Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Pinterest Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr Connect on YouTube

Two Questions: Do We Need to Use a Different Word for Marriage in the Church? and, Should Catholic Clergy Cease Signing Civil "Marriage" Licenses?

June 30, 2011 138 Comments

I have proposed before on this blog that we may be coming to a point where we should consider dropping our use of the word marriage. It  is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the New York Legislature or an increasing number of states mean.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Marriage in the following way:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC # 1601)

The latest actions by New York, along with Washington DC, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa have legally redefined the term marriage. Other states will likely join the list. The secular world’s definition of marriage no longer even remotely resembles what the Catechism describes.

To be fair, as we noted yesterday, this is not the first redefinition of marriage that has occurred in America. The redefinition has actually come in three stages:

  1. In 1969 the first no-fault divorce law was signed in California. Within 15 years every state in this land had similar laws that made divorce easy. No longer did state laws uphold the principle which the Catechism describes as a partnership of the whole of life. Now marriage was redefined as a contract easily broken by the will of the spouses.
  2. The dramatic rise in contraceptive use and the steep drop in birthrates, though not a legal redefinition, amount to a kind of cultural redefinition of marriage as described in the Catechism which sees the procreation and education of offspringas integral to its very nature. Now the American culture saw this aspect as optional  at the will of the spouses. Having sown in the wind (where we redefined not only marriage, but sex itself) we are now reaping the whirlwind of deep sexual confusion and a defining of marriage right out of existence.
  3. This final blow of legally recognizing so called gay “marriage” completes the redefinition of marriage which the Catechism describes as being a covenant, …which a man and a woman establish between themselves. Now secular American culture is removing even this, calling same-sex relationships “marriage”.

Proposal: So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think. I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”

According to this proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

The word matrimony also emphasizes two aspects of marriage: procreation and heterosexual complimentarity. The word comes from Latin and old French roots. Matri = “mother” and mony, a suffix indicating “action, state, or condition.” Hence Holy Matrimony refers to that that holy Sacrament wherein a woman enters the state that inaugurates an openness to motherhood. Hence the Biblical and Ecclesial definition of Holy Matrimonyas heterosexual and procreative is reaffirmed by the term itself. Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.

Problems to resolve – To return to this phrase “Holy Matrimony” is to return to an older tradition and may sound archaic to some  (but at least it isn’t as awkward sounding as “wedlock”).  But clearly a new usage will be difficult to undertake. It is one thing to start officially referring to it as Holy Matrimony. But it is harder when, for example, a newly engaged couple approaches the priest and says, “We want to be married next summer.” It seems unlikely we could train couples to say, “We want to enter Holy Matrimony next summer.” or even just to say, “We want to have a wedding next summer.” Such dramatic changes seem unlikely to come easily.  Perhaps you, who read this blog can offer some resolutions to this problem.

Perhaps, even if  we cannot wholly drop the terms “marry” and “married” a more modest form of the proposal is that we at least officially discontinue the use of the word marriage and refer to it as the “Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.”

What do you think? Do we need to start using a new word for marriage? Has the word been so stripped of meaning that we have to use different terminology to convey what we really mean?

When I proposed this over a year and a half ago, many of you we rather unconvinced and some were even perturbed that we were handing on over our vocabulary to the libertines. That may be, but we already know that gay will never mean what it used to, and maybe marriage will never again mean what it did.

A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper?  It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

We would surely need a strong catechesis directed to our faithful that reiterates that civil “marriage” (what ever that means anymore) is not Holy Matrimony and that they should, in no way consider themselves as wed, due to a (meaningless) piece of paper from a secular state that reflects only confusion and darkness rather than clarity and Christian light.

Here too, what do you think? Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil “marriage” licenses?

Comments (138)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Mark O'Malley says:


    In a perfect world, we would see the situation described in the bull Unam Sanctum: two swords, the temporal and the spiritual, where the temporal was established and subject to the spiritual.

    But we don’t. The temporal has rejected the spiritual altogether. In fact, if anything, the temporal seeks to co-opt the spiritual.

    Not only do I think that the Church would be well-advised to reject being agents of the State (for the purposes of signing a State-issued license), I think the Church should back away, and quickly, from being the agents of the State in any area, whether as a social service agency, education agency, medical agency, or any other area where reimbursements happen. The money (or in-kind reimbursement) from the State comes with strings. And sometimes those strings, as we recently witnessed with the DC adoption issue, can be used by the State to act as a garrotte.

    Please allow me to quote a couple of paragraphs from this recent Time op/ed piece, The Bittersweet Victory: Why Gay Marriage Still Isn’t Marriage (,8599,2079861,00.html)


    Marriage without a church or temple wedding isn’t the real thing. Why can some people have all the bells and whistles in the church of their choice but not me? Of course, there have been and will be congregations and churches that allow gay men and lesbians to be married in their midst and to bless those unions, recognizing that God loves them just as much as Governor Andrew Cuomo does. But some rich and influential religious institutions are not only free to continue to reject gay men and women as equal beneficiaries of all aspects of faith but will now also rally their congregants to reject politicians who are willing to abide with this extension of secular civil rights — no matter how much acceptance there is of same-sex marriage elsewhere, no matter how many wedding announcements appear in the New York Times.

    I write this as a deeply religious Christian who is pained that the church that otherwise provides me with so much spiritual comfort and joy will never allow me to marry within its walls. Some clerics may be “liberal” enough to turn a blind eye to gay relationships so long as they do not have to recognize them, much less grant them any kind of imprimatur. And as of now, even in New York, religious institutions cannot be compelled to perform such a simple act of charity.


    I hope you can discern where the above angst is going…

    • Yes, they are coming after us and the answer to my question will likely be supplied by the State (beholden to the powerful Gay lobby) either recognize us or be decertified from any access to the public sphere.

  2. Bender says:

    Marry – verb, to bring together and conjoin two diverse yet complementary and compatable things to become a single unit.

    No, we do not need to capitulate to the tyranny of language relativism. Words mean things. “Marry” and “marriage” means something, even if some judge or legislature seeks to pretend that it means something other than what it is.

    “Marriage” existed long before government, long before courts, long before legislatures. It is not within the competence of government to redefine those truths which existed long before that government did. The world being round, neither Henry Rex nor Parliament can decree that it be flat.

    • Bender says:

      What the Church needs to do is to be a light of truth and, rather than run away from the problem, rather than sleep in the garden while Truth is endangered, the Church needs to NEVER stop proclaiming to the world that “same-sex marriage” is a fiction and that any “law” which proclaims it to be “marriage,” being contrary to reason and truth, is no law at all.

      No person of good conscience is bound to obey such a fallacy.

      Surely there are still a few Thomas Mores and John Fishers around?

    • So you equate using a new word with capitulation. Understandable, to be sure, but I am still not convinced it is the way to go. Language is a funny thing and we, the Church have still not mastered how powerful words are. The wordsmiths among the libertines are way ahead of us: Choice, alternative lifestyle, tolerance, homophobe, etc. et al. are all words and descriptions of their making. Meanwhile we use words like mystagogia, catechesis, RCIA and endless acronyms that neither inspire nor move the conversation in our direction. I agree with your fundamental point, but the wordsmiths have outsmarted us again. In addition they have a willing media.

      • Bender says:

        Monsignor — surely you know that it would not stop with this? We take a step back, and they advance a step. We take another step back, and they advance again. Those who would corrupt the meaning of the word, the meaning of reality, have already mortally wounded the word “conscience,” twisting it to an unrecognizable shape.

        At what point have we reached the line? At what point do we make our stand?

        No more concessions. St. Thomas would not bend to the “marriage” of Henry and Anne Bolyen. John the Baptist would not bend to the “marriage” of Herod and Herodias. And at least those couples were ontologically capable of being married to each other. The precedent is clear. Our duty is clear. Good conscience requires it.

        • Bender says:

          Besides, the word-choice is not entirely up to us.

          Whether the Church wants to use the word “marriage” with respect to same-sex couples, the government will seek to compel the Church to accept the use of that word. The king will demand that you acknowledge that Bob and Ted are “married” and that the “marriage” is legally valid. Government will use that word, and it will demand, on pain of some penalty, that the Church use the word with respect to those couples.

