Decree on Betrothal and Marriage

Author: Congregation of the Council

NE TEMERE (On Marriage)

Sacred Congregation Of The Council

Decree concerning betrothal and marriage issued by order and authority of our Most Holy Lord Pope Pius X, by the Sacred Congregation of the Council.

The Church of God has always very justly detested and forbidden secret marriages. Therefore, lest perhaps anyone should enter into such marriages, the Council of Trent (cap. I, Sess. XXIV de reform. matrim.) taught that, "Whoever attempts to contract marriage except in the presence of their pastor, or another priest properly delegated by the pastor or the Ordinary, and two or three witnesses, the Holy Synod declares wholly unable to contract marriage in such a way, and so judges contracts of this sort to be null and void."

But because this same Sacred Council had commanded that a decree of this kind be published in every parish, the decree would not be in force except in those places where it was in fact so promulgated. It thus happened that many places, in which that publication did not take place, have even now never received the benefit of the Tridentine law, and still remain subject to the doubts and disadvantages of the ancient discipline.

And indeed wherever the new law has been in force, all difficulty has been removed. For often grave doubt existed in discerning the person of the pastor in whose presence the marriage was contracted. Canonical discipline stated that "their own pastor" ought to be understood as referring to the priest whose domicile, or quasi-domicile, was in the parish of one or the other of the partners. Because it is often difficult to judge what exactly constitutes a quasi-domicile, not a few marriages were put in danger of being null: many also, whether by the ignorance of men or by fraud, were observed to be wholly illegitimate and contrary to the prescribed rules [illegitima atque inrita].

We observe that these things, long since deplored, are happening more frequently in our own times, when comings and goings among peoples, even those most distant from each other, are accomplished more easily and quickly. Therefore it has seemed expedient to wise and most learned men that some changes be made in the law concerning the form of celebrating marriage. And even more bishops, from every part of the earth, and especially from the more populous states, where there is a graver necessity, have besought the Apostolic See for this same reason.

It has likewise been requested by the Bishops, as much those of Europe as of other regions, that action be taken against some troublesome effects of betrothals, i.e., the private mutual promises of future marriage. For experience has taught us well enough what perils betrothals of this kind bear with them: at first, the inducements to sin and the cause of inexperienced girls being deceived; afterwards, unresolvable strife and contention.

In response to these related problems, Our Most Holy Lord Pope Pius X, on account of the solicitude which he has for all the Churches, and desiring by means of a certain moderation to remove the losses and dangers which we have just mentioned, commissioned the Sacred Congregation of the Council that it might see to this matter, and then propose to Himself such things as it judges appropriate.

He wished also to hear the wishes of the Council established for the purpose of unifying canon law, and also of the Eminent Cardinals who have been chosen, by a special commission, to prepare that same code: who, like the Sacred Congregation of the Council, often hold assemblies for that very reason. Having obtained the opinions of all, our Most Holy Lord commanded the Sacred Congregation of the Council to issue a decree containing laws tested by certain knowledge and full deliberation, by which the discipline of betrothal and marriage might be governed, and their celebration set straight, and made fixed and orderly. In execution therefore of the Apostolic mandate the Sacred Congregation of the Council in these present letters establishes and decrees the following:

On Betrothals

I. Only those betrothals are held valid and obtain the canonical effects, which are contracted in writing and signed by both parties, as well as by the pastor, the local Ordinary, or at least two witnesses.

If either party does not know how to write, this fact is to be noted in writing, and another witness is to be added, who along with the pastor, or the local Ordinary, or the two witnesses (as established above) is to sign the document.

II. Under the title of "pastor," both here and in the following articles, come not only those who legitimately govern a canonically established parish, but also, in regions where there are no canonically established parishes, the priest to whom the care of souls in some definite territory has been legitimately assigned, and who is equal in duties to the pastor; and in missions, where the territory is not yet completely divided, every priest universally deputed by the Moderator of the mission to the care of souls in a certain area.

On Marriage

III. Only those marriages are valid which are contracted before the pastor or the local Ordinary, or a priest delegated by either of these, as well as at least two witnesses, subject to the rules expressed in the following articles, and with the exception of those which are discussed below in n. VII and VIII.

