Marriage before God vs. marriage before Caesar

What does the Catholic Church teach regarding the relationship between civil and religious marriages? Obviously she does not consider the civil ceremony adequate by itself. But on the other side, could the Catholic wedding rite ever be done when the couple is not legally “married” in the eyes of the state?

Absolutely! As far as I know, there is no requirement in the Church in regards to the validity and licity of the Sacrament, that it must be approved of by the state.

The Church follows the laws in the countries in which she operates. I don’t know of any countries that allow a religious marriage without a civil marriage.

In the US, the priest and deacon are also authorized to be the civil witnesses and therefore complete the marriage license. A priest/deacon in the US cannot marry you without a valid marriage license from the state.

In Europe, the civil and religious witnesses are not the same person and therefore the couple must be married civilly and then be married in the Church. The Church will not marry a couple without their civil license.

I don’t know of any countries in which the Church will do this.

Only in the case of *necessity *(and with the permission of the ordinary).

Can. 1071 §1. Except in a case of necessity, a person is not to assist without the permission of the local ordinary at:

2/ a marriage which cannot be recognized or celebrated according to the norm of civil law;

Not A Canon Lawyer

According to the canon text, that should be “Only in the case of necessity OR with the permission of the ordinary.”

The answer is no.
Any minister licensed to perform marriages, including priests, must report such marriages to the civil authorities. To not do so is a crime under civil law.
So to perform such a marriage would involve the priest in “lying” to the civil authorities.

This is the answer I received from two different priests on the subject.


OTOH, secret marriages are allowed and those are not reported to anyone. One of the reasons given for a secret marriage is that in certain instances the law of the land contravenes natural law and is unjust (laws forbidding interracial marriage for example). In that case the Church would marry a couple and the marriage would not be reported to the State for obvious reasons. Such a situation doesn’t apply in European countries that require a civil before a religious marriage.

I would add that in the case of a secret marriage, it would be implied that the couple intends to keep the religious marriage, and most likely the nature of their relationship, a secret. I think it unlikely that there are many circumstances where a couple could be publicly known “as a couple” and be permitted to have a secret marriage.

Oops. Thanks. :tiphat:

To paraphrase Daffy Duck: *"A-ha! *Conjunction trouble!"

Actually, in the case of concubinage, where the couple has been presumed to already be married, a secret marriage may be permitted to prevent scandal. Don’t know how often you’d come across that situation though.


Reminds me of when I was based in Germany with the US Army (1965 thru 1968)

One of my friends fell in love with a German girl (German citizen)… He wanted to get married… Well, after a lot of security back ground checks on the girl she passed.

Then they had to get married 3 times… One - by the Mayor of the town. Second by the Church… Third by a US Army Chaplin… Not sure why all three, but he really loved the girl and would do anything and did anything to get married.

Very interesting. Thanks for quoting the Canon! :thumbsup:

On the other end. A Church marriage remains valid even if a Civil Divorce is granted.

My Aunt and Uncle received a civil divorce for financial reason when my Aunt’s health began to fail. Though they remained married in the eyes of the Church and our family.

:confused: :confused: :confused:

In order to receive Medicaid treatment, your total assets need to be quite small. This would have left my Uncle a pauper after the death of his wife. But by dividing the estate, her 1/2 could pay for her care until Medicaid would assist financially (should she live that long). Thus she would receive care and he would be able to live the rest of his life on his ‘half’ of their life savings.

It’s a screwy system but we’ve got to enjoy the ride while we can :shrug:

No religious marriage should take place without it being legal. Only in extremely serious situations does the Church make exceptions.

Obviously, she does not consider the civil ceremony adequate by itself.

Yes it can be. Only Catholics are bound by canon law. Therefore two baptized Protestants married before a JP is indeed sacramental.

But on the other side, could the Catholic wedding rite ever be done when the couple is not legally “married” in the eyes of the state?

As previously stated, only under rare and serious conditions…

In Europe it is not uncommon to have a civil marriage first and then the religious ceremony afterwards. This is because some European countries do not recognize religious ceremonies as legally binding. In those countries the Catholic Church will not marry someone who is not already legally married.

However, I have no idea why there were 2 religious ceremonies…

My guess is that the marriage by the army chaplain was to guarantee the marriage was legal under United States law.

St Valentine is the patron saint of lovers specifically BECAUSE he conducted secret marriages. Story is the Roman emperor Claudius II forbade marriage for single men - at least those who were eligible for military service - with the notion that unmarried men made better soldiers. In those days once one enlisted one was in the army for a VERY long time, so clearly this law was unjust and very burdensome on them. And Valentine was OK in obeying his conscience rather than the unjust law and marrying them in secret.

This is a pious legend, not rooted in any fact.

The assocation of Valentine’s Day with lovers is a medieval invention of Geoffery Chaucer.

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