          I doubt that government would ever require the Church to do the marrying. After all, even a male-female Catholic couple does not have an absolute right to be married by the Church. But government will insist that the Church recognize the married status of homosexual employees for any number of reasons, including insurance coverage, and it will insist the Church use the word “married” with respect to same-sex couples seeking to adopt or housing assistance or seeking other charitable assistance. Militant gay activists who also hate the Church will be quite inventive in looking for ways to try to get the Church to say “yes, they are married.”

          We can’t run away from the word. Government will come chasing after us insisting that we use the word. And we have no option other than to say “NO.”

  3. Nick says:

    I don’t think a new word is necessary, just proper catechesis. That includes using the word “matrimony”, as you state. Perhaps, too, an illustration is necessary: Like including an icon of Jesus and Mary at Matrimony to show what the couples ought to be signifying.

    I also don’t think ceasing civil marriages is necessary, but can become a way of evangelization by limiting civil magistration to marriages that take after Matrimony: Life-long, heterosexual, in love and freedom, for pleasure and with the intent to bring up children.

    But if the state starts imposing things – like saying, “You must marry so-and-so, even if it’s against your conscience” – or if the Church starts forbidding civil marriages – like saying, “In light of the state of marriage, priests may no longer marry non-Catholics” – than I can see civil marriages needing to stop.

    I wonder what our Eastern Catholic brethern think of all the hubbub? I’m sure they could help us with prayers and ideas. Of course, we need to return the favor, as the Popes have been urging us to for so long a time now, by making pilgrimages and offering prayers, for the material and spiritual needs of the Eastern Churches.

    • Good idea about the eastern brethren. I also wonder if, mere catechesis will be enough. Most people filter the word marriage through culture. We can make dents, but in the end, they’re going to think of marriage in the way the culture tells them more than the Faith. So I still say, can the word as meaningless and repropse under the title Holy Matrimony.

  4. Irenaeus of New York says:

    “Calling it HOLY Matrimony distinguishes it from SECULAR marriage.”

    Indeed it does! Excellent point. There really should be a new initiative to use that name. You should drop the thought across the desk of Abp Dolan. At this point, we need to do something to set it apart, for it is sacred compared to what it is being lumped together with.

    • Agreed. I hope the Bishop’s conference is talking about this very point.

      • Carolyn says:

        Over on Father Z’s blog, it’s being called sacramental marriage and a prenuptial agreement recommended. I like your idea of not signing state marriage licenses. In Europe, they have a civil marriage at the court house or city hall and then have the church wedding. Let’s separate the two.

  5. Irenaeus of New York says:

    “Here too, what do you think? Should the Catholic Bishops disassociate Catholic clergy from civil “marriage” licenses? ”


  6. Scott Bradford says:

    Msgr, I tend to agree. Unfortunately, we have probably lost this battle in secular society for now. I am beginning to think that the best way to handle it is to retrench, and bolster our traditions and truths among our own ranks before emerging again to challenge ‘conventional wisdom’ in society.

    After all, Christianity and the Church first thrived under persecution, maintaining her own tradition and the truth she teaches in the face of a hostile government and society. We can do it again. Part of how we can begin to do it is by differentiating the Church’s truth and tradition from those ‘truths’ held by ‘the world.’ Maybe we can’t reclaim the word ‘marriage’ any time soon, but we can at least declare without reservation that Holy Matrimony is a different thing from what society now calls ‘marriage.’

    If we do it right, with serious catechesis for all of the faithful (and especially those entering into Holy Matrimony), it will eventually become clear to society that we have it right…though it may take hundreds of years.

    • I like your word “differentiation” That’s the point I think I am trying to ponder.

      • Dismas says:


        I agree, but something else to think about. Shouldn’t we start immediately to bolster our traditions and truths among our own ranks by rejecting the use of secular, politically correct, false speak that has helped get us here in the first place? I’m referring specifically to ‘conventional wisdom’ and ‘truths’ held by ‘the world.’ I realize we recognize these as oxymoron and misnomers, however, might it help if we abandon them altogether and begin rightly naming things what they really are, ie; ‘conventional fallacy’ and ‘errors’ held by ‘the world?’

        • Yes, although I am not sure exactly to what your refer, I do thing we’ve allowed a lot of secular thinking to trump theological truth

          • Dismas says:

            In Scotts original comment he used (borrowed) two specific false secular statements to present his very excellent idea of differentiation. I was only suggesting that instead of borrowing and repeating secular untruths in his his comment, he could have immediately better differentiated himself and his premise by saying ‘conventional fallacy’ instead of borrowing or using the false idea of ‘conventional wisdom.’ Likewise, instead of borrowing or using the false idea ‘truths held by the world,’ the immediate more effective true differentiation would have been to say ‘errors held by the world.’

            Okay, I’m afraid I still haven’t made myself clear, have definitely made too much out of nothing and clearly belabored this to death.

      • Rev Mr Flapatap says:

        Differentiation is a very important technique in marketing and I think it would be a very good idea here.

  7. SUZANNE says:

    My question is: are we theologically obliged to accept the State’s version of marriage? Marriage laws do protect spouses to some degree, and there are still vestiges of authentic marriage contained within them. For instance, if you get married, your property becomes one.

    Another issue: in French Canada, marriage is virtually disappearing. Is it worth changing the language for something people want less and less? Will this be the fate of marriage in English North America in 20 years?

    • Well certainly we are not obliged “theologically” to accept Ceasar’s confused babalings. I guess the bibical notion of retaining what is good applies here. But at some point one’s partner becomes so compromised as to force one to disassociate entirely even if there is 20% good in the mix. I wonder if we’re not coming to this point.

  8. Irenaeus says:

    Looks like I nailed it:)

  9. Joanne Sirtoli says:

    I have not thought of this before, but I think that you are absolutely, even though sadly, right.

  10. Joseph says:

    The church has different meanings for all sorts of words. Certainly charity as the church means it (a virtue) is not what is commonly meant by the word (a monetary or material gift). Likewise the word vocation and others all have a different meaning in a catholic context. I see no problem with equivocation of the word marriage to mean both a legal status and a sacrament/state of life. We didn’t stop using vocation to mean a calling from God when others used it to mean a career.

    I do think it would be appropriate to let judges grant a couple the legal status, and have the priest only witness the sacrament.

    • OK, not a bad rebuttal to the first point, though words like vocation and charity might be less foundational, but I accept you point as worthy of important consideration.

      • Mandy P. says:

        I think the problem with this, though, is that Catholics generally use those terms in the secular way even when referring to the Church. It’s the same problem we face when people appropriate terms like social justice and attach it to one political movement or another. The secular version of social justice is very, very different from what we mean by it. But a lot of Catholics associate one with the other.

        That being said, I am leery of ceding this ground, but am at the point where I don’t know if we will have any other choice. If it comes down to protecting our religious freedom by changing terms and keeping the secular out of our Sacraments then so be it.

  11. Ruth Ann says:

    I think it would be okay to use the word matrimony instead of marriage. In my childhood, when I learned the names of the 7 sacraments, we used the word matrimony. I also have no difficulty with priests declining to sign marriage certificates for the reasons you gave. In all or parts of Mexico couples must marry civilly first and then they have their marriage in the Church. Your idea sounds similar.

  12. Will Cubbedge says:


    I seem to remember there being a penalty (a fine, I think) if the officiant does not sign and return the license to the DC Superior Court within a certain time frame. Not to offer you up for sacrifice, but perhaps you would like to test the so-called “Religious Freedom and Marriage Equality” ordinance with a little civil disobedience.

    And I was just thinking today how, six years ago, when you officiated for us, you could still smoke in a DC bar but homosexual marriage was illegal. The World Turned Upside Down . . . .

    In Christ,

    • I am not sure what effect not signing the liceses would have. What do you thin it would accomplish?

      • Will Cubbedge says:

        Well, if you didn’t sign the license, then you would be fined (if my understanding of the law is correct) and you would be entitled to defend yourself in court, and you could bring up a First Amendment argument that the requirement of a religious officiant signing the license would violate your freedom of religion based on your (our) rejection of the District’s definition of civil marriage under the ordinance.

        it isn’t a very strong case, but it would push the point.

  13. Will Cubbedge says:

    Also, there was a time when Catholics were strictly forbidden in this country to seek a civil ceremony, even if it was prefatory to a Catholic marriage, in part because our ceremonies carried legal force and to seek a civil ceremony would give credence to the idea that the state can validly “marry” Catholics.

