How ‘legit’ was this airborne wedding?


Catholic Herald, 1 February 2018

The wedding on a plane raises some awkward questions

There was a comical moment after the Chilean marriage conducted by the Vicar of Christ in the air. Papal spokesman Greg Burke was emphatic: “It was totally legit.”

“Totally legit” is extra-canonical language meaning that impromptu is not invalid, as it usually would be in regard to a wedding on the fly. But there was confusion aplenty about the wedding of two flight attendants, and alarm in knowledgeable quarters that Pope Francis had agreed to a wedding without reasonable assurance that it would be valid.

After all, if the Holy Father proposed the impromptu marriage himself, then the true freedom of the couple to marry would certainly be in doubt. When asked in public by the supreme pontiff if they wished to marry – in front of the CEO of their airline, with the press corps a few feet away – would either party truly be free to decline?

In any case Pope Francis, answering press questions on his flight back to Rome, explained himself. The Holy Father’s account was radically different than what the couple reportedly told the media. Pope Francis said that it had been discussed the day prior, the couple had done their marriage preparation and had gone to Confession. He further questioned them, most likely about their understanding of sacramental marriage.

It remains unknown why the bridegroom initially told the media that the idea for an impromptu wedding “was his” – that is, the Holy Father’s.

It seems that the couple really wanted a wedding on the plane with the Pope. One wonders why they did not make the same request of a local priest in the last seven years, even after the births of their two children.

The whole episode had a slight feeling of a publicity stunt, but Pope Francis agreed to it, explaining that he feared that they might never get validly married at all if he did not grant their wish. The Holy Father had rather low expectations of the seriousness of the couple. I think he was right about that, given how they described the event afterwards.

The episode gives an important insight into how the Holy Father approaches the sacraments.

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