Sacramental marriage without civil marriage

Our pastor, at a parish with a lot of immigrants, talked about an interesting problem the other day. It seems like a lot of immigrants into this country come here with marriages which are not done in the Church and they are not even married civilly. They get here, and through one means or another, rediscover the Catholic Church and become quite serious about their faith. So of course, they want to have their relationships normalized with a real marriage. But due to immigration issues, they can’t get civilly married. Now in this country (maybe everywhere), the Catholic Church will not do a marriage if it is not legally valid with the state. So this leaves them in a very bad state, they want to get married, they can’t. They often have kids, so they can’t live apart. There is no impediment to a marriage from a canonical standpoint, it is simply the civil law which keeps the church from marrying them.

Now, this is not intended to be a discussion on illegal immigration, thats why its not on the social justice forum, so please don’t reply with all of the anti-illegal-immigration responses so typical on the social justice sub-forum. I am just curious about the exact requirements of the Church with regards to sacramental marriages required to go hand-in-hand with civil marriages, the reasons behind this requirement, and opinions about how this should be handled. According to my pastor, priests are often bringing this subject up with their Bishops and they want a solution to the problem that does not require a political/legal change in the law of this country, as that is looking more and more hopeless. Any thoughts?

To tag along on your questions, I’d be curious to know if civil marriage plus Church marriage is true globally or only in certain countries. Do Episcopal conferences make the rules?

It is possible, with consent of the bishop (or his delegate).

My wife and I were in a similar situation when we first got married. She is Canadian, and the INS paperwork had not arrived by the time our wedding came ( even though we gave them 8 months).

So the pastor ran it past the bishop and recieved a permission to marry us, but no marriage license was applied for or registerd. We were Sacramentally married, but not civily married.

When the INS paperwork was filed, we had the marriage licences filled out and registered.

I have also heard this happening for senior citizens, when a civil marriage would result in a loss of pension benefits that the senior needed to live on. A Sacramental marriage is perfromed without a civil marriage.

In some countries, such as France, only civil weddings are recognized, so a couple will undertake both a church wedding, followed by a Justice of the Peace wedding.

When it comes to civil and Church marriages, Churches usually follow civil law unless it is against natural law. That means that in countries where they may act as agents of the State (the US and Canada, for example), priests celebrate marriages that are both legal and religious. In France and in Germany, to name but two countries, couples must first wed at city hall and then come to the Church for their religious marriages. The Church goes along with the law because there is nothing unfair about the requirement.

Canon Law says this:
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;

If a country forbade interracial marriages, a clear violation of natural law, the priest might be given permission by his bishop to celebrate a secret marriage, one that would be strictly religious.

In the scenario the OP is talking about, is it a case of necessity if the persons can return home and be married there?

Originally Posted by Brendan

It is possible, with consent of the bishop (or his delegate).

I have also heard this happening for senior citizens, when a civil marriage would result in a loss of pension benefits that the senior needed to live on. A Sacramental marriage is perfromed without a civil marriage.

I doubt that. The Church would be suborning fraud against the government. It may not seem fair but decreasing someone’s benefits when they marry doesn’t violate natural law. Two may not live as cheaply as one, but two together can live more cheaply than two apart.

It is not fraud against the government because the government does not make the reception of a Sacrament a condition of benefits. Yes the government will recognize the priest as a legitimate witness to the civil contract of marriage, but that did not happen and no one is claiming that it did.

In some countries, such as France, only civil weddings are recognized, so a couple will undertake both a church wedding, followed by a Justice of the Peace wedding.

No, they must first marry civilly and then they can marry in the Church. That’s the law and the Church follows it because it is not unjust.

It the case of the civil authority, France does not require that the civil ceremony happen first, in fact the civil authorities generally couldn’t care less if you had a religious ceremony first, second or not at all. Are you somehow referring to Canon Law?

I know at least one reason the Church cooperates with civil marriage is for the protection of the children under civil law. The Church cannot enforce those protections. It supports legal separation agreements and child support agreements for the same reasons.

I know if two seperate occasions where couples wanted a sacramental ceremony without a legal ceremony. Both couples were orthodox Jews. One couple was comprised of a widow and widower, well into their 60’s, both had grown children and young grandchildren. Neither partner wanted the legal complications a civil ceremony would create. Both couples signed prenuptial agreements (to prevent inheritance issues). Neither couple cared about the civil authorities recognizing their status: they merely cared about God.

Brendan: It is possible, with consent of the bishop (or his delegate).

I have also heard this happening for senior citizens, when a civil marriage would result in a loss of pension benefits that the senior needed to live on. A Sacramental marriage is performed without a civil marriage.