    It would seem today, in DC and elsewhere, that there is more chance of giving scandal if a Catholic couple forced the ministers of the Church to become the agents of the state in this regard. If I had to do it over again in DC today, I would consider the possibility of going through the motions in front of the judge and having the license signed, and then going through the real marriage the next day.

  14. DJ says:

    I believe that your idea to dissociate Catholic celebrations of the sacrament of holy matrimony from civil recognition of marriages is not only wise but a necessary and brilliant strategy for the coming battles that will find the church having to legally defend its right to define marriage as it sees fit. I don’t think we should fool ourselves into believing that the first amendment will protect the church from being pressured to act counter to its own tenets on this matter. We have seen with the adoption agencies and pharmacies that in contemporary American life the vaunted separation of church and state only really goes in one direction. The state is all too happy to rule in favor of its own gross interference in matters of private conscience and religious practice. Divesting itself of all ties to the secular/state apparatus surrounding “marriage” may help ensure that the church has a leg to stand on when the state tries, as Mark O’Malley’s post makes clear it will, to impose its own will on the church in this matter too. If Catholic ceremonies of matrimony have no official tie to civil marriage, it’s difficult to see how the state can stake any claim to being able to dictate whom the church must marry. Any sane interpretation of the constitution would recognize that eluding such interference is literally what this country was founded on, but sanity on this issue went out the window a long time ago.

  15. Micah says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea. I understand concerns about abandoning vocabulary, but “matrimony” can never really be stolen. Its intrinsic meaning is rooted in sound theology.

    As for couples who approach asking for marriage, I envision this scene:

    Bride-to-be: “We would like to schedule our wedding so we can start our marriage!”
    Coordinator: “Well, we are so pleased to be a part of bringing you the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony! Here’s a packet regarding our pre-cana retreats, FOCCUS tests, and NFP instruction. A Baptismal seminar is also included, just so you’re ready to go!”

    :-p Seriously, as charitably as possible, make couples as aware as possible of what matrimony means. If they choose to go get “marriages” elsewhere, well, at least we weren’t involved in tacit approval of an illicit marriage rooted in all sorts of annulment-raising problems!

    Eventually, the word will slip into modern parlance. We catechists will use it and make its meaning clear. This could be the start of the renewal we’ve needed to see in this country for the sacrament! I’m going to start using “Holy Matrimony!”

  16. Teófilo de Jesús says:


    I think both ideas are very good. I will crosspost and excerpt of this post and a link to my blog, Vivificat. (

    It’s time to take a stand and to highlight the increasingly bright line that separates the Truth from paganism in our day.

    Asking for your blessing, I am

    Your son in Christ,

  17. Nguyen Thuong MInh says:

    Epistle 183
    My some ideas of “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    First question: Do we need to use a different word for marriage in the Church?
    Answer: We don’t need to use a different word for marriage in the Church because in Catechism of the Church, sentence 1601 used the word Matrimony and sentence 1603 used the word Marriage, but Matrimony and Marriage both are synonymous each other.
    We can read them here:
    On the other hand, in English Dictionaries and Wikipedia, Matrimony and Marriage both also are synonymous each other.
    We can read them here:
    Second question: Should Catholic Clergy (Priest) cease signing civil “Marriage” licenses?
    Answer: Catholic Clergy (Priest) can cease signing civil “Marriage” licenses, if Priest wants to do so.
    But, in my opinion, Priest ought to teach Catechism of Marriage in Chapter three of the sacraments at the service of communion for the courting couple.
    Purpose of the teaching is that so that the courting couple understands really what conjugal life is.
    We can read Chapter three (Article 7) here:
    In yesterday’s epistle, I said “On a special meaning, I and Msgr. Charles Pope will never divorce each other”, that is, Msgr. Charles Pope is my Father, and I am his beloved Son./.

  18. Fr. Tim Moyle says:

    Msgr: Perhaps the solution can be found in Europe. There a couple must go through both a civil registration ceremony and, if they desire it, a religious service. We have been dealing with this issue for a few years here in Canada and I have been advocating for the renunciation of our civil licenses ever since lest it be used as a tool to force us to participate in gay union ceremonies. Already we are beginning to feel pressure from the civil authorities in response to legal action from within the gay community to allow gays to use our facilities for their ‘marriage’. If we separated ourselves from the civil obligations of marriage then we would afford ourselves a greater degree of protection.

    It certainly is a ‘fun time’ to be a priest these days. I’ve only been ordained for 22 years but I would not have imagined back then that our countries would have fallen so quickly and deeply into such a moral morass – one that would threaten the integrity and independence of the Church to authentically and effectively proclaim the message of Jesus Christ.

    Fr. Tim Moyle, Diocese of Pembroke

    • As to your first point, this is exactly my concern too.

      I too have been ordained only 22 years and can say exactly the same. Things were troubling back in 1989 but the secular world has gooten even worse since!

      • Donna says:

        I am a Canadian and I concur. Things are moving much too quickly here. Excellent point, Fr. Moyle.

  19. Rebecca Teti says:

    Msgr., it might come to that, but not yet. 30 states have marriage amendments in their Constitutions, and everywhere same sex marriage is put to a referendum of the people, it is defeated. The NY decision is a big defeat, but not decisive for the country…yet.

    What I fear is further Catholic disengagement from the public square by making your move prematurely. Many Catholics already have the idea that because our sacrament is distinct from natural marriage in the order of grace, natural marriage isn’t worth defending for the health of the community at large. We have a Catholic GOP presidential candidate who says government should get out of the marriage business and leave it entirely to churches. Does he think atheists can’t get married? Natural marriage is still a civic good, the family is still both the building block of civil society and the engine of the economy, yet the majority of Catholics I meet don’t think that way. Their attitude –whether they are pious or lax– is “it doesn’t affect me.” The pious Catholics think it doesn’t affect them because they’ll always have the sacrament; and the lax Catholics think it doesn’t because they don’t suffer from same-sex attraction. The crisis of marriage can tip our way, but only if Catholics are engaged in the issue for the sake of the common good, which we are not. So I’m not sure emphasis on this distinction is helpful right now. What’s needed in my view is not so much catechesis on matrimony, but civics lessons on the importance of marriage for a society that wishes to be healthy and free.

    • Well said, and also refelctive of the Church’s over all slow pace in this matter. I am looking down the road a bit and am under no illusions that this change will take place tomorrow. But, and call me the pessimist, but I think we know where this is likely headed, barring a major revivial in this country. At some point, we have to look to ourselves and recognize when the infection in the world is also infecting the faithful, as I think it already is. In that case there may be wisdom is moving sooner rather than later to explcitly disconnect and no longer recognize have anything to do with so-called civil “marriage” (whatever that means). It is also possible that this would take place initally in certain states like NY and DC.

  20. Jenny Zichelli says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    My husband and I just received an invitation to my nephew’s wedding which stated: …..Mr. and Mrs. (Jones) request the honour of your presence at the nuptial mass uniting their daughter, Jane to John Doe… the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony on Saturday August 6…… There is no way that the guest attending that wedding will be surprised when they are participating in a sacrament.

    There is hope. I love your idea Father.

  21. Duane says:

    I like this proposal and would love to see it gain widespread adoption. Do consider some additional catechism needed to further define the boundaries of annulment. If the Church makes a positive move to distinguish its spiritual blessing on matrimony versus secular unions then there could be confusion whether secular unions can be annulled. It would be unfortunate for a policy like this to inadvertently usher in a rise in annulments.

    • I am not sure I see the canonical problem here. It is already the case that any Catholic who gets married at the Justice of Peace, without permission, is not validly married. Ipso facto the marriage is null. That would surely continue and even be strengthed since no permissions would likely be give for a purely civil ceremony.

  22. Larry says:

    Yes Yes and Yes. It’s a great idea. Eventually people would be intrigued as to just what this matrimony thing is. Those people (athiest) just get married but we had our wedding blessed by God. See thats why you get the big bucks.

