20 October 2016

An additional appointment

Returning to my office in the Catholic Pastoral Center Monday morning, I found a new Decree of Appointment from His Excellency the Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of Springfield in Illinois, dated October 12th. The text of the decree reads as follows:
By this decree, I appoint
to be EPISCOPAL DELEGATE FOR MATRIMONIAL CONCERNS, with the delegated power to grant dispensations and permissions for the marriage of parties in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois, effective immediately and for as long as he holds an office in the diocesan Curia.
What are these dispensations and permissions that I can now grant?

Before we consider what specific dispensations and permissions I can now grant, we should first distinguish between dispensations and permissions. To do so, we must remember that canon law does not function in the same manner as American civil law.

The Code of Canon Law defines dispensation as "the relaxation of a merely ecclesiastical law [as opposed to a divine or natural law] in a particular case" (canon 85). A dispensation "can be granted by those who possess executive power within the limits of their competence, as well as by those who have the power to dispense explicitly or implicitly by the law itself or by legitimate delegation" (canon 85). When a dispensation is granted, the law remains but it is lifted, if you will, from a particular individual.

The most common dispensation Catholics request is from the obligation to abstain from meat on the Fridays within the season of Lent (cf. canon 1251 and 1253). If a dispensation is granted for "a just and reasonable cause," the law remains in force but for the person to whom a dispensation is granted (canon 90 § 1). An example here may be helpful.

Some years when I was on pilgrimage in Turkey following in the footsteps of Saint Paul, we were taking an excursion to Korykos Castle in an attempt to fight off jet lag. As we made our way on the bus, our guide explained that the road would soon split, with the road to the right being for cars, buses, and trucks, and the road to the left only for cars. This was unfortunate, he said, because we were a bit behind schedule and the road to the left - which we could not legally use - was faster.

We got stopped by a stoplight before the road split and a police car happened to pull up alongside the bus. Our guide stepped off the bus and, after talking with the police returned to the bus and told the driver to take the road to the left, the road only for cars.

Given what he had just told us, we were all a bit confused. He explained to us that he told the police we were running behind and asked if we might use to the road to the left to save some time. The policeman said yes and gave his name in case another policeman should pull us over. He gave a dispensation to all of us (I do not know if Turkish law technically gave him that power, but he did so); the law remained in force, but not for our bus. American law, unfortunately, does not work like this.

A permission, on the other hand, is foreseen in the law itself and must simply be requested before it is granted. A permission is not a relaxing of the law, but a following of the law.

There is - so far I can foresee - only one permission I will be asked to grant. The Code of Canon Law contains this declaration:
Without the express permission of the competent authority, marriage is prohibited between two baptized persons of whom one is baptized in the Catholic Church or received into it and has not defected from it by a formal act and the other of whom is enrolled in a Church or ecclesial community not in full communion with the Catholic Church (canon 1124).
To put it perhaps more simply, a Catholic is ordinarily bound by law to marry another Catholic. (For more on what the Church means by ecclesial communities [more commonly - if inaccurately - known as Protestant churches], see the important document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith titled "Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church.")

Using the power of the keys, the Church prohibits marriage between a Catholic and non-Catholic Christian because she knows that differences in religious faith and practice can cause great strain on a marriage, particularly once the couple have a child or two (cf. Matthew 16:19). Even so, there may be times when the granting of a permission for what is called a Marriage of Mixed Religion may be beneficial. It may, for example, be of a spiritual good to one or both of the spouses or there may also be a well-founded hope that the non-Catholic will seek to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Before the competent authority decides whether to grant a requested permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion, he must be certain the following stipulations have been - or will be - met:
  1. the Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and is to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptized and brought up in the Catholic Church;
  2. the other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make, in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party;
  3. both parties are to be instructed about the purposes and essential properties of marriage which neither of the contracting parties is to exclude (canon 1125).
The permission for a Marriage of Mixed Religion is most always when requested, but it does not have to be granted; indeed, if one of the requirements for the permission is not or will not be met, the permission cannot be granted.

The most common dispensation that is requested is from the impediment of Disparity of Cult. Using the power of the keys (cf. Matthew 16:19), Holy Mother Church binds a Catholic to marry another Catholic, Moreover, Catholics are required to enter into marriage "before the local ordinary, pastor, or a priest or deacon delegated by either of them, who assist, and before two witnesses" (1108 § 1). In additon, "the rites prescribed in the liturgical books approved by the Church or received by legitimate customs are to be observed in the celebration of a marriage" (canon 1119). In common language, all of this is known as the canonical form or marriage.

These requirements came about several centuries ago because of an increasing number of secret marriages, that is, of marriages entered into through the exchange of consent of the couple without any witnesses present (it is, after all, consent that makes the marriage (cf. canon 1057 § 1), not the exchange of rings or the lighting of candles or mixing of sand). As husbands sought to have these secret marriages declared null to the detriment of the wives, the Church imposed the obligation for Catholics to marry in the presence of a bishop, priest, or deacon and two witnesses. 

Because we no longer have many secret marriages, it may seem strange for the Church to continue to require Catholics to marry according to the Church's form when she does not require it of baptized non-Catholics whose marriages are valid. The Church continues this requirement as a recognition that marriage is a public good; because marriage is not simply a private affair but impacts the community, it is right that it be celebrated and entered into in a public ceremony.

It sometimes happens that, by way of example, a Catholic wants to marry a baptized non-Catholic whose father is, say, a Lutheran minister. The non-Catholic may strongly desire his or her father to witness their marriage and so the Catholic will petition for a dispensation from the impediment of disparity of cult. If the dispensation is granted, the Catholic is no longer bound by the canonical form (though he or she would still need to receive permission to marry a non-Catholic, which would, presumably, be granted at the same time). 

There are other principle dispensations that may be requested, that from the impediment of consanguinity and that from the impediment of affinity, but those are not commonly requested.

For those keeping track, the current list of my appointments is as follows:
  • Parochial Vicar of St. Agnes Parish, Springfield;
  • Associate Director of the Office for Divine Worship and the Catechumenate;
  • Chief Master of Ceremonies to the Bishop;
  • Diocesan Judge of the Diocesan Tribunal; and,
  • Episcopal Delegate for Matrimonial Concerns.
Please remember me in the charity of your prayers as I seek to faithfully carry out the duties entrusted to me.

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