Monday, January 23, 2006

So, Michael Schiavo Got Married...

This weekend, Michael Schiavo married his long-time live-in girlfriend, Jody Centonze, with whom he fathered two children while he was still married to and professing his love for Terri.

Even more distastefully, he contracted this putative marriage in the Catholic Church:
Michael Schiavo and Jodi Centonze were married in a private ceremony at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church on Saturday.

"It was very emotional," said John Centonze, brother of the bride, just after the noon ceremony. "It's been a long time coming. A lot of things happened in between."

"A lot of things". A rather understated description of Michael's 5-year-long singleminded campaign to end his wife's life.

"Except for the fact that the world knows their name, it was like any wedding you've ever been to," said Michael Hirsh, who attended, and who is helping Schiavo write a book titled Terri: The Truth.

Well, I don't know - I have never attended nor presided at a wedding in which the groom was the principal agent of his previous wife's demise.

Hirsh estimated about 80 people attended. The priest offered no homily. Afterward the wedding party went to a reception at East Lake Country Club.

"The priest offered no homily". Well, what could the priest say? "Don't kill this one, Michael"?

Many, for example, over at Mark Shea's comment box, have reacted with disgust and outrage that Michael should have been permitted to engage in what appears a mockery of the Sacrament of Marriage.

I too, am disgusted and outraged.

Canonist Ed Peters brings up the question of whether the pastor of the parish involved or the bishop of the diocese should have permitted this marriage to be contracted. Specifically, he brings up the issue of crimen, by which, the Code of Canon Law (no. 1090) provides, "one who, with a view to entering marriage with a particular person, has killed that person's spouse, or his or her own spouse, invalidly attempts this marriage."

Dr. Peters also raises some very good questions concerning the circumstances of this marriage:
A) was a Schiavo-Centonze wedding attempted under color of Catholic canon law; if so,
B) did the pastor of the place or his delegate first verify that "nothing stands in the way of a valid and licit [wedding] celebration" (1983 CIC 1066); specifically,
C) was the impediment of crimen incurred by Michael Schiavo; and, if so,
D) was a dispensation from the impediment sought and duly granted?

Given that the wedding took place in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, and that the Bishop of the dicoese, Robert Lynch, was constructively AWOL regarding Terri's plight, I think the chances are slim that Dr. Peters will ever get an answer to his questions.

However, as relevant as those questions are, and as repugnant as Schiavo's mockery of the Sacrament is, I think that even if a priest or bishop were inclined to try to prevent Schiavo's wedding, they'd have a hard time doing so, at least as Canon Law is currently understood and practiced in the US.

You see, Canon 1058 provides that "all can contract marriage who are not prohibited by law". In my Canon Law classes, I was taught that, in the absence of nearly certain knowledge of a canonical impediment (that is, those specifically enumerated in law) this meant that the right of Catholics to marry in the Church is nearly absolute. I and my fellow priests were taught that, in order to prevent a couple from marrying, you pretty much needed a smoking gun to justify it. Why? Because of Canon 18:
Laws which prescribe a penalty, or restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception to the law, are to be interpreted strictly.

In other words, unless the couple were related too closely, or one party was in religious vows or Orders, had perpetrated a fraud on the other party, had openly and expressly denied some aspect of the Catholic doctrine of marriage, had been convicted of murdering his/her previous spouse, or demonstrably fit one of the other defined impediments, you had to let them marry. You could urge a couple to delay their marriage, or you could even personally decline to witness it, but you could not refuse it altogether without a very serious reason, which you had better be able to prove.

So, in Michael Schiavo's case, it seems to me that the issue of crimen is not at all open-and-shut. Michael has never been charged with, much less convicted of, any offense related to his wife's death. And while an ecclesiastical court would not be bound by our civil legal system in making a determination of whether Michael instigated Terri's death, nonetheless the lack of any criminal charges against him would be prima facie evidence against such a determination. And, unfortunately, given the willingness of any number of clerical Quislings (such as Frs. Paris or O'Rourke) or to defend Terri's starvation and dehydration, Schiavo could bring plenty of witnesses to any canonical trial who would testify that his actions were not contrary to Catholic teaching.

Just as in the civil law, in Canon Law the issue isn't what one knows, it's what one can prove. And, much as it pains me to say it, I think it would be difficult to prove that Michael was guilty of crimen and thereby refuse his marriage in the Church.

If some canonist can show that I'm wrong, I'd love to hear why. I've often wondered if, perhaps, we've interpreted Canon 1058 too strictly. It seems to me that, quite apart from spousal murder, we are frequently allowing people to get married in the Church who have no business doing so.

In the case of Michael Schiavo's putative marriage, the only immediate consolation is that God, who sees all, knows precisely the status of his current union. And God, in the end, will not be mocked.