  23. Leonard says:

    I think the Church should certainly cease to be agents of any heretical State and I think that Bishops should either resign or have the gumption to excommunicate Catholics who publicly deviate from the “Truth,” so as to cause scandal among the faithful. This policy of excommunication should extend to all so called “Catholic” politicians and public figures and celebrities. In a way, by withdrawing from all acts of agency for the heretical state; except for the requirements of just citizenship, the Catholic Church is simply reaffirming it’s just excommunication of all heretics. If they want to go to hell we really can’t stop them. After all, it is a free (unfortunately that has come to mean “licentious” and certainly “not” free) country.

    • Will says:


    • Well at some level I see and agree with your point. However, viz Rebecca’s point above that we not retreat totally and all at once so as to retain some influence, there may be a slower way. But, poco a poco, I think we are going to gradually come to what you’ve described. We’ve already had to leave the adoption business.

      As for Gov. Cuomo, hasn’t he already been disciplined in some way. Not sure, maybe some one can refresh my memory.

  24. Teresa says:

    The Church needs to find a way to engage the public in healthy teaching and even debates on the sacrament of marriage and gay “marriage”, and show the public how and/or why gay “marriage” is NOT a common good. The Church needs to do something like town halls IMO. Better catechesis for the faithful is a great idea! The Church needs to do more to reach out to the public also. Plus, there has been this ambivalence or seeing no evil let it slide mentality with regards to Catholic politicians violating teachings on abortion and gay “marriage” causing scandal to the Church but it seems like nothing is done, no consequences for these individuals. There have been a few Bishops who have spoken out in on this and chastised those politicians who refuse to follow certain Church teachings. But, more need to do so. And, if a Bishop or priest refuses to abide by the teachings of the Church and if he knows that one of his members is not abiding by Church teaching (anyone in public spotlight) and let’s that member of his flock go on for years spreading scandal something needs to be done about that Bishop, like ostracized publicly or something. More of the flock would follow Church teachings if this happened,or something like this happened.

    • I wonder if you have any ideas. I am well aware of many initiives here in DC that the ArchBishop and Archdiocse undertook, but the media had little interest and when they did report on us, it was filtered. Archbishop Wuerl even did an op ed in the post as the gay “marriage” bill was being proposed. We also joined a coalition to defeat it, and prior to that to bring it to referrendum. In our parishes we undertook a Sunday Catechesis on Marriage etc., etc., But there’s a lot of voices out there and Catholics often say they don’t hear us. It is not for lack of trying. Here in DC we’re setting up a lot of ways to go straight to our people through new media, rather than let the media filter it. This blog is one of those attempts, there are also listserves and video and audio by the Cardinal.

  25. Dave says:


    The barge of culture is not so far adrift that it cannot be yet pulled back in. The fall of our civilization as well as most others throughout history has been due to the destruction of marriage. If we pull out of using the word marriage and strongly affirming that marriage is not something a culture defines, but rather something ordained by God from the foundations of the world, the West will continue its decadent slide. We are not just here to tell the world that marriage in the Church is something different, but that “marriage” in the secular world should be something different.

    I lived in Belgium for a while where the civil and Church marriages are separate. The result is that very few people get married in the Church (and we are all well aware of the status of the Church in Belgium). While we don’t want everyone who could care less about the sacramentality of marriage to be at the altar, we also don’t want people to not even knock at the door. So long as the civil and Church marriage can be preformed together people will come. They will meet with a priest who is what might be their final serious challenge for them to embrace the faith. He shouldn’t have to be preside at weddings that he doesn’t feel are going to be sacramental. But if the couple doesn’t come to him, who then will tell them not to use contraception? Who will tell them about how marriage represents Christ’s love for the Church? My wife and I do training for engaged couples. We get time with each of them to talk to them about contraception and about what marriage really means. The courthouse has yet to send us anyone. If the ceremonies were separate, this would be a lost opportunity for many.

    Don’t underestimate the grace of the Sacraments. This is one of the last ropes holding the barge of culture tethered to the dock. But we need to work hard to tow it back in.

  26. Fractus says:

    I think there is one problem with this strategy and that is that the Catholic Church, and other churches that believe in traditional marriage, do not have a monopoly on these words. What is to prevent the “gay friendly” churches from using “Holy Matrimony” and simply perverting the meaning of those words too? And you know the MSM would do their best to aid in that effort.

    • It is possible. No guarantees it would seem. But we still may have to reposition in some way. Also, is neopagan “churches” were start using the term matrimony (at least for male gays), we could ask, where’s the mater in matrimony?

  27. Penny says:

    Msgr. Charles Pope:

    I LOVE your idea!

    “The Marketing of Evil”, a book by Joseph Farah, describes how evil became to be known as good and acceptable. A successful and carefully orchestrated a marketing plan was developed and enacted to change popular thought on gay lifestyles, abortion etc. Words played a big role. Abortion became “pro-choice” giving it a positive spin. Likewise, gay hedonism fell under the banner of “gay rights”. You see how successful it was. Now I think it would be a good idea to do as you proposed. But beware, the people already weak in our faith will take great offense and most likely, leave the church. So be it. We are better off with a smaller body of devout believers as opposed to a large body of lukewarm cafeteria Catholics. This however, will be our strength and it time, will bear great fruit. I really believe it. It will encourage a deeper meaning of marriage and those people that have no use of the Catholic religion will, of course, probably not get married in the church. So their Catholic fiancees will have to determine, before marriage, the value of religion in their married life. If they don’t get married in the church, what are we losing? Most likely, a weak Catholic who will contracept, be a poor role model for his/her children, and who most likely will eventually lose faith because of a non-believing partner. I have seen this happen again and again. In my own family. Those that do stay will be a role model of faith, have larger families and will strengthen the church. It will take time. Just as it took time to get decent people to think of gay sex as natural and wholesome. If you would have told Americans forty years ago about gay marriage and alternative life-styles, you would have been laughed at. But, it has indeed happened. Now we have a lot of work to do to change it.

    • Yes, I think this is all true and it somewhat asnwers Dave’s concern above. To some degree it may well mean that “weak” Catholics may no longer make it to our door. At one level this is bad since we have even less contact with them, but it WILL help the Catholic branding (pardon the term) as Catholic Matrimony comes to be seen as something special that the faithful seek, rather than merely those looking for a tradition “setting” for their wedding.

  28. Will says:

    We’ve been told the Church will, in a sense, consolidate the heretical churches. This is the beginning stages of what will drive them back to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that offers the fullness of what Jesus taught.

    Those that continue to splinter into ever more increasing “de nomine churches” will never be able to stand against the growing moral evils of our time.

  29. John says:

    This would also address a problem we have with our undocumented immigrant community who seek sacramental marriage. The current tie-up with civil marriage puts these individuals in the position of approaching the civil authorities first to get a license. Without valid U.S. documentation, they are fearful that approaching such authorities might result in alerting immigration officials and their subsequent deportation. As the debate on the DREAM Act pointed out, many of these young people came to the U.S. as children and they know no other culture than ours. However, they opt to live in a non-married relationship rather than risk deportation. Separating the Church’s sacrament of Holy Matrimony from the civil one would solve this problem.

  30. Anthony says:

    I believe the Church, all Churches, should get out of the legal marriage business.

    We should advance Domestic Partnerships for any two people such as siblings, parent-child, etc not predicated on whether people are having sex. We should also allow them to have benefits of what is currently called marrriage. Therefore if a brother and sister are in a Domestic Partnership and one is supporting the other, the supported person can benefit from insurance coverage, tax benefits etc.

    Then after this legal status is securred, they can approach the Church for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony which should be available to only those who conform to her doctrine, discipline, and worship.

    • You’re right, had domestic partnerships been more widely available and accepted the gay “marriage” thing might not have taken off. Many Americans were disposed to support gay “marriage” due to the wish, in justice to confer similar legal benefits. Had that not been in the mix I don’t think we’d be here today in this pickle.

  31. Vistanow says:

    I think it sounds good to separate from the State, have two licenses one called marriage the other holy matrimony where the later is applied in the sacramental covenant. The church needs to function with less money as in the days of mana in the desert. Rather than engage the evil in such a way, we should strengthen what we already have and have very meaningful catechesis to confirm the sheep. Hopefully they will see the joy that we have and recognize it before the final judgment

    • Yes, you speak a truth here. We cannot be too intertwined with the world, for them we have “too much to lose” and we are compromised from preaching and living the gospel.

