Bishop says Papal gesture seen as a way to reach-out
An Irish bishop has said a gesture by Pope Francis to marry a pair of flight attendants on board the Papal plane should cause the Church to consider whether the requirement to get married in a church building needs to be changed.
Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy was speaking after the spontaneous gesture by the Pontiff of uniting two flight attendants in marriage during a flight between two Chilean cities. He said it has opened up new perspectives in Church rules and pastoral care.
Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi were married in a civil service ten years ago, but their planned religious ceremony was cancelled when an earthquake almost destroyed their parish church. The couple have two children.
Under Church rules, Catholics must marry in a church or other “appropriate place”. Permission to wed outside a sacred building is rarely granted by Church authorities.
Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy told The Irish Catholic: “Maybe pastorally there is an issue that we may have to re-examine, which is couples who want to get married outside of a church building.”
However, Dr Leahy said the logistical nightmare this might create for priests could see the prospect of committed lay Catholics witnessing weddings on the Church’s behalf.
Down the road, he said, “you could nominate lay people as your representative of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t have to be a priest you see, so who knows the future?”
Under current Canon Law where there is a shortage of priests or deacons, with the permission of the conference of bishops and the Vatican, the bishop can delegate laypeople to assist at marriages. It also allows him to “permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place”.
Passionist priest Fr Pat Rogers, who runs pre-marriage courses, described the inflight nuptials as a “powerful image to send around the world because there are a lot of Catholic couples who are married civilly but not religiously.
“I think the Pope is inviting us to get a bit more active in suggesting that marriage in Church is meaningful and valuable and the plane was a sort of ‘in-flight church’,” he said.
For Canon lawyer Fr Alec Stenson, the Pope is a law unto himself. “He is the supreme law maker. If he wants to do something like that there is no one who can challenge him on it.” The Dublin priest believed the papal gesture was more a “manifestation of the kind of man he is, reaching out to people who are in situations, where he sees beyond the law and has the ability and the power to do so” but he did not think it would lead to a change in Church rules.