Phemie: I doubt that. The Church would be suborning fraud against the government. It may not seem fair but decreasing someone’s benefits when they marry doesn’t violate natural law. Two may not live as cheaply as one, but two together can live more cheaply than two apart.

Brendan: It is not fraud against the government because the government does not make the reception of a Sacrament a condition of benefits. Yes the government will recognize the priest as a legitimate witness to the civil contract of marriage, but that did not happen and no one is claiming that it did.

Phemie: It is fraud because the only reason for a religious only wedding is to not lose benefits and defraud the State

Brendan: In some countries, such as France, only civil weddings are recognized, so a couple will undertake both a church wedding, followed by a Justice of the Peace wedding.

Phemie: No, they must first marry civilly and then they can marry in the Church. That’s the law and the Church follows it because it is not unjust.

Brendan: It the case of the civil authority, France does not require that the civil ceremony happen first, in fact the civil authorities generally couldn’t care less if you had a religious ceremony first, second or not at all. Are you somehow referring to Canon Law?

Phemie: No, French law. The Church in France will only marry those who are already civilly married. The priest will require a marriage certificate before he proceeds with the religious ceremony.

There is absolutely NO reason why immigrants can not be married both legally and Sacramentally. Even illegal immigrants can get married, with a valid marriage license. And ANYONE, regardless of citizenship status, can obtain a marriage license (that is done through State law, NOT Federal law).

I would love to see any legal evidence that any state requires that you be legally admitted to the US, or have US Citizenship, in order to be married.

Whoever is telling you this, quite literally does not know what they are talking about.

Well, that would be surprising, as he has a lot of experience dealing with hispanic immigrants. I will ask him to clarify.

that does not seem to be the case in Texas, at least in my limited experience, in what state are you seeing this problem? no the Church will not support defying civil law on marriage unless that law violates natural law.

Some states have residency requirements that a person here illegally would not meet.

There is a guide that can be bought on line that has this and other requirements for all 50 states but I am not going to pay the $60.00 so that I can give you a break down. I think it is just sufficent to say that some states to have requirments that need to be met that a person here illegally can not meet.

I wonder if some states do a records search before issuing the license to make sure a person isn’t already married. That would be near impossible to do if someone was here illegally.

While it wouldn’t matter to Jews, Christ did say render unto Caesar… I think that means one shouldn’t try to get around what the govt considers it’s due.

The Church would not allow orthodox Jews to be married within the Catholic Church and even if it did, they can not enter into a sacramental marriage at they are not baptized.

It is not necessarily fraud against the state, unless one or both of them have pensions from the state, but no matter what it is fraud against the pension plan and illegal. The Church could not condone this as it goes against the law.

A bishop may have allowed this (but I doubt it) but he would be wrong in doing so.

I worked for a foreign company for a while. Often couples would marry civally, even though both were from another country, were only here temporarily, and planned to leave once they finished their term in the US.

Really? you mean that the seniors would not care about being united in God’s Eyes before they choose to live together?

Brendan: It the case of the civil authority, France does not require that the civil ceremony happen first, in fact the civil authorities generally couldn’t care less if you had a religious ceremony first, second or not at all. Are you somehow referring to Canon Law?

Phemie: No, French law. The Church in France will only marry those who are already civilly married. The priest will require a marriage certificate before he proceeds with the religious ceremony.

First you claim that it is “French Law” and then list a requirement on the priests. Is it your claim that the French civil law regulates when\if a priest may perform a Sacrament?

But there is no law that prohibits the Church from issuing a Sacrament. What law specifically does it go against.

Civil marriage is distinct from Sacramental marriage. Yes they are commonly performed within a short time span of each other in most Catholic weddings ( the Sacramental marriage occurs when the couple exchange consent, the civil marriage occurs when the marriage licesne is signed by all required parties)

You could have the entire Supreme Court present and they will all declare that up until the marriage license is signed, there is no marriage in the eyes of the law,

Here are the relevant Canons

Canon 1130 For a grave and urgent reason, the local Ordinary may permit that a marriage be celebrated in secret.

Canon 1131 Permission to celebrate a marriage in secret involves:

Canon 1131.1 that the investigations to be made before the marriage are carried out in secret;

Canon 1131.2 that the secret in regard to the marriage which has been celebrated is observed by the local Ordinary, by whoever assists, by the witnesses and by the spouses.

Canon 1132 The obligation of observing the secret mentioned in canon 1131 n. 2 ceases for the local Ordinary if from its observance a threat arises of grave scandal or of grave harm to the sanctity of marriage. This fact is to be made known to the parties before the celebration of the marriage.

Canon 1133 A marriage celebrated in secret is to be recorded only in a special register which is to be kept in the secret archive of the curia.

Note there is no reporting to the civil authorities or registration of the marriage license

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