  32. Jeff Galloway says:

    I do not see an issue here. English has always been an organic language, evolving with people’s usage over time. As we know very well, a single word can have dozens of meanings. “Marriage” already has multiple meanings and uses. While we Catholics care very much about the proper use of the word, and the holy sacrament it describes, and the underlying biblical truth upon which it is based, we do not own the word. No one does. Though I disagree fundamentally with the concept of gay “marriage”, I cannot stop its use – just as I cannot stop Bill and Bob calling their civil union a “marriage” (nor can I stop Bill and John referring to each other as “husband’).

    We know what we mean by marriage. That is enough for me.

  33. Tom B says:

    I agree and think there is another benefit. If the couple go through two separate ceremonies: one before a judge and one before a priest, and If they later divorce, it clarifies that the judge issued divorce can only apply to the judge issued marriage license. Even Catholics would be reminded, that a judge cannot divorce a couple from a Catholic Sacrament; when the ceremonies are one that is less obvious.

    • Hmmm…. interesting. This is canonically the case now. But, as you point out, many Catholics don’t get why their judge-issued “divorce” is not recognized. It would help to clarify things, as you say.

  34. Joseph Sacerdos says:

    I had come to the same conclusion as you, Monsignor, regarding the use of the word Matrimony. Our bishops have to come up with a common policy and not be merely reactive. I believe that the gay agenda will begin to push for marriage in church as a civil right in those states where same sex marriages are legal. Look at Connecticut where there was a political effort to have lay boards take over complete control of Roman Catholic parishes. As a priest I always issued Certificates of Matrimony, not Marriage; since it was a sacrament, not merely a civil contract. In those states where SSMs are legal, I would require civil marriage first, then the Sacrament of Matrimony, if and when there is pressure on us to perform SSMs in church. We also have to be prepared for a federal law which would override state laws defining marriage as being between one man and one woman.

  35. Andrea says:

    It does make one wonder how it will affect annulments, especially of those coming into the Church for the first time who may have had one or multiple civil marriages and divorces before discovering the Church and what marriage really was. As a convert, this is something I’ve mulled over a bit – why the Church would even recognize a civil marriage in these days with the kind of secularization there is out there. I certainly didn’t know what real marriage was until I became Catholic. If they only start annulling Catholic matrimonial marriages, and saying the rest don’t count, bet the number of American annulments starts dropping considerably, and more conversions happen. I know a lot of people who didn’t make it through RCIA because old civil marriages/divorces kept them from ever getting to the point of full communion (the 18-24 months for the typical annulment, coupled with the lack of any followup or support from the Church, as well as a ‘not-good-enough-for-us” feeling you get combined with the fear you will never be in full communion – its hard to keep going and make it all the way through – all for something you did thinking it was a financial civil contract – yeah its hard). I figured maybe the lack of people actually getting married even civilly would help take of that problem long term – living together doesn’t require an annullment. But maybe the retraction of true marriage, without mixing it up with ‘governmental marriage’, would be an even better solution of sorts for this conundrum. And I always wondered, just to wonder, what would happen if someone had an official civil ‘gay marriage’, converted, then decided they wanted to really marry someone (talking real marriage – female.male sacramentally) – would they then have to go through the same annulment process that a civil ‘straight’ married person would have had to do? They should, otherwise that would be unfair. Just some thoughts

    • Another question that comes to mind for me based on what you have said, the Church currently does not recoginze as valid a civil marriage contracted by a Catholic. BUT we do recognize a civil marriage by Protestants and non-Chrisitans. I wonder if we ought to reconsider that ALL civil marriages are invalid and recognize NONE of them?

  36. Pol Llaunas says:

    Let’s call it COVENANT (and, in Spanish, “alianza”).

    Scott Hahn has written a lot about it. Christian marriage is a convenant, it is not a contract.

    The catholic marriage should be called “covenant”, and the governments should recognize this new institution as good and benefical for sociey… pagans and divorcists can keep the word “marriage” for themselves, but we need to protect the “real, non-divorce, man-and-woman” convenant alive, and protected by civil laws.

  37. Jennifer Olson says:

    I like the idea of referring to it as what it is, God’s first “Covenant”. However, words are words are words which mean nothing until we ourselves begin to regain our understanding of, and the meaning and purpose of, Holy Matrimony. Only then will we be able to reclaim what was lost. I’ll begin with myself today by seeking everyday to learn something new about my vocation as a wife. I challenge others to put their “money where their mouth is” and join me. Any takers?

  38. Anthony says:

    Monsignor, I am an Orthodox Christian monk. We have a bit of a different theology of the Mystery of Marriage. Unlike the Roman Church, it is the priest who is an icon of Christ who marries the man and woman, it is not considered a contract but a covenant. The Church of Rome still has, I believe the phrase “Ego conjungo vos…” but the theology behind it is that the man and woman are the ministers fo the sacrament. Unfortunately the general public think that if they can “make” the sacrament, they can also “break” the sacrament. I, for one, would like to see the Church of Rome not recognize any civil marriages like the Orthodox Church. When I studied in Rome I saw people get their marriage “registered” in the City Hall then blessed by the Church. So there is precedence for some adaptation to local situations by the bishops.

  39. Penny says:

    Regarding the comment from Pol Llaunas says, “the catholic marriage should be called “covenant”, and the governments should recognize this new institution as good and beneficial for society”:
    That is contrary to the idea of keeping Catholic marriage holy and sacramental. The gay lobby got us, our society, to recognize gay marriage as good and beneficial for society. We can no longer reverse that. So we have to, as Msgr.Pope says, re-brand our message on marriage.

    I know that many people will think that this so-called rebranding is wrong, un-necessary and will not work, but I do not think so. It worked for the other side. In this day, we have to market our message. We stopped doing that long ago. We slithered away and lost our voice because we got tax breaks. We sold our souls and danced with the devil. Now we have to employ their tactics for our good and the good of the Church and the future of our civilization. This is war. War requires spiritual battle and in this era, marketing is required. There is also a psychology at work here. People want what they can’t have. Things are deemed valuable based on the supply and demand of commodities. Make Catholic marriage really special (as it truly is) and make it harder to get, and it will become more popular. It will gain more respect. Eventually, it will gain more proponents. We can’t play with the other side. They hate us. We have to be smart and we have to employ their tactics. This is how they gained ground. We lost it by playing nice. They took our concept of “love thy neighbor” and tolerance out of context and twisted it to the point that they made us out to be intolerant bigots. And oh, how that has worked!!!

    Maybe there should be stricter requirements for Catholic marriages. For example, a formal recognition of engagement along with a religious ceremony with the parents and family in attendance vowing to support and encourage the couple in upholding traditional Catholic beliefs. Then, a prescribed period of time between the engagement and the wedding ceremony whereby couples will have to attend traditional classes (not fluffy pre-cana classes) in traditional Catholic values where it is explained why contraception is wrong and why the children must be brought up by two practicing Catholics, etc. You would be surprised at how many couples have no idea about why the church believes certain things. Then the final wedding ceremony with a written decree by the Bishop or Cardinal that this marriage is indeed blessed by the Church and the creator, etc.

    Of course, for all this to happen, the hierarchy must get on the same page. Excuse me for saying this Msgr., but those clergy and especially the Bishops and Cardinals weak in faith will have to be called out and then weeded out if necessary. If the tree is not strong, the branches will wither and die. Right now, we are in the death throes.

  40. LizButler says:

    I am totally excited about this idea. We need this ‘seperation’ of a Church and State defination of marriage in the Americas, North & South. I am sure by year 3000 the change will have invaded both. Holy Matrimony is a term most if not all Christian & Jewish & Muslim communities could support, I believe. I would certainly support a Church program such as the one beginning at Advent to change wording at Mass to change the to use of ‘Holy Matrimony”. What would have to happen to get this done? ;o)

  41. Vijaya says:

    I am confused. I thought this whole business of separation of church and state was so that people could have religious liberty. So how can the state force churches to do someting that goes against our beliefs? I was thinking of adoption into a homosexual family, and how pharmacies have to carry the abortion pill, and now this gay marriage. Same thing with the Catholic schools — they can’t make them offer coed dorms. Seems like the state is infringing upon the rights of the religious to practice what they believe.

