International News

Deacons Cannot Witness Marriages In an Orthodox or Eastern Church

By Cindy Wooden

VATICAN CITY (CNS) – In a change to Church law, Latin-rite Catholic deacons may not preside at a wedding when one or both of the new spouses are members of an Eastern Catholic church.

The new rule is one of the changes to 11 canons in the Latin-rite Code of Canon law that Pope Francis approved in order to harmonize the laws of the Latin and Eastern Catholic churches on several issues involving the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

After more than 15 years of study and worldwide consultation, the conflicting rules were resolved by adopting the Eastern code’s formulations for the Latin church as well, said Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.

The bishop spoke to journalists after the publication of an apostolic letter published “motu proprio” (on his own initiative) in which Pope Francis ordered the changes to the Latin Code of Canon Law, the 1983 text governing the majority of the world’s Catholics.

In both the Eastern Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the blessing of a priest is necessary for the validity of a marriage. In the Latin-rite church, a deacon can preside over the sacrament. The new law specifies, “Only a priest can validly assist at the matrimony of two Eastern parties or between a Latin and Eastern Catholic or non-Catholic,” meaning a member of an Orthodox Church.

Bishop Arrieta said that in most cases the changes made by Pope Francis involve rules for situations that the Latin code never envisioned, but that the Code of Canons of the Eastern Catholic Churches, published in 1990, did. With the large number of Eastern Christians – both Catholic and Orthodox – who have migrated to predominantly Latin territories since 1989, Latin-rite pastors need guidance, he said.

The changes regard practices for ministering not only to Eastern-rite Catholics, but also to members of the Orthodox churches.

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