Page 1, 6th November 1970

6th November 1970
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Page 8
Page 1, 6th November 1970 — Bishops can judge

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Organisations: Catholic Church
People: Paul
Locations: Rome


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Bishops can judge

the 'hard eases'


ALTHOUGH mixed marriages where the non-Catholic partner refuses to allow the children to be brought up in the Catholic faith will still generally be barred by the Church, Bishops will in future be able to examine on their merits eases where the non-Catholic has conscientious objections.

This is one of the main points in directions issued this week by the Bishops of England and Wales on Pope Paul's Motu Proprio on mixed marriages.

In such cases, although the directions do not say so. it is fairly obvious that the Bishop concerned would have to decide whether the Catholic partner's wish in the matter would eventually prevail before granting a dispensation for the marriage to go ahead.

The directory also says that the local bishop will now be able to give a dispensation for a non-Catholic clergyman to preside at a marriage ceremony and for it to be celebrated in a non-Catholic church. Previously these dispensations had to be obtained from Rome.

Pope Paul's Motu Proprio, published last April, determined the norms for mixed marriages. On their directions the Bishops of England and Wales apply the norms in more detail to the situation in the two countries.

Danger to faith The Bishops make it clear that Catholics believe their faith binds them under the Law of God Himself. "The Church could never make it right for a Catholic to enter into a marriage which he or she knew would constitute a proximate danger of losing the faith."

They add: "It is beyond the Church's power ever to dispense a Catholic from the obligation to see that as far as possible the children will be baptised and brought up in the Catholic faith."

But they fully recognised that respect had to be paid to the parental rights of the non-Catholic, as well as to those of the Catholic whose conscience must have regard to the teaching of the Church. "The non-Catholic who has no conscientious objection to having a Catholic wife or husband rarely has any conscientious objection to the children being baptised and educated as Catholics," says the directions. That there are exceptions. the bishops say. "does not excuse us from seeking to help them in every way we can; but this can never be, and few of them would desire it to be. at the cost of Catholic principle."

On the question of what is to be done if the non-Catholic is determined to prevail upon the Catholic to abandon the faith, or is determined for some at least of the children to be baptised and brought up outside the Catholic Church, the Bishops say that this problem is acute when the non-Catholic adopts this attitude from "conscientious conviction."


In this case "Information regarding the strength of faith and religious practice of the Catholic, together with an account of the outlook of the non-Catholic, will also be required before a decision can be made. It is not desirable to attempt to legislate for every eventuality. The Bishop will give his pastoral consideration to the facts laid before him and will act according to his conscience in deciding whether or not a dispensation should be granted." But the bishops stress very forcefully that this sort of difficulty is very rare indeed. Christian parents of differing traditions "who face their responsibility for the spiritual formation of their children will discover that the field in which they can co-operate . . is much wider than they at first imagined." They will find themselves "at ease in together presenting to their children nearly all of what is fundamental to the Christian faith." This sets the meaning of Catholic education in a wider context—what the child learns from-his parents is even more important than what he learns at school. As well as paying tribute to the usual generous co-operation of the non-Catholic in the Catholic education of the children, the bishops therefore stress the "wide field of positive co-operation in the Catholic education of his child" which the non-Catholic parent finds in the heritage he shares.

This deep respect for Christian faith jointly held appears throughout the document. "With the Holy Father, we are anxious to emphasise the fellowship of all the baptised. Whatever our regrettable divisions, we have this fundamental ground of unity and enjoy together the spiritual benefits that Flow from it." So, in Catholic belief, marriage between divided Christians is a Christian sacrament—an important channel of God's presence and help to the couple. Marriage with a non-Christian does not have the same meaning.

When the Motu Proprio was published, a number of enquiries were received about the status of mixed marriages contracted without permission from the local bishop. The comments on Norm 1 of the Motu Proprio make the difficulty clear. Is a marriage conducted without that permission null and void in the eyes of the Catholic Church? A distinction is necessary: a marriage between Catholic and non-Catholic contracted without permission from the local Catholic bishop is unlawful, but not null and void. However — here the distinction comes it may well be null and void because another sort of permission has not been obtained: permission to contract the marriage without the formalities required by the law of the Catholic C.hurch-without the presence of a Catholic clergyman performing the ceremony in a Catholic church. There is no change in legislation here.

