Q. My fiance and I are planning to get married just three months from now. We were thrilled when our venue recommended a priest as our officiant, as it was very important to my fiance’s mother that our marriage be recognized by the church.
But a few days ago, his mother Googled that priest’s name and found articles reporting that he had been removed from ministry by the church because he is gay. The faith community where he currently ministers welcomes people of many Christian religions, but the Catholic Church would not consider his marriage ceremony a valid one.
To make things worse, my fiance’s mother has told us that she will not acknowledge our marriage or attend the ceremony unless it is a sacrament. (If she doesn’t go, I’m sure that she will make sure that the rest of his family does not attend either.)
I am devastated by her lack of support. Our intention was certainly to have our marriage be valid in the church’s eyes. Do you have any suggestions or can you recommend any priests who would be able to officiate? (Central Pennsylvania)
A. Your letter prompts several thoughts on my part, widely scattered. First, I am continually surprised by the growing number of couples for whom the “venue” (i.e. the place of the reception) is the primary focus — and sometimes the exclusive concern — when planning their wedding.
My view is that a wedding ceremony is above all else a spiritual event: You believe that God had a hand in bringing you together, you want to tell the Lord that you are grateful and ask him to bless your marriage, and you are inviting your friends to pray with you and for you.
So it disappoints me when — over and over, lately — I find couples selecting the reception hall first and then “backing into” a church that might be nearby and a priest who might happen to be available.
I’m sorry that the celebrant recommended by your venue is no longer functioning as a Catholic priest. Incidentally, though, he would not have been removed from ministry simply for being gay. A gay man can be a worthy and effective priest, as long as he is committed to remaining celibate. The same requirement applies to him as to a priest who is heterosexual.
Next, I’m not sure that I agree with your future mother-in-law’s stance in not attending the wedding. Having made clear her preference and her principles, perhaps the better course in a situation like this might be to attend the wedding. It would keep the lines of communication open, with the hope that her son might decide to have the marriage blessed by the church at some future date.
Finally, having felt compelled to unload all of that on you, let me see what can I do to help. I appreciate and admire the fact that you and your fiance want to “rescue” the situation and have your marriage recognized by the church, not simply because you want to keep peace in the family, but because you would like to remain eligible to receive the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.
I suggest that you call the Catholic diocese in which the wedding will take place and ask whether they have any suggestions, perhaps the name of a retired priest who might be available for the wedding. One possible complication, I need to point out, is that many dioceses do not normally give permission for a marriage ceremony outside of a church setting.
There are exceptions: I have done several weddings, for example, in “neutral” settings when a Catholic was marrying a Jew and the Jewish family would have felt uncomfortable in the presence of Christian symbols.
Perhaps there is a nearby Catholic church where, in advance of the date you have chosen, you and your fiance could be married by a priest by a quiet and simple exchange of vows; then you could do the “party part” at your chosen destination, and the priest might be willing to say a prayer of blessing as the meal begins.
Or, if you explain honestly to your diocese that the wedding has long been planned and that you hadn’t realized the complexities of having the church recognize the marriage but want very much to be married in the eyes of the church, the diocese might decide to give permission for a priest to do the wedding ceremony at the site you already have selected.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.