IV.—The pastor and the local Ordinary validly assist at a marriage,

1. only from the day they receive possession of the benefice or the beginning of the office, unless they have been expressly [lit.: by name] and by public decree excommunicated or suspended from their office;

2. only within the boundaries of their own territory; within these boundaries they validly assist at marriages not only of their own subjects, but also of those not subject to them;

3. only when invited and requested, and constricted neither by force nor by grave fear, they require and receive the consent of those contracting.

V.—However, they licitly assist,

1. when they have made certain legally of the free state of those contracting, according to the relevant portions of the law;

2. when they have made certain moreover that at least one of those contracting resides permanently in the place of the marriage, or at least has resided there for one month;

3. otherwise, in order that pastor or the local Ordinary may licitly assist at a marriage, they must obtain the permission of the proper pastor or local Ordinary of either partner, except in case of grave necessity, in which case they are excused from obtaining such permission.

4. With respect to migrants, except in case of necessity it is not permitted for the pastor to assist at their marriages, unless, having referred the matter to the Ordinary or a priest delegated by him, he obtains permission to do so.

5. In any case, however, let it be held as a rule that the marriage be celebrated before the pastor of the bride, unless there is some grave reason to act otherwise.

VI.—The pastor and the local Ordinary can grant to another specifically determined priest permission to assist at marriages within the boundaries of their own territory.

Any priest so delegated, however, in order that he may validly and licitly assist, must be required to keep the limits of his mandate, as well as the rules already established for the pastor and the local Ordinary in numbers IV and V.

VII.—In imminent danger of death, when the pastor, or the local Ordinary, or a priest delegated by either of them cannot be had, for the quieting of conscience and (if the case requires it) the legitimization of a child, marriage can be contracted validly and licitly before any priest and two witnesses.

VIII.—If it should happen that in a certain region the pastor or the local Ordinary, or a priest delegated by them, before whom a marriage can be celebrated, cannot be had, and this state of affairs has already continued for a month, marriage can be validly and licitly entered into by the formal consent of the spouses before two witnesses.

IX.—1. When the marriage has been celebrated, the pastor, or whoever bears his duties, is to immediately inscribe in the book of marriages the names of the spouses and of the witnesses, the place and the day of the celebration, and the other things, according to the manner prescribed in the ritual books or by the proper Ordinary; and this holds true even if another priest, delegated either by himself or by the Ordinary, has assisted at the marriage.

2. Furthermore, let the pastor note also in the book of the baptized, that the wife has contracted a marriage on such and such a day in his parish. But if the wife was baptized elsewhere, the pastor must, either directly or through the episcopal curia, give notice to the pastor of the baptism that the contract has been entered into, so that the marriage may be entered in the book of baptism.

3. As often as marriage is contracted according to the norm of number VII or VIII, the priest (in the first case) or the witnesses (in the second) must take great care, together with the marriage partners, that the contracting of marriage be noted in the prescribed books as soon as possible.

X.—Pastors who violate the norms prescribed above are to be punished by their Ordinaries in accordance with the manner and the gravity of the fault. Moreover, if they assist at any marriage against the prescriptions of sections 2 and 3 of number V, they may not keep the "stole" fees, but must remit them to the proper pastor of the marriage partners.

XI.—1. All those baptized into the Catholic Church, or converted to her from heresy or schism (even if either of these have afterwards abandoned her), are bound by the laws decreed above as often as they shall enter into betrothal or marriage among themselves.

2. This remains the case even when such Catholics contract betrothal or marriage with either baptized or unbaptized non-Catholics, after obtaining a dispensation from the impediment of mixed religion or of disparity of cult; unless the Holy See has declared otherwise for some particular place or region.

3. Non-Catholics, whether baptized or unbaptized, if they marry among themselves, are in no way bound to observe the Catholic form of betrothal or marriage.

Let the present decree be considered legitimately published and promulgated by its transmission to the local Ordinaries: and let those things which have been established therein begin everywhere to have force of law on the solemnity of Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ next year, 1908.

But meanwhile, let all the local Ordinaries take care that this decree be published in the vernacular as soon as possible, and in all the parish churches of their own dioceses be explained, that it may be rightly know by all.

These present decrees will be valid by the special mandate of our Most Holy Lord Pope Pius X, all contrary decrees, even those worthy of special mention, notwithstanding.

Give at Rome on August 10, 1907.

Vincent Cardinal, Bishop of Palestrina, Prefect.
C. De Lai, Secretary.