WHEN A BISHOP DOES A WEDDING
On two recent occasions Judge Durkan who sits as a judge in Ennis, Co. Clare in Ireland said that Bishop Michael Cox is not a bishop and referred to him as "Mr Cox".
The matter arose because a teenage member of the Irish Travelling Community claimed in court to have been married by Bishop Cox. He produced a marriage certificate containing Bishop Cox's signature and seal.
The judges comments have caused some confusion and people need to be reminded of the huge difference there is between a RELIGIOUS MARRIAGE and a CIVIL MARRIAGE.
In Ireland any clergyman who wants his marriages to be accepted by the state must have his name included on the REGISTER OF SOLEMNISERS in the Republic or Ireland or on the REGISTER OF OFFICIANTS in Northern Ireland.
If a clergyman is not on those registers he is NOT able to celebrate a marriage for a couple that can be registered as a legal marriage in civil law - and such a clergyman should NEVER give any person or couple the impression that he is in a position to celebrate a marriage for them that is register-able with the state. If a clergyman were to do so he would be misleading a couple and could be seen in fact as "defrauding" the couple.
I have spoken to Bishop Cox on a number of occasions about his marriages - which are purely "spiritual" or "religious" ceremonies and he has reassured me that he does not give the couples the impression that their marriages are LEGAL.
However one of the problems Bishop Cox has is that most, if not all his marriages, are for members of the Irish Travelling Community. The "Travellers" - as we call them - have their own culture and are very religious / superstitious Catholics. In their mind if a priest (a man wearing a clerical collar) marries you - then you are married. The Travellers are not aware of the difference between religious and civil marriages.
Because of this I think that Bishop Cox is leaving himself open to be misunderstood and accused.
He should spell it out VERY CLEARLY to people that he can only marry them "spiritually" and not legally. In fact in my opinion he should go further - he should get the couples (and their parents if the couple are under 18) to sign a declaration to the effect that he is only performing a blessing ceremony that has no legal standing.
In Northern Ireland you can be married from the age of 16 - IF - AND ONLY IF - your parents sign a parental consent form.
In one sense this problem is a particular problem for Travellers who have very strict views about sex outside marriage and so called "living in sin".
Very often two young Travellers experience opposition from their families and then "run away" to be together. Then the parents panic - think that they have had sex - and want to get them married asap so that they will not be "living in sin" or get a bad name in the Travelling Community.
Before the 2004 Irish Marriage Act (promulgated in 2007) people like young travellers could get permission from the courts to marry below 18 - but not any longer. The new legislation, which meant very well, has created a particular problem for those from the Traveller culture.
However this problem will not be solved by people like Judge Durkan going crazy on the bench and calling Bishop Cox names.
Bishop Cox is NOT a Roman Catholic bishop nor does not claim to be. He was validly consecrated a bishop in a breakaway Latin Tridentine Rite. He is a bishop according to the rules and traditions of what is called Apostolic Succession (succession from the Apostles).
But that is a religious and theological discussion. As far as I know Judge Durkan is not an expert in Sacramental Theology? He should therefore refrain from making theological remarks on the bench and stick to his area of expertise - civil law.
However he is entitled to express concerns about people thinking that they are legally married when they are not.
And Bishop Cox should take Judge Durkan's legal concerns seriously.
And all of us should be conscious of the particular pastoral and cultural needs of Travellers.
Bishop Pat Buckley