Western Australia’s bishops have acted to minimise red tape and uncertainty when it comes to marriage, issuing a new interdiocesan document earlier this month.
Marriage Matters: Interdiocesan Decree and clarification of certain issues regarding the Sacrament of Marriage details the bishops’ agreement to recognise the Church’s delegation to celebrate marriages conferred on priests in any West Australian diocese, suplanting a prior requirement that priests seek approval when celebrating a marriage outside their home jurisdiction.
The document signed by the bishops of Perth, Geraldton, Bunbury and Broome also clarifies when permission to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony or in a place other than a Catholic church would be permissable.
According to the decree, a Catholic person may seek permission to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony;
1. When a party to the marriage is a close relative by blood or marriage with a Minister of another Church;
2. When in the informed judgement of the Bishop, the refusal of the dispensation [to marry in a non-Catholic ceremony] could consititute either a grave danger to the faith of the Catholic person or to the peace and harmony of the couple.
The document goes on to state that "the custom in the Archdiocese is to interpret the second criterion broadly" while noting that a dispensation "is not to be presumed."
Applications to marry in a building other than a parish church – the place where a Catholic marriage would normally occur – have increased recently.
Marriages may be celebrated in a chapel attached to a school, hospital or any other institution approved by the local Catholic authority and the chapel’s administrators. Citing the Archdiocesan Guidelines for Marriage issued in 1996, the bishops reiterate the directive that Catholic churches and chapels are not to be used for marriages performed by a non-Catholic celebrant without first receiving episcopal permission.
The bishops state that where such marriages take place without permission, they "would not be regarded as valid by the Catholic Church," asking school chaplains to "be particularly cognisant" of that stipulation and to bring it to the attention of staff overseeing chapel bookings.
In its final paragraphs, the decree provides clarity on what process should be undertaken in marriages involving a divorced person and in non-Catholic marriages where retroactive validation is sought.
It reaffirms the requirement that divorced persons be declared free from prior bonds by the local Marriage Tribunal.
"Some Catholics mistakenly think that because a proposed non-Catholic divorced party was only civilly married, that they are free to marry in the Church," the document states, while adding where one party has demonstrated defection from the faith "before a competent ecclesiastical authority" the couple are not bound to marry in a Catholic ceremony.
Intended primarily for priests in their role as marriage celebrants, the interdiocesan decree has been sent to every priest in the Archdiocese of Perth.
In the article on a new inter-diocesan decree on marriage in The Record, we referred to the bishops of WA as ‘titular’ bishops.
The name ‘titular’ bishop is used for Auxiliary Bishops who are given the title of an ancient but inoperative diocese.
Thus, Bishop Don Sproxton is Auxiliary Bishop of Perth and Titular Bishop of Timici, Libya. We also said the decree was written by the “Vicar General for Clergy” Fr Brian O’Loughlin. In fact, the decree was written by the four WA Bishops. The accompanying explanation and commentary was written by Fr O’Loughlin who is the Vicar General, but not the Vicar for Clergy.