your Gokden Wedding anyway!

      1. I am now reading that this was all a carefully engineered publicity stunt. Which makes it seem worse not better to me. For if all the pope’s spontaneous acts of mercy are, in fact, carefully engineered media stunts then how can we trust this papacy? Or him? And it makes any problematic issues arising from the event calculated and not accidental. Dear me….

    1. What would have been advisable, to my mind, is giving them a simple blessing and then inviting them to Rome and offering your services and the Sistine Chapel as a venue gratis. That would have had same impact but ensured protocol was followed.

    2. Fr Barry. Whilst I agree that a blessing would have been suitable (and I entirely endorse Fr Ed’s suggestion that it would be more appropriate to have given an immediate blessing followed by the full monty in Rome with all relevant documentation and preparation etc.) , I think you and he mean something different by “blessing”?
      I think you mean the type of service that Prince Charles and Camilla had post their register office wedding. In other words to bless an existing valid marriage. Fr . Ed means a simple “common or garden” blessing albeit orientated towards the couple and their intentions. This is because, in the eyes of the church, having only been married civilly they were not in fact married at all. Ergo there was nothing specifically marital to bless.

      1. Yes Mary, though we need to be careful with language. The church recognises that they are married in terms of earthly law. What it denies is that this civil marriage is a case of holy matrimony in which man and woman are united by God under his blessing and sacramental care. I state this pedantically not for your benefit but for those less well versed in Catholic teaching.

        1. Absolutely correct Fr. But you would I think alsoagree with me that the kind of blessing your Dad is talking about is not one the Catholic Church offers in these circumstances. It can’t and doesn’t bless what doesn’t, per its own marriage discipline,, exist.

  3. Look on the bright side. This must be the most tightly tied marital knot in history. Imagine the worldwide press furore if either were ever rash enough to sue for divorce. As for their chances of getting an annulment …. ?

    1. Tighter than the marriage feast at Cana?

      All he has done is complete the church procedure to make sure the marriage is recorded as fully valid in church terms. What’s to prevent any bishop doing the same? I don’t know about priests who are not in such exalted ranks.

  4. If, as it now seems, this marriage was planned, then presumably everything ought to be above board. We should also bear in mind that everything is not always as the media presents it. They are after all keen to sensationalise everything.
    As regards annulments, the old adage ‘marriage is a lottery’ would be better applied as ‘annulment is a lottery’.

      1. I think we may be straying into the ‘give a dog a bad name ‘ scenario. Perhaps we should occasionally give Frances the benefit of the doubt. Whilst I realise that this papacy has been dramatically different, to say the least, I do feel that there is a tendency to treat almost everything the Pope does with suspicion.
        For my part I thoroughly approve of most of what Francis has said and done. But I have to admit that, on the whole, he is saying and doing much of what I have been thinking for a very long time, so I may be a bit partisan.
        God Bless our Pope!

    1. Right about media bites. We don’t actually know what was discussed before hand.
      But, it would be a good idea to take a look at the Chatechism of the Catholic Church and at Canon Law on the subject. The representative of the church at a wedding (who can be a lay person) is there as a wittness for the church, not as the minister of the sacrament (that is the couple themselves). It can receive church blessing later. The church requires two wittnesses of the marriage which can be met by the civil officials in most countries ‘registry offices’. Methinks some people are seeing (manufacturing?) a problem where there is none.

      1. Pat thanks for this i am not that bothered actually by the “technical” elements . I am far more bothered by what appears now to be the Pope knowingly participating in a deliberate publicity stunt.. Greg Burke his press person said that this was all very spontaneous and the couple themselves said that. Yet the Mercurio in Chile had published an article on 19th December which makes it clear that this was all being planned then. How utterly inappropriate is that to the dignity of the sacrament? And not just inappropriate but also dead certain to be rumbled so stupid too. Pace what David says this has caused Francis to go down extremely seriously in my estimation. I think it is appalling .

