Threat of bishops over non-signing of civil marriage forms


The spokesperson for the Catholic bishops of Ireland said the church could no longer perform the civil aspects of weddings if marriage was extended to same-sex couples.

The move would mean that the tens of thousands of couples who marry each year in Catholic churches would have to go elsewhere for their marriage to be legally recognized by the state.

Currently, the signing of the Marriage Registration Form – a civil document required by the state to recognize a marriage – takes place after the wedding mass.

If the church follows through on its threat to end the practice, it will mean that the couples will not be officially married during the church ceremony.

Over the weekend, a spokesperson for the Irish Catholic bishops said he believed priests would likely have no problem with the bishops’ possible decision to force all couples who marry in church to complete the civil aspect of their marriage elsewhere.

Currently in a church wedding, after Mass ends the couple, the celebrant – in this case a priest – and witnesses all have to sign a civil document called the Marriage Registration Form. This form is issued by a local registrar and the completed form must be returned to a registrar before a marriage certificate can be obtained.

The position expressed by the Irish Catholic Bishops spokesperson is a reaffirmation of a warning contained in the bishops’ submission to the Constitutional Convention in 2013. In this, they said any change to the definition of marriage would mean that the Church could no longer co-operate with the civil aspect of marriage.

Martin Long, director of the Catholic Communications Office, said: “Currently, on behalf of the state, the priest acts as the celebrant of marriage between a woman and a man. Obviously, if the definition of marriage changes, then that role will change.

‘Nothing has changed’

He added: “If the referendum is passed, the Church’s and the state’s views on marriage will be radically different. It is reasonable that the bishops decide to separate the two.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 13,072 – or 59% – of the 22,045 marriages registered in 2014 were Catholic wedding ceremonies.

For a marriage to be legally recognized, it must be celebrated by a person entered in the register of civil officiants. About 4,121 of the 5,461 registered in Ireland are Catholic priests. There are only 107 civil status registers, so the Church’s decision would cause a significant delay for couples whose marriages are legally recognized by the State.

Mr Long said the guidelines for dioceses would be discussed at a meeting of the Episcopal Committee on Marriage and the Family later this month. The committee is chaired by Bishop of Clogher Liam MacDaid, who was not available for comment.

“A matter of bishops”

The spokesperson said the scenario in which a local priest might disagree with the new role was illogical and unlikely, adding: “This is not a problem. The role of a priest is to join two people in the sight of God only. A priest already performs a service which is not at the center of his ministry (in the exercise of the civil role) ”.

Father Brendan Hoban of the Catholic Priests Association said last night that he had heard suggestions that the Church would refuse to take on the “angry” civilian role, but did not think it would happen.

He said, “Why would that bother? It would be pointless. You are only making things difficult and more expensive for these couples. I wouldn’t expect to see it.

In a speech last month, Catholic Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin said Catholic bishops did not support the referendum and called on people to consider the marriage implications of its adoption.

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