Pope’s inflight wedding raises questions


Headlines and celebrations have surrounded the impromptu wedding ceremony of two flight attendants during a papal flight. The ceremony, officiated by Pope Francis, has, however led to some Catholics asking questions about such ceremonies outside of a church. Russell Pollitt finds out.

During a flight from Santiago, to Chile’s northern city of Iquique, Pope Francis married LATAM flight attendants Paula Podest Ruiz and Carlos Ciuffardi Ellorriaga in an impromptu ceremony. The couple had been civilly married for eight years and already have two children – Rafaela, 6, and Isabella, 3.

The couple were apparently supposed to get married in a church in 2010, but the church building was destroyed by the Chilean earthquake.

The couple told journalists that it was Francis’ idea to marry them after they had told him of their situation. They said that the Holy Father blessed their rings and asked the CEO of the airline to serve as a witness. The pope also, apparently, asked a cardinal to do the paper work on-board the plane. The cardinal drafted the certificate by hand and it was signed by the Holy Father.

After the marriage Ciuffardi said that Pope Francis told them that he hoped this wedding would encourage other couples around the world to marry.

Was it appropriate?

Greg Burke, Director of the Holy See Press Office, who was also on the flight, said that the wedding was “totally legit” and “doctrinally ok”. Burke said that it’s ok “because to be married the actual ministers are the people themselves. You just need a witness. There are a couple other things, normally there are publications. And there were things that had to passed over, but it’s totally legit, and everyone’s happy!”

The official marriage certificate reads: “On 18 January 2018, aboard the papal plane from Santiago to Iquique, Mr. Carlos Ciuffardi Elorriaga and Ms. Paula Podest Ruiz contracted marriage, in the presence of the witness, Ignacio Cueto. The Holy Father Pope Francis received their consent.”

As soon as news of the marriage broke, people immediately began to ask why this marriage was celebrated outside of a church. Many couples are told they cannot get married outside of a church in South Africa.

The Church’s Code of Canon Law says that marriages are to be celebrated in the parish in which either of the contracting parties has a domicile or a quasi-domicile. The law goes on to say that with the permission of the proper ordinary, marriages can be celebrated elsewhere (Canon 1115).

Very often, couples in dioceses in South Africa are made aware of this law. This causes some to seek other ministers to marry them and so they choose not to marry in the Catholic Church.

Back on the ground

The Bishop’s Conference regulates Catholic marriages within its territory. The Conference insists on six months preparation. Some bishops do not give permission to marry outside of a parish church in a ‘venue’. The bishops still want weddings to be done in parish churches or oratories. All Catholics – priests, deacons and bishops included – are bound by this law unless a dispensation is given from the local ordinary (called a dispensation from form).

The Catholic Church insists on marriages being held in Catholic Churches because they are permanent structures which are public spaces and, as a sacrament, it is fitting to be celebrated within a church. Church buildings also carry symbolic significance when couples are married in the Church and their children and grandchildren receive sacraments in the same place.

Archbishop William Slattery of Pretoria, spokesperson of the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference, says that permission is given more and more. He says, “what’s important is that couples ask for permission so that we can do it according to church law”. Slattery says that he gives this permission more and more regularly as the ordinary of Pretoria.

Pope Francis, unlike other bishops, does have universal jurisdiction and can freely exercise his power anywhere. Canon 331 says “Consequently, by virtue of his office, he [the pope] has supreme, full, immediate and universal power in the Church, and can always freely exercise this power”.

Marieke Vrugtmann, of the metropolitan marriage tribunal in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, says that although permissions are given, the Archdiocese still encourages couples to get married in a parish church. “Couples need to get permission to marry outside a parish church from the vicar-general.” She went on to say that permission is granted for special reasons, for example, “if a Catholic marries a non-Catholic and the non-Catholic party’s parent is a minister in another church”.

She also said that many priests don’t like conducting weddings in other non-ecclesiastical venues. “They just won’t do it,” she says, “because they say that it must be done and witnessed by the parish community”.

Fr Brett Williams, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Durban, said that permission in Durban “is only granted when the couple requests a marriage in another place where there is regular worship, a place like a school chapel or another church, like an Anglican Church”. He says that Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, the archbishop of Durban, will not allow marriages in so-called ‘venues’. SA.

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* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Pope’s inflight wedding raises questions