        1. Some time ago, some Chilean friends told me that that paper was a Pinochet/CIA mouthpiece funded by the USA. Have you actually seen the article in question. Don’t jump to conclusions too soon. Just because the Pope has acted well within his rights as a bishop and with pastoral care to try to illustrate that such relationships can be fully regularized as a teaching point is no reason to try to attack both him and the church. Pope Francis seems, to me at least, to be trying to make the point that the church is not its architecture, ceremonial and art but its membership. Sacramental life is simpler than many, both inside and outside, believe. Personally I like what he did because another message it gives is one of pastoral care.
          He may have acted a bit unwisely for western tastes but elsewhere?

          1. Pat the report was from Life Site news referring to a previously published article in the Mercurio on 19th December. I have myself found that article on the Mercurio website and it says exactly what Life Site news says it does.
            So far as what the pope did is concerned whilst I personally don’t think a plane is an appropriately dignified setting for a weddding I am quite prepared to bow to Francis’ pastoral judgment on this. What I find shocking is the incontrovertible proof that this was a stunt in which the Holy Father knowingly engaged and in respect of which there has been no formal setting straight of the record afterwards. Can you imagine John Paul doing such a thing?
            Even more scandalous however are the remarks he made about Bishop Barros . Evidence/ proof doesn’t have to be corroborated by documentary or other “tangible” evidence. It can be verbal at which point you do of course have to ask “Is this person credible? What does the accused have to say? Is he credible? What grounds might there be for either party to lie?” etc etc. Evidence which will stand up in a court might well be verbal only but of course any doubt has to be resolved in favour of the accused. The fact that the Pope said what he did is breathtaking and the manner in which he said it (Is that clear?”) is totally, unfortunately , consonant with the allegations in “The Dictator Pope” of bullying/ hectoring behaviour and temper outbursts. The extraordinary public criticism of Francis by Cardinal O’Malley and the Pope’s somewhat grudging retraction and apology on his way home today ( whilst still insisting he was in the right ) have not helped at all. This is a very very poor show . It would have been far better not to have appointed Bishop Barros to Osorno even if it was 100% certain he was innocent because of the risk of scandal. The fact that Francis insisted on doing so against huge local opposition appears once again to paint a picture of someone who is insistent on having his own way at any cost.

        2. Mary,

          Do we really have all the facts? The media have put different slants on this. Maybe we should give the pope the benefit of the doubt.

          1. David,
            See my reply to Pat which makes it clear that the idea of this marriage was being bruited around in December. if you look at the clip on the link Fr Ed has put in his original post the couple are saying it was all unplanned and spontaneous. The Vatican spokesman said the same. It clearly wasn’t.

      2. Pat with respect that’s not right. Whilst canons 1630 and 1631 make it clear that the witnesses are lay the consent of the couple is received on behalf of the Church by the officiating priest or deacon. It is certainly true that the ministers of the sacrament are the couple themselves but their consent is received on behalf of the Church by a validly ordained minister and it is only if these conditions are met ( along with of course others such as freedom to marry, lack of duress etc) that a valid Catholic marriage is formed. Your account makes it appear that no priest or deacon is required for valid Catholic marriage which is incorrect absent of course a dispensation for a marriage in a different rite. A ceremony to convalidate an earlier purely civil marriage or marriage of a Catholic in a different rite without a dispensation is marriage in exactly the same format as would have happened in the first place .

        1. Apologies for the delay in replying. A very busy period topped off by the nasty flu/cold that’s going the rounds. I’ve not even had the energy or will to set up a new computer (ditch windows insatall linux) and have just got round to looking at things again. My reading is somewhat different. The lay person is there to represent the church and make sure that conditions are met when ordained ministers are not available. They are usually Cathecists or Eucharistic Ministers but they don’t have to be. Indeed there are places in the world where churches and priests etc. ae in very short supply. I’m thinking of parts of the Altiplano and Africa.

          1. Can you have a valid Catholic marriage with no ordained minister, either priest or deacon? My reading of Canon Law is you absolutely can’t any more than you can have a valid Mass absent a priest. Do you have an authority for that Pat?

