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For a Lady Pope

The Church, civil marriage and common-law marriage…

Civil marriage

Civil marriage is regarded as the legitimate union of a man and a woman who officially commit to sharing their lives, and the education of their children.

In Europe, the number of marriages taking place has fallen sharply in recent decades. For some years now, though, the number of marriages hasn’t fallen any further and indeed, the inverse seems to be taking place. In addition, couples are also getting married much later in life (longer further education, the need to have a solid job, etc.) In France today, men are getting married for the first time around the age of 31, and woman 29.

Co-habitation or common-law marriage

Common-law marriage is where a couple, who live together aren’t married or joined together by civil union. No legislation links the common-law husband and wife, unlike couples who are married or who live together under a contractual union (Pacs in France).

Since the 1970’s, there has also been, in France, a rapid rise in co-habitation and births outside marriage. Nowadays almost two thirds of couples live together before getting married compared to the 7% seen in the 1960’s. In 2005, 30% of married couples had children, but in the 1960’s having children was almost an obligation. Today much less social and religious pressure is put upon young people.

Civil unions

Unions that are not based on marriage contracts are covered by different legislation, depending upon the  country where they take place, but it is not the aim of this website to go into all the details. In general, unions between couples of different sex as well as of the same sex are both now officially recognised. Unlike common-law marriages, the partners commit to living together and to supporting each other financially. Depending on their country of residence, they have certain rights (and obligations), notably in the areas of health, residency and succession. These laws have recognized common-law relationships. The dissolution of the contract is more flexible than that of a marriage contract because the breakdown isn’t a divorce.

In France, there exists a Civil Pact of Solidarity (Pacs), which is a contract signed between two adults of the same or different sexes in order to organise their communal life.

Deciding on how unions of same sex couples should be legally recognised has been the focus of many parliamentary debates in different countries.

In Italy, where the Church still has a lot of power, no legal recognition has yet been given to non-married couples of different sexes or of the same sex.

A dozen countries have, however, legalised gay marriage.

The Catholic Church’s position

The Catholic Church only recognises religious marriages. The civil marriage simply doesn’t exist. If someone has a civil marriage and then divorces, he/she can later get married in Church to someone else. He/she isn’t considered a divorcee since the first civil marriage just isn’t recognised.

One example among thousands: the wife of Prince Felipe, heir to the throne of Spain was a divorced woman. Letizia Ortiz, a journalist, married her first husband, her professor of literary, in a civil ceremony and they later separated in 1999. She then married Prince Felipe in a glitzy, religious ceremony in the cathedral of Madrid on the 22nd May 2004. The Church doesn’t recognise civil marriage or divorce and so, in August 2011, the Spanish royal family represented by the Prince and Princess of Asturias received Pope Benedict XVI in the Palace of La Zarzuela.

The Church remains steadfastly opposed to civil unions between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples. The Church doesn’t want homosexual couples to be recognised civilly because of their homosexuality. For the Church, recognition of them would mean we are accepting them and their relationships could then be considered as normal become role models for the future.

The Church also condemns people who live together before marriage. For them, the situation is intolerable and they are considered to be living in sin.

Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, Archbishop of Genoa and President of the Italian Episcopal Conference, is known to be very close to the Vatican. When, in 2007, a bill was proposed in the Italian Senate for a law on civil unions, whether heterosexual or homosexual, Angelo Bagnasco, made a link between civil unions and incest and paedophilia. He stressed the need to establish ethical standards for people living together, without which, he said, there would be no limits to the extreme deviations that could take place, such as with paedophilia and incest. (The bill was refused in the end).

The words that the Cardinal used in his fight against all forms of cohabitation, legal or not, show the complete lack of balance given to the topic by the Church. To link paedophilia and incest to civil unions, just serves to make the subject even more confusing.

Let’s say that the Church forbids all types of cohabitation – it certainly has the right to do so -  (according to the Church, sex can only take place within the marriage contract and within a religious marriage contract at that), how can we then explain its indulgence and complacency towards the princes of this world? Everyone knows that Prince Albert of Monaco lived with Charlene for many years and, that before then, he had had two children born outside of marriage by two different women. One would have thought that the Church would not have wanted to draw attention to the marriage of a couple with this type of background, and yet, the celebration of their marriage took place in front of around twenty Catholic priests, amongst whom was the Archbishop of Monaco, the Most Reverend Bernard Barsi, the Apostolic Nunico, the Most Reverend André Dupuy and the Bishops of Vintimille and Nice. Benedict XVI even sent his papal blessing, no less! Only Cardinal Bagnasco wasn’t there. A journalist ended a certain article by writing:  “it depends on whether you are powerful or miserable…”.

As far as the Church was concerned, Albert and Charlene no longer lived in sin. Furthermore, they were acclaimed with ostentation, no doubt in order to confirm Jesus’ teachings, (Luke 15,7): « I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent ».

In his homily of 2007, his Eminence Bagnasco should have said : « Any young people wishing to live together before marriage shouldn’t hesitate - there will be more rejoicing over them than over people who get married immediately ».

The important thing in life is to assert the sovereignty of consciousness, a consciousness illuminated by the teachings of Jesus. These teachings are difficult to follow, but they emphasise the love of one’s neighbour, and have never simply been a list of rules to follow. A young man or woman who live together before marriage because of their studies, their current financial situation or (and why not) simply in order to get to know each other properly, have the right to act in conscience and in freedom and to make their own personal moral decisions. Their conscience allows them to assume responsibility for their acts. This does not necessarily mean that there is moral laxity or relativism in their behaviour.

The priest who will one day prepare them for the religious ceremony should respect any previous decisions they have made.  He should not admonish them. And if they have had children, he should congratulate them.

On the other hand, if this priest decides that they have lived in shame and in sin, he should do what the Archbishop of Monaco did and greet them with extreme pomp and ceremony and invite the Pope to come and bless their marriage. 

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