    I think more education is required for sure. We came through RCIA and still didn’t understand that we needed to have our marriage blessed by God until a few months later. Our faith and understanding continue to grow.

    Language being what it is, I think Holy Matrimony would be a very good idea.

    We must fight, fight, fight.

  42. Matthew says:

    Near the turn of the century (around 1997-2000 or so), I attended the priestly ordination of a seminarian I had known through my parish for a few years. I was also present the first time he offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at a local parish. A priest close to him gave the homily. I do not recall the exact words, but the homilist discussed how this priest would be called to live for Christ and give his life for Christ.

    After the Mass, my father remarked on the homily that, “They [priests] can see it coming,” referring to persecution. Of course, my father did not mean anything like premonitions or “seeing the future.” Given the context of the remark in the conversation, he was referring to the fact that our culture was on a collision course with the Church, and would persecute the Church eventually. His opinion was that holy priests could see that time coming as the culture became worse and worse. At the time, I did not appreciate the meaning of this statement. I assumed it mean that our secular society would eventually have to persecute and attack the Church because the Church proclaims the Gospel, and that our society even then held to the godless idea that man is the highest judge of right and wrong for himself (along with the idea that religion should be “in church and nowhere else”). To my understanding at the time, the persecution would come from the conflict of secular society vs. the Church, rather than from a specific issue (being a few years away from reaching legal adulthood, I did not appreciate the full extent of how far the morals of our culture had declined at the time).

    “Gay marriage” (which is no marriage at all) was a phrase I had never heard at the time and never would have expected to hear. As “gay marriage” has gone from being mandated in one state by its supreme court to being imposed in six states (along with the spread of “civil unions” beyond their beginning in Vermont), along with the hold of the “gay rights movement” on our culture becoming a death grip (movies, TV, treatment of homosexuality by the media, surrender of many Protestant churches to homosexuality), I have thought of this conversation again. Now, as you have discussed here, I fear that “gay marriage” is the issue that will drive the persecution. It is still a part of the conflict where a hostile secular society attacks the Church, but now the society has its “cause” to rally around.

    At the time, I thought persecution would be far off because I had a narrow definition of persecution in my mind, of literally being jailed and/or killed for being a Catholic. Of course, we know there are so many other means of persecution, such as courts and administrative agencies presuming to force people to violate their faith. I think we are going to see the “culture wars” in law and government move from “I have a right to do this,” to “You have no right to deny or oppose my right to do this.”

  43. Donna says:

    You are right; it is time to change the appellation. Taking from CCC #1601, I rather like Holy Matrimonial Covenant, with the emphasis on Covenant, or sacred oath. In the OT there is the description of covenant in which a calf is cut in half and laid on the ground. Each person in the covenant must pass through – or walk between – the two halves with the intention: “The men who have violated my covenant and have not fulfilled the terms of the covenant they made before me, I will treat like the calf they cut in two and then walked between its pieces” (Jeremiah 34:18). This understanding of covenant would be a necessary highlighted part of the marriage preparation – coming to an understanding of the true meaning of sacred oath in the presence of God.

  44. David says:

    It is evident that the homosexuals are deeply interested in being ‘accepted’ by society and perhaps all society in an inclusive sense that almost lacks individual autonomy. Their push for ‘marriage’ equality was much more of a subconscious drive to belong or to merge very similar to their erroneous bonding method with their ‘brothers’, rather than a fraternity they want to disappear in one man, without distinction without the sense of alienation that comes from being the ‘other’.

    While I applaud the Churches refusal to become the enemy of the homosexual, I think that it needs to clarify it’s position on whether the homosexual ‘chooses’ to be homosexual My position is that indeed when one reads the holy word of God but only for the purpose of condemning it’s followers and abjectly engages in behaviors contrary to the faith they have indeed chosen homosexuality. However, I think that the Church has won me over yet again with it’s perception because if we understand that the homosexual chooses his disorder we are saying that indeed he is completely in his rational mind, when in fact, if the Church maintains as it does that the homosexual does not choose for himself this behavior that places him in an unfavorable position with God then we can indeed conclude that he has an emotional disorder.

    As for the proposal at hand then. With the definition of marriage being so divergent between Church and State do you think that it is wise to completely separate from the state in this way when the Church has not done so to the forlorn homosexual? Not to be trite but shouldn’t the Church keep it’s friends close and it’s enemies closer? The desire to split and separate is not a Godly one so much, as I have learned from the Churches commitment to the homosexual and Christ’s commitment to us as sinner. It is difficult to hang on though.

    I was a little more interested in a statement from the Church that could designate to it’s members that they are not acting in accordance with the faith and that the Church doesn’t recognize them as members in good standing. That way people like Governor Cuomo, State Senator Grisanti and NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd could not tout the cache of being a ‘Catholic’ all the while campaigning against the values of the Church, lending a false sense of legitimacy to evil acordes and seeming as couragous counter-cultural renegades or mavericks simply because they (ironically) sit in the pews (when the so called lapsed Catholic doesn’t even show up).

    In my view we desperately need to eliminate the hyphenated Catholic, particularly “the cradle-Catholic”, “the lapsed-Catholic”, “the cafeteria-Catholic” as if these are all acceptable but varied positions akin to the secular political spectrum of the conservative and the liberal.

    • Anthony says:

      Governor Cuomo has taken on Archbishop Dolan and has won. He lives openly with his concubine and still maintains he is a Catholic. He even takes communion in defiance of Church precepts. Perhaps if the Church excommunicated public people who use their authority to advance an agenda that is anti Christian the elected officials would think twice. They love to prance their Catholicism before the electorate in “Catholic” areas, but how many actually live it?

    • I think younger bishops are more prone to do this than older.

      • oregon says:

        I think it may also be due to the fact that some bishops are guiltily aware of how they have lost their moral authority due to their handling of priestly sex abuse. They are very reluctant to step forward and make themselves a target of scorn. The abuse scandal has been an excellent example of how damaging and far reaching their sin of dishonesty was as we see clearly all of the ripples of sin which keep spreading out from it. A cautionary tale on why good intentions never justify the use of evil means.

  45. Matthew says:

    By references to the society and the culture, I meant American society and American culture (though the comments apply across Western society and culture as well).

    I realize that one could probably point out examples of persecution of the Church by our culture in the late 1990s. I am not saying there was no persecution then, just that this conversation has come back to me the last few years as the state of our culture has become so much worse, not just as to the influence of the “gay rights movement,” but also in the decline of the culture from a secularist modern culture to an even more aggressively secularist, “post-modern”, relativist culture with little or no standards whatsoever.

    It seems the only “truth” recognized by our relativistic culture is “tolerance” of anything (except for calling a sin a sin).

    Pope Benedict XVI saw it so clearly and stated it so bravely before the conclave in 2005. His homily then really woke me up to what was going on (and explains why our culture has become even worse since then).

  46. Penny says:

    David: in response to your comments on the likes of Cuomo, Dowd and Pelosi- the church has already kept these enemies close and what has it accomplished? Pelosi visited with Pope Benedict and tried to use it a as a photo op and endorsement of personal approval. Then she went and put her own erroneous spin on the Catholic Church’s belief on abortion. Ted Kennedy was given a big Catholic funeral with a bevy of priests in attendance and officiating. Kennedy had a 100% pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage approval rating. Every Christmas Eve, the politicians line the front rows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Then they go out and publicly diss the church. We have kept these enemies close and in our silence and friendliness, we have given tacit approval to them. And all the while, gullible people watch this and think that if the church doesn’t hold them accountable, it won’t hold anyone else accountable and so what does it matter? They think you can believe what you want and still be a good Catholic. We have Catholics today who go to church on Sunday and yet they don’t believe in 90% of what the church teaches. We have so watered down our faith that we are now reaping what we have sown.

    It’s time to excommunicate these people. Period.

  47. bt says:

    I like Monsignor’s idea.

  48. elleblue says:

    I like this idea. Actually this would allow Catholics to reclaim some of our cultural identity! Holy Matrimony it is, thank you Msgr.

  49. Rebecca Teti says:

    I’m warming to your proposal, Padre! Have you seen this incredible statement on civil unions from Bishop Tobin of RI?