            I think the books talk about a situation in a desert island where you could have an exchange of vows which could then be properly validated when there is a return to civilisation but not that that in itself would count as a valid Catholic marriage.

            Hope you now feel better.

  5. Hello Fr Ed,

    This incumbent of the Chair of St Peter is an embarrassment to himself and the Church. It seems he is deliberately undermining the tenants of the Faith ( the Synod of the Family as an example) – we should ask him to what end – a photo opportunity for himself or to cover over his astonishing remarks he made regarding the abuse scandal whilst on his visit ie lets give them something warm and fuzzy to focus one rather than the obvious PR failure of his lamentable pontificate.

    God Bless,


    1. Beware trial by media and hearsay – biased at that.

      What, tell me, is wrong with saying provide the evidence that I can act on?

      There have been plenty of examples of innocent people being imprisoned on false or no evidence. As one example – well published at the time:-
      A few years ago, a person was in court charged with burglary. There were enough sworn statements and police evidence to send him to jail for several years. When the judge asked him what he had to say, he replied that he was not guilty and could prove it despite the evidence against him. He then produced release papers which showed that when the crimes had been committed he had been in prison in another city on another matter. The judge was not pleased!

      Now then, if you have any actual evidence, that will stand up in court, to support a charge against the person in question produce it to the relevant authorities.

  6. Reply to Mary B
    Thanks for your kind wishes. I hope nobody among you gets that bug. We are largely immune to such things but got flattened somewhat.

    The answer to your question is YES you can have a valid marriage in such circumstances. See:-

    Can.  1112 §1. Where there is a lack of priests and deacons, the diocesan bishop can delegate lay persons to assist at marriages, with the previous favorable vote of the conference of bishops and after he has obtained the permission of the Holy See.
    §2. A suitable lay person is to be selected, who is capable of giving instruction to those preparing to be married and able to perform the matrimonial liturgy properly.

    Can.  1116 §1. If a person competent to assist according to the norm of law cannot be present or approached without grave inconvenience, those who intend to enter into a true marriage can contract it validly and licitly before witnesses only.

  7. Reuters has a bit more – including:-

    “Someone told me I was crazy to do something like that,” he joked during a news conference on the plane taking him back to Rome from Lima, were he ended a trip to Chile and Peru. ”

    I mentioned at the time that there was a pastoral message.

    The publications you mentioned are doubtful and, in my opinion, not good sources of information about the church.

    As others and myself have noted, when the pope is not speaking ex-cathedra for the whole church he can be as daft as the rest of us.

  8. Hi Pat. So far as the plane wedding is concerned it has now been made very clear by Francis himself that it was anything but spontaneous, that the proper enquiries had been made and that all was above board, my only remaining gripe being that I think the Vatican press officer should have made that very clear at the time. See above.

    So far as marriage in the absence of a priest or deacon is concerned I think we are talking in fact at cross purposes. You are referring to this exceptional circumstances where there is no priest or deacon for possibly hundreds of miles and I entirely agree that in those circumstances the consemt of the parties can be received by a lay person subject I think only to a dewirement to regularise whenamd if an ordained minister is available?

    My point was that you couldn’t do that sort of thing in Surrey!

  9. Aye, but you asked if marriage could be valid in the absence of an ordained minister and the authority for same. That is the question I’ve answered.

    “I think only to a dewirement to regularise whenamd if an ordained minister is available?”
    An attack of anagramitis? It affects me when I’ve got a bad cold or after a glass of red wine (and I mean one glass).

  10. I suffer from that sometimes. I was taught, in my now distant youth, to type on a standard pitch, blank keyboard. Lots of wavy red underscores alert me to most of my typos but not all. I agree that the Vatican press guys seem to have been slow to react.

    I ditched looking at Lifesitenews when the Fr Gravel matter hit the fan. The article says much about that organisation. I sometimes look at Crux Now but, I find it can be a bit sensationalist for my taste.

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