Pope's 'airplane wedding' was valid

Unusual ceremony 36,000 feet above Chile is supported by church laws despite criticism of the pontiff's actions
Pope's 'airplane wedding' was valid

Crew members Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi kiss after being married by Pope Francis during the flight between Santiago and Iquique on Jan. 18. (Photo by Vincenzo Pinto/AFP)

Paul de Leon, Manila
January 31, 2018
In recent weeks, cyberspace has been filled with comments pertaining to the validity of the "airplane wedding" officiated by Pope Francis.

Cruising at an altitude of 36,000 feet above Chile, the pope celebrated the matrimony of flight attendants Paula Podest and Carlos Ciuffardi, who were already civilly married.

The couple failed to tie the knot in church when an earthquake hit Chile in 2010, destroying the structure where the wedding should have been held.

Some people have been quick to rail against the wedding, questioning the propriety of what the pope did on the plane. Was the marriage celebrated by the pope valid?

It is best to check what church laws say on these cases. Also, church leaders should act fast in explaining these matters to the faithful.  

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The first question that came to mind is whether the ceremony should be called marriage when in fact Paula and Carlos were already married civilly.

Can the church marry the already married? What Pope Francis did was convalidation, a ceremony in which a marriage, such as a civil marriage, is recognized by the church.

Convalidation prior to the Second Vatican Council used to be a short ceremony with only the couple, two witnesses and the celebrant present.

Critics said matrimonial rites should be celebrated only in a church, citing canon 1118, section 1, that states: "A marriage between Catholics or between a Catholic party and a non-Catholic baptized party is to be celebrated in a parish church."

"It can be celebrated in another church or oratory with the permission of the local ordinary or pastor," it added.

However, the same canon also states in section 2: "The local ordinary can permit a marriage to be celebrated in another suitable place."

Pope Francis might have seen the desire of the couple, who already have two children — six-year-old Rafaela and three-year-old Isabela —  to be recognized by the church, and decided as a competent local ordinary to convalidate the marriage on the plane, which was a suitable place for the pope.

The next question is whether Pope Francis is a competent local ordinary to convalidate the marriage. Yes, he is.

According to canon 134, section 1: "In addition to the Roman Pontiff, by the title of ordinary are understood in the law diocesan bishops and others who, even if only temporarily, are placed to offer some particular church or a community equivalent to it according to the norm of canon 368 as well as those who possess general ordinary executive power in them, namely, vicars general and episcopal vicars; likewise, for their own members, major superiors of clerical religious institutes of pontifical right and of clerical societies of apostolic life of pontifical right who at least possess ordinary executive power."

Notice again that canon 1118, section 2, says "permit" instead of "dispense."

Permission is required to make the convalidation lawful or licit while a dispensation is required to make it valid. That means that, even if the pope might have missed asking permission from himself on the matter, as a competent local ordinary the convalidation is still valid.

In fact, a cardinal aboard the flight composed by hand a wedding certificate on a piece of paper that Pope Francis signed, and the CEO of the airline served as witness, thus satisfying the requirement for recognition.

In the Philippines, with 84 percent of the population Catholic, church weddings are seen as expensive. That is why many opt to be married civilly.

Pope Francis knows that the sacrament of marriage has just become an option.

"This is the sacrament that is missing in the world, the sacrament of marriage. I hope this motivates couples around the world to marry," he said after the ceremony.

Again, as I have mentioned, church leaders must act fast in explaining matters like these to the faithful, who most of the time don't take the time to read.

We leave this to those who have the authority to end all the confusion.

Paul de Leon is a lay missionary for a Marian apostolate in the Philippines.

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