Sunday 4 December 2016

Church backs down on its threat to 'boycott' civil part of weddings

Published 25/07/2015 | 02:30

It has now been confirmed that the clergy will continue to facilitate newly married couples, who in all cases must sign a state register to prove that they are married in the eyes of the law
It has now been confirmed that the clergy will continue to facilitate newly married couples, who in all cases must sign a state register to prove that they are married in the eyes of the law

The Catholic Church has backed down on its threat not to perform the civil part of a wedding ceremony following the passing of the same-sex marriage referendum.

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In the run-up to the vote, Catholic bishops warned that any change to the legal definition of marriage would mean that priests would be barred from carrying out this part of the ceremony.

But it has now been confirmed that the clergy will continue to facilitate newly married couples, who in all cases must sign a state register to prove that they are married in the eyes of the law.

This is in sharp contrast to a pre-referendum submission by the bishops when they warned that the church "could no longer carry out the civil element" of marriage if the referendum was passed

If the bishops had gone ahead with their threat, it would have caused major logistical problems for the state authorities and alternative structures would have had to be set up for marriage registration.

It would have meant that the thousands of couples who get married in a catholic church each year would have had to go elsewhere to have their marriage legally recognised.

However, a spokesman for the Catholic Church referred to a recent comment by Archbishop Eamon Martin, who conceded: "As far as I can see, the church would indeed like to continue solemnising marriages.

"We recognise that a lot of couples who come to our churches for marriage want to have that recognised also as a civil marriage and we're very appreciative of that."

However, the archbishop also warned that the church "will take a look" at the details of the legislation now being finalised by the Government regarding same-sex marriage.

"We'll monitor the situation to see if it's possible for us to continue - and I'm hopeful that it will be possible," he added.

Despite some ongoing confusion on the matter, it is understood the bishops have rowed back on their pre-referendum hardline stance.

Fr Gerry O'Connor, from the Association of Catholic Priests, said it was always highly unlikely that the bishops would follow through with their "false threat".

"It was an attempt to strengthen the 'No' vote," he said.

"But it was very unhelpful for them to introduce this as a possible line of action. It was perceived as a threat."

Speaking to the Irish Independent, he said the Catholic Church would be "impoverished" if it refused to continue the tradition.

"Most people who get married are aged between 22 and 40. That is the age group that we rarely see in church.

"Therefore it would have meant letting go of the possibility of engaging with a generation of people who are still happy to get married in a church environment.

"The current arrangement is in fact a wonderful opportunity for the church to present itself well.

"I would be very surprised if the bishops would ever remove the possibility of that rich engagement."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that the same-sex marriage legislation will be delayed until after the summer recess because of legal issues.

Sources say it could be months before legislation is enacted - casting doubt over plans for the first same-sex marriages before Christmas.

Irish Independent

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