US diocese relaxes wedding location policy

Following Pope Francis’s call to meet people where they are, a US diocese has relaxed its policy on wedding locations.

Helena diocese Bishop George Thomas approved regulations that allow openness to non-church weddings.

Canon law stipulates Catholic weddings are to be in a parish church.

But the Code of Canon Law allows bishops to permit marriage to be celebrated “in another suitable place”.

Bishop Thomas said the new policy is about meeting “people where they are, bringing the church to the margins”.

“We think this is a wise move – to open a new door and see where the Spirit takes us,” he said.

The bishop had received moving messages from young couples refused in their requests to be married in a place special to them.

“I hear from parents who are broken-hearted because their children opted to be married in a non-church setting by a justice of the peace.”

These children “often never return to church”, Bishop Thomas said.

“On Sunday after Sunday, I read of Catholic families’ weddings in destination locations in the absence of any church involvement.”

Bishop Thomas said the new policy could be the opening of the door for couples to seek a Catholic marriage rather than opt for a non-Catholic wedding.

“It was time,” he said, “to reconsider a policy that had been rigidly enforced, and at times perhaps unfairly enforced.”

He some priest advisors “looked at me like I was losing my mind” when he first broached the idea.

The new policy does not allow a nuptial Mass to be celebrated at alternative, outdoor venues.

These Masses must still be in a parish church.

The policy reiterates the understanding of the Church that the parish church is the appropriate place for the celebration of marriage involving a Catholic person.

But is allows for flexibility and gives guidance as to what such a “suitable place”’ might be.

It also discusses the pastoral circumstances which might warrant celebration of a marriage in such a location.


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