Civil marriage doesn’t affect the sacrament

Dear Editor, Writing as a priest, “may I express my astonishment and disappointment” with Dr John Murray in your ‘letter of the week’ of May 21. My first problem is one with his logic. He refers to Jesus teaching on marriage (Mark 10:1-12).

The issue in Jesus’ time was with the interpretation of Deuteronomy 24:1 in regard to the conditions warranting a divorce. Whereas a man could divorce his wife under virtually any pretext, it was virtually impossible for a woman to divorce her husband.

The strict meaning of Jesus’ reply in quoting Genesis was: (1) An affirmation of the equal dignity of man and woman and (2) the ideal of marriage as a commitment for life. None of this has been denied by the people Dr Murray names and condemns.

The second problem comes from the confusion between civil marriage and sacramental marriage. In many of the parishes I worked in overseas there were many couples who were regular church goers, were civilly married, but not married by the Church.

The state has the obligation of ordering society to ensure the common good.

That means recognising the diversity of beliefs in the society and safeguarding the rights of individuals. And here the Document on Religious Liberty from Vatican II (1965) is relevant. It speaks of religious freedom as an individual right and spells out what it means. “All people shall be immune from coercion….so that nobody is forced to act against his/her convictions….nor be restrained from acting in accord with his/her convictions in religious matters…” This is official Catholic teaching.

But it is now a fact that over a million Irish people accept that a gay couple should be entitled if they so wish, to call their relationship ‘marriage’. If the referendum removes the state barrier to those people exercising that right, how does support for that removal conflict with the sacrament of marriage? It simply doesn’t touch it.

Yours etc.,

Fr John Mannion,

San Antonio,