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.