Thursday, April 25, 2013

Some "RC" News from England: Marriages, Royal or Not

The Marriage Act of 1753, proposed by Lord Hardwicke, required that for a marriage to be valid, the wedding must take place in the Church of England in a ceremony conducted by a minister of the Church of England. Of course, that caused a great problem for Catholics and Protestant dissenters, although Jews and Quakers were exempted from the Act. The law was passed to prevent clandestine marriages and also required banns be published. This restriction was eventually removed by Parliament in the Marriage Act of 1836 which allowed non-conformists and Catholics to be married in their own places of worship.

According to The Telegraph, recent Parliamentary actions may be undoing the 1836 law:

Prof Christopher McCrudden said that there are serious questions over whether the 120-year-old legal basis on which 8,500 Catholic weddings a year are performed can even “survive” the passage of the bill currently before Parliament.

He told MPs and peers that, unless urgent changes are made, Catholic bishops may have to reconsider whether priests can carry on performing weddings, in effect, on behalf of the state.

The barrister said his advice to senior bishops is that proposed protections for churches against legal challenges under human rights or equalities laws for refusing to marry gay couples completely overlook the position of Catholics and other denominations.

It means that the entire legal basis for Catholic weddings, operating since the late 19th century, could be “unpicked” with “very uncertain consequences”, he warned.

One possible outcome could even be a complete separation of church and civil weddings, such as happens in France where coupes are married in the town hall with a separate service in churches, he said.

On the other hand, the changes in the rules of succession to the throne in England, specifically to allow an heir to the throne to marry a Catholic, have created some concerns:

The Church expects Catholic spouses to do all they can to raise their children as Catholics but does not censure them if they are unable to do so, a Government spokesman has told the House of Lords as it debated changes to the system of Royal succession.

Lord Wallace of Tankerness, speaking on behalf of the Government, said he had been advised on the matter by Mgr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

“I have the specific consent of Mgr Stock to say that he was speaking on behalf of Archbishop Nichols as president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and can inform the House that the view taken by the Catholic Church in England and Wales is that, in the instance of mixed marriages, the approach of the Catholic Church is pastoral,” he said.

“It will always look to provide guidance that supports and strengthens the unity and indissolubility of the marriage. In this context the Catholic Church expects Catholic spouses to sincerely undertake to do all that they can to raise children in the Catholic Church. Where it has not been possible for the child of a mixed marriage to be brought up as a Catholic, the Catholic parent does not fall subject to the censure of canon law,” Lord Wallace continued.

The remarks were made during the third reading debate of the Succession to the Crown Bill in the House of Lords on Monday.

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