Previous Question Next Question
authority of State over marriage
Question from Bill on 4/3/2006:

Pope Leo XIII maintained (in Arcanum) that the Church never relinquished authority over Christian marriage; so, the Church is supposed to have ultimate authority over all Christian marriage. I know the Church has at times governed all marriage both Christian and non-Christian; at other times only Christian marriage while the State governed non-Christian marriage; and presently in America, the State is the final authority in governing both Christian and non-Christian marriage (though it concedes some initial governance to religious ministers. Is the Church, rather than the State, supposed to have ultimate authority over non-Christian marriage, or can they both validly govern? And also, if the State can validly govern non-Christian marriage, then when it dissolves and annuls a non-Christian marriage, then are those marriages actually dissolved and annulled in nature?

Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 4/4/2006:

One of the principles in the reform of the Code of Canon Law was to only have canon law apply to Catholics. So everything that could be removed as applying to non-Catholics was removed. An exception is when a Catholic marries a non-Catholic (baptized or not), the Catholic law ends up applying to the non-Catholic because of the fact that he or she is marrying a Catholic. However, in most cases, canon law no longer applies to non-Catholics, including baptized non-Catholics.

Also, canon law recognizes the jurisdiction of the state over marriage in matters pertaining to the civil aspects of marriage. In fact, a marriage that cannot be celebrated according to civil laws requires a special permission from the bishop in order to be celebrated.

The Church even recognizes the existence of some degree of commitment when a Catholic marries outside of the Catholic Church. While such marriages are invalid in the eyes God and the Church due to the defect of the form, and while such couples are not permitted to receive Holy Communion, the Church does use the term "convalidation" of the civil bond when making the marriage valid in the Church.

So marriage is governed by two sets of laws for Catholics -- the laws of the state/nation, and the laws of the Church. In American jurisdictions, the civil authorities permit priests (and other religious leaders) to perform marriages with civil effects. The priest (minister, rabbi, etc.) must then complete the civil marriage license paperwork. In some states, a special license is required for religious leaders to officiate (e.g., Nevada). In other states, no special license is required, provided that the religious leader is recognized by a religious organization (e.g., New York).

Some other nations have an approach similar to that of the United States. Many, however, have a requirement that a person get civilly married in a seperate act from the religious ceremony.


Click here to send this Question and Answer to a friend                    

Previous Question Next Question

One of the largest collections of Church documents in the world

Back to topics list.



Terms of Use      Privacy Policy      Contact Us

EWTN Global Catholic Network
5817 Old Leeds Rd., Irondale, AL 35210 USA 1-205-271-2900