But permission to contract a marriage in a non-Catholic church, and before a non-Catholic clergyman can certainly be granted.

The Catholic Church requires her own bishop, priest or deacon to be the normal president at the marriage. ' Because she sees the sacrament of marriage as so sacred, and because she is so deeply concerned, the Church desires that her members confer and receive it before her accredited minister."


What is more "the pastoral reason is that by this regulation every Catholic being married will be in touch with a Catholic priest who will then be able to offer all the pastoral help the Church provides."

This would normally mean that the wedding of a Catholic must take place in a Catholic church-building, and before a properly authorised bishop, priest or deacon, and two witnesses.

But a dispensation can be given "for any good reason" to have the marriage ceremony elsewhere, such as a nonCatholic church-building. In this case the Catholic clergyman would still conduct the ceremony.

Secondly, permission can also be given by dispensation from the local Catholic bishop for a non-Catholic clergyman to preside at the ceremony.

Formerly, these different dispensations from the usual Catholic form had to be obtained from Rome, and in England and Wales permission was normally granted if the nonCatholic clergyman who was to preside at the ceremony was related to the non-Catholic partner. Now the local bishop gives the permission, but not according to any such rule of thumb, but from a sympathetic understanding of "serious difficulties" in observing the usual form.

On Personal level

The bishops stress that "even if we found it possible, we would not wish to list reasons which we would consider sufficiently serious to warrant a dispensation from canonical form. This might lead to a legalistic approach. The matter must be dealt with personally and pastorally."

When the Motu Proprio was published. there were also many enquiries as to whether clergymen of different traditions could take part in the same wedding ceremony. The Directory makes it clear that they may. The essential meaning of the Pope's own norm is that matrimonial consent cannot and must not be given more than once. This does not exclude the other clergyman from taking a full and active part in the ceremony, and it does not exclude a later service of blessing and thanksgiving in the church of the other party. Indeed, the bishops "positively recommend" this witness of the other party to his new responsibilities before his own community.

The directions commend a joint spiritual care of the couple by the clergy of both the traditions to which the partners belong. "We join with the Holy Father in recommending (it) wherever a sufficiently trusting relationship has been established."

"Where there is a link (between the non-Catholic and his clergy), we should respect it. We should at least suggest that the non-Catholic inform his minister of the proposed wedding. The question naturally arises as to whether we should invite the Catholic to visit the non-Catholic minister. It would not he for us to insist but we should not forbid the approach." On the question of the pastoral care of the new family, the bishops say that whenever possible this should be given in co-operation with the clergy of the non-Catholic partner of the marriage. "This we agree to be highly desirable. As everybody realises, it presupposes the sincere confidence with ministers of other religious communities which, as the Holy Father says, we must establish."

Joint witness to Christian principles of marriage. before, at, and after the wedding, within the home and in public, "is eminently desirable."

If a couple who were in default of Church law in bringing up the children are now able to accept the obligations of divine law resting on the Catholic partner-to keep his faith, and to do all in his power to bring up the children as Catholics-then the Catholic partner may at once go to confession and communion.

But if the marriage formerly contracted was null and void in the eyes of the Catholic Church it can be formally recognised in one of two ways. Convalidation is the term used-`simple convalidation' meaning the formal renewal of matrimonial consent, and `sanatio in radice' meaning a retrospective recognition of the matrimonial consent as effective from the original date. When the marriage is thus recognised by the Church, the Catholic partner may return to the sacraments. But this does not apply in other cases, for instance, remarriage where one of the partners has been divorced and his former partner still lives.

Other points in the directory are: The promise of the Catholic partner is normally to be in writing in words drawn from the Motu Proprio. But exceptions are allowed.

No inter-communion "at present" in a Mass celebrated at the same time as the wedding ceremony.

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