    Relevant to whether bishops & priests are “weak,” (I think the JPII/ Benedict generation isn’t) isn’t part of the problem a lingering clericalism, in which the laity expect the bishops to fight this battle for them, when in fact a bishop speaking in the public square, even if he never uses a religious argument, will always be heard as a priest foisting his views on others? The clergy need to have our backs with clear, unafraid teaching and sacramental support, but this is the laity’s job to “fight,” neighbor by neighbor and legislature by legislature. But we are “bred” to be passive.
    It’s notable that in Familiaris Consortio, JP II, following the synod on the topic, lays out 4 tasks of the family: forming a community of persons; serving life; participating in the development of society; and building up the church. Interesting that building society is a duty that comes before building the Church in the case of the laity. I think the clergy and laity have their roles reversed!

  50. mydogoreo says:

    Perhaps we should not get ourselves distracted and tied up in Gordian knots over what the state does. This is how satan keeps us from doing God’s work.

    This problem has existed since the early days of our Church but the first converts were attracted to the Faith because it was so different from what they had experienced in their pagan culture, not because the Church Fathers had convinced them that their culture was bad.

    We spend too much time trying to change the culture around us on a legislative and judicial level. Hopefully, we can get back to personal witness, and change the world one person at a time. It may seem like a slow process, and one that does not show immediate results but that is what trusting God is all about.

    An “immediate results” culture has infected the Church also. If the OT Patriarchs and our Church Fathers has been so oriented, we never would have gotten this far!

    • I think actually, that is what I am saying. That we should disconnect and redefine who we are. I know the road back to restoring the faith, even among practicing Catholics, is a long road. Hence I do not accept your characterization that I or others here are all tied up in “gordian” knots, or that we are articulating an immediate results” notion. That said, as citizens we have a right and an obligation to weigh in on legislative and judicial matters in our land. Law DOES have an impact on what people think.

  51. Brian Cook says:

    Allow me to play “Devil’s Advocate” (a term taken from an old office in the Church) and point out one main criticism that people often raise. Specifically, they say that marriage has changed and is not fixed in human history. They say that marriage was simply a means to hand over women as silent pieces of property. They say that there was no possibility of carefully searching for and discerning a spouse. They say that marriage was seen merely as a method to manufacture heirs or workers. They point to child-brides, polygamy, polyandry, and concubines.

    Can you address those? I seriously believe that liberals are not tyrants lusting after total control of the planet and total destruction of Nature, but rather well-intentioned human beings who see themselves as promoting justice and freedom. Thank you.

    • God says I will make a suitable partner for the man….and he formed Eve…..And this is why a man leaves his Father and Mother and clings to his wife and the two of them Become one flesh. (Gen 2) What God says trumps what “they” say. Further, Natural Law also appoints a Father and Mother to each child, some of the errors which you seek to resurrect are not contrary to nature, (as homosexuality is) though they are contrary to God’s plan and as such, we as Christians cannot accept them.

      I have addressed Polygamy (and as you break it out polyandry and concubinage) and its wrongness here:

      Finally Brian, perhaps you could ascribe some of the copious amounts of good will you ascribe to liberals (as you call them), and other true believers in the sexual revolution, to us Christians? Your description that we regard them as tyrants lusting after total control of the planet and total destruction of Nature tips your hand and shows that you are not the mere advocatus diaboli you claim to be. I have never described them this way. Why don’t you just come out and tell us your true allegiance and stop the pretending, as you well seem to be doing. You have previously connected us Christians with “right-wing extremism–White supremacists and Neo-Nazis” (March 1st 2011). Take off your mask Brian and stop all the name-calling.

      • Brian Cook says:

        I was not talking about you in particular, Monsignor. I was talking about too many Christian voices. I did not intend to personally connect you with right-wing extremism. I have seen mountains of evidence of the existence of right-wing extremism. I have attempted to sound the alarm. I seem to have failed. I have seen enough liberal websites to know that the caricatures promoted by many Christians barely resemble the reality at best–and are completely false at worst. I have attempted to encourage dialog by pointing out what liberals say. I seem to have failed.

        Now I will “take off my mask”. I stand with Mother Church. Precisely because of that, I do not want to see her linked with right-wing extremism. I try to show the breadth and depth of Mother Church on online forums that I use. Of course, how can I when people see extremism? Sometimes I wonder whether I should even bother contacting any human being, much less trying to befriend and console any human being.

        Perhaps I should have better articulated the points that I was trying to get across. I failed. If you wish, I will no longer post on this ‘blog. I wish there was some way to convince you that I have no malice against you. If I cannot, then I have no choice but to be on my way and continue praying for the grace to love and care with a pure heart.

  52. Max says:

    Yes Father,

    We should immediately get of the the state “marriage” business. A license is government permission to do something that would otherwise be unlawful. Do we really need a government approved piece of paper to enter into Holy Matrimony?

  53. Ann Robinson Kapfer says:

    At first thought, I like the idea of separating the civil and church unions for the same reason as a previous poster – to also separate divorce and annulment from the minds of those entering into (and leaving) marriages. However, I am concerned that Catholics will begin to use civil marriages (w/out sacramental follow-up) as testing grounds or as strictly legal unions with no intention for a marriage causing other problems.

    It reminds me of a case 20+ years ago when conservative Catholic friends married (Church wedding) after the 6 months of marriage prep and college graduation for the wife. However, they had “secretly” been married for months already by a civil ceremony for the sole purpose of gathering Navy benefits for the wife. It struck me at the time as a bit of theft from the government as they didn’t live together or hold themselves out to be married in any way. Would we now risk Catholics trying to help illegal immigrants by marrying them civilly or entering into civil unions for the purpose of health insurance alone.

    I think this is dangerous territory and needs serious consideration into all of the potential ramifications.

  54. Sandra Schuck Garant says:

    Marriage is still firmly rooted as a concept in our culture in a variety of ways–in music, literature, sayings, art, etc.– and I prefer not to back off from it. Perhaps we could begin a grass roots effort to designate all non-marriages as sexual friendships? There are several reasons to do so. 1) We already have an understanding of what a friendship is. 2) Homosexual partners fit this definition already much better than they fit the definition of marriage. 3) Society needs to draw the line somewhere and a fight to keep the definition of marriage is key to having the widest and clearest understanding of what we are fighting for. 4) If many homosexual partners truly want certain economic privileges which come with marriage, then they can have these without a legal redefinition of marriage. I know that there are several agendas, but in conversation, the economic disadvantages are being put forth as key reasons.

  55. Penny says:

    Ann Robinson: Regarding potential ramifications if we separate civil and church unions, you on asked ” Would we now risk Catholics trying to help illegal immigrants by marrying them civilly or entering into civil unions for the purpose of health insurance alone”? Good question. However, gay marriage has already opened the door for marriage fraud. What’s to stop single straight people from pretending they are gay in order to marry another gay-pretender in order to secure health and pension benefits? I joking said that to my friends last night ( I am single in NY) that I was going to pretend that I was gay, and as they both have good pension plans and I have none, which of the two would like to marry me? We laughed but it’s not so funny. A lot of single people are going to start doing this and when they secure health and pension benefits from civil service jobs, they will be robbing us, the honest tax payers. It will especially impact health insurance as more single people will drop out of the insurance pool thus raising rates for the rest of us.

  56. oregon says:

    I think both of Msgr. Pope’s proposals are good ideas. I really don’t see, as a few have worried, how separating the sacrament from the civil ceremony would serve to stop Catholics who want and understand the sacrament from getting their ‘civil marriage’ blessed as Holy Matrimony any more than under the current system. I would also like to see it be a word that cannot be co-opted and misused by so-called christian churches who will use it to ‘bless’ same-sex couples.

    In fact, IMO separating the two may serve to wake a lot of people up both inside and outside of the Church and the resulting publicity and discussion will serve to educate many people on the true meaning and purpose of matrimony. Believe me, once the Church publically sets the sacrament above and outside of the civil contract by re-naming it and withdrawing from the civil witness functions, the same-sex marriage crowd will be up in arms over something which is denied them. It will be a constant reminder that in God’s eyes their civil marriage is still something “less than” the true meaning and “less than” natural. Since the civil use of the word marriage has become bastardized, then we should separate ourselves from it, at least in those states allowing same-sex marriage, because words and names for things change minds.

    I think Holy Matrimony is fine as the name of the sacrament itself. But I think we need another name for popular usage – something that can be commonly used and recognized in society for those who wish to publically declare that their union means something very different than the civil understanding of marriage. Saying I’m (we’re) ‘matrimonied’ or ‘covenented’ won’t work well in everyday usage IMO. We have a chance to adopt a name which clearly conveys our Catholic understanding of what marriage is in the public arena. As someone else said, let’s use the social activist marketing ploys to our benefit. It’s what gets attention in our society.

    • Macaron says:

      I’m with ‘Oregon’ and Msgr. Pope… separation would only benefit us as Catholic’s. We can’t just let this get lost in watercolors to get muddled … There’s got to be clear lines for everyone, how will anyone know where we stand!
      ‘Penny’ stated it well, …so many have gone along with the rules just to bring the church down to their level. You know?
      The so called Catholic politician that parades around with mistresses and then receives communion or the so called Catholic that believes in abortion…
      Weeding out the insincere would strengthen us, wouldn’t it?!
      Comments like “catholic’s aren’t any better at marriage, then the rest of the population” would shrink. . I’m sure the “statistics” would be modified more favorably and or course more accurately.

      Holy Matrimony is a wonderful start…. as for myself, with all the words in the English language I can accept an awkward for now term. I mean look at the new words coming out every other year. About 20-40 years ago was “texting” what it is today? and for that matter “$exting”?! … I think not.
      It won’t be difficult to concoct another term.

  57. naturgesetz says:

    On principle, a refusal of Catholic clergy to sign marriage licenses in any jurisdiction which recognizes same-sex “marriage” has a surface appeal as a way of saying the civil authorities no longer know what marriage is, so the license is absurd. But, the real-life effect would be to reduce the number of couples who would have a church wedding. That particular cure would be far worse than the disease, IMO. The clergy should continue to witness marriages for the state until they are no longer permitted to (which may not be long in coming).

  58. Ken says:

    I agree Holy Matrimony would be preferred,because it separates the secular idea of only lawful co-habitation. I doubt that homosexuals would attempt to utilize the courts to gain this recognition as being a holy union. As it stands, they are gaining ground convincing the populous their behavior is a matter of civil rights. To me this like telling me coffee is tea. And if all vote to agree, it in fact is so.So now we as a society are off on another tangent, condoning illicit behavior as a civil right. What’s next,polygamy,beasteality ? This country has been heading toward hedonism and epicurianism.

  59. Penny says:

    Naturgesetz wrote that a refusal of Catholic clergy to sign marriage licenses in any jurisdiction which recognizes same-sex “marriage”would reduce the number of couples who would have a church wedding which would be far worse than the disease……
    Really? So what if the result is that less people will even get married in the church! What have we got going on now other than 95% of the couples getting married in church openly disagree with the church and have no intention what-so-ever of following Church doctrine or even raising their kids in the faith. I look at my own siblings and my cousins and out of all of them, only one has made an attempt to keep the faith active in his life and the life of his children. This is hardly unusual as all my practicing Catholic friends report the same thing going on in their families. Better to weed the insincere couples out now because all they are really doing is contributing to the breakdown of the Church. Better to have one true and practicing couple as opposed to twenty insincere ones. We have compromised so much and have watered down the faith so much that hardly anyone takes us seriously!

  60. Nick says:

    Here’s a discussion on marriage (contains some vulgar and profane language):

    Men’s Reproductive Rights


    • Anne says:

      I would not advise going on the abovementioned link…the visuals are an unsuitable link for a Catholic site. I understand it might be useful to read what “the other side” has to say for some people, but still I would not want my teenager to go to this link and he often reads New Advent.

  61. Theresa Notare says:

    With regard to changing the definition of marriage–the Church should not fall to the pressure of a confused society. We need to keep the word “marriage” which describes the union of a man to a woman. We need to defend this and all truth. Make up other words if you want to describe the variety of partnerships in our culture, but do not give up the word marriage for what it is.
    The word marriage speaks of the union of the opposite sexes. By its nature it implies that this heterosexual union is that which bring new people into the world. And, let’s remember, every child deserves a mother and a father–men and women bring different gifts to the nurturing of children. We cannot possibly understand the consequences for both the individual and society if we reject this reality!
    Despite the cultural manipulations of marriage over the ages (e.g., arranged, polygamy, contract, common law, etc.), the reality of marriage is all about bringing the man and the woman together. This is not about civil rights, it is a condition of human life, which civil law should protect–that’s why the Natural Law describes it easily in a secular context.
    The problem with some very loud people in our current society is that they have accepted a lie that says human sexuality is whatever the person makes it. This is not true. This is not the place to dive into a careful description of the nature of human sexuality, but at least here we can, and should be able to say that men and women have different but complementary ways of being human. The procreative ability is part of being human and it does inform how we are sexually–it actually plays a role in the male/female attraction. So the modern tendency to manipulate human reproduction via contraception or assisted reproductive technologies does not “prove” that the nature of sexuality is ever changing. In fact, if it proves anything at all, it demonstrates that our society has lost its understanding of the nature of human sexuality and sexual brokenness in particular.
    If in the Church we want to reclaim any ancient understanding of marriage, let us reclaim the fact that marriage is unitive and procreative and that married men and women have a sacred responsibility to protect this two-fold nature and live it authentically.

  62. Lee Weaver says:

    Understanding what real marriage is biblically will resolve a lot of this wondering concerning it. Most importantly, it will cause us to understand how God feels about it, which, since He is the initiator of it, makes sense. There is only one source that I have discovered that gives me this perception. It is a book written by Edward Ridenour titled “It’s Good For A Man Not To Touch A Woman.” He also writes some very interesting articles for in their “Today’s Christian Marriage” blog. If you want to know about marriage that you have never heard before,and you really are concerned, I’d advise you check this out.

  63. Ernest Armstrong says:

    Marriage is marriage. Look in any dictionary older than 5 years and you will see that it is the union between a man and a woman. Why should the English language be changed for less than 1 to 3 percent of the population so as to denigrate the other 99 to 97 percent of couples who are married. Is that not discrimination against the major part of the population, when those with homosexual tendencies seek only legal access to inheritance and compensation in divorce. Be honest and use “same sex union” or “homosexual union” in a legal framework for those with homosexual desires and good luck to them. This life is an only “once round” sojurn where honesty measures the status of your life, and we have other far more important issues to deal with than the selfish, personal matters of those homosexuals in our screwed up societies. Ernest Armstrong

  64. JM says:

    I agree with the use of the term set forth in the Catechism, “The Sacrament of Matrimony,” in reference to Catholic union. “Marriage” has come to mean a state or civil union that can be dissolved with divorce. The two are distinct, and therefore require clear and differential language. From this it follows, I do believe that Catholic clergy need to examine ceasing the execution of civil marriage licenses.

    The Holy Matrimony between my husband and me was blessed by our priest. We are one in the Church. We have never married in the state. We are devoted to each other, to God, to our community and to our faith– not to the government institution. And we are entering our second decade of joyful unity.

  65. Not Obama says:

    Today’s date is 09Nov2012 – two days after Election Day with three more states of the union altering the intended meaning of “marriage”. Notably, highly placed advocates in the state of Washington’s vote for same-sex hooking-up have said in interviews that they demand the word “marriage” bestowed upon their homosexual hookups.

    Therefore, to answer your questions: I emphatically say that Catholics, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Baptists, etc, use a different word than “marriage” and disassociate from the states’ documents. And, start educating their faithful accordingly – regardless of how “hard” that may be.

  66. Ramona Carter says:

    Interestingly, in “The Catholic Difference” (11/14/12), George Weigel promotes a similar position: that “it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law. If the Church were to take this dramatic step now, it would be acting prophetically: it would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong.” (

    On the meaning of marriage and the permissibility of radically redefining it, see also Michael Hannon, “The Abolition of Man-and-Woman: On Marriage, Grammar, and Legal Strategy” at

  67. Timothy Welton says:

    Been saying that for years. The issue is not equal rights for gay couples, but using a term that is solely a religious one. Since the church does not recognize marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman, why not remove the term from legal documents? Marriage is not a legal term. Union between two consenting adults however, is a legal term. Straight or not the term marriage shouldn’t be on your state certificate. It is merely a legal document for tax purposes and other legal matters. When will we as human beings learn?

Leave a Reply