Catholic attendance at civil wedding; Biden and same-sex marriage

By Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. My family have been dedicated Catholics for generations. Recently, a nephew of mine announced that he is planning to get married in a civil ceremony. (I believe that neither he nor his fiancee is dedicated to a religion. He is a "fallen-away Catholic" millennial.) As the eldest in the family, I am saddened by this turn of events and have researched the stand of my religion relative to my participation in this union. To be honest, the guidance I'm finding is not very direct as to the church's stance. Can you provide me some clarity? As a Catholic, can I attend? (My current decision is to not attend, and this is causing great angst in the family, a family that I treasure.) (City of origin withheld)

A. I am not surprised that you are finding varying guidance in your dilemma. It is basically a "strategy question" with no hard and fast "rule." You are trying to strike a balance between fidelity to the church's teaching and your legitimate desire to maintain family harmony, and different people will have different ideas as to how to do that. Here would be my suggestion: Go to the wedding, but first sit down and talk with your nephew. Tell him that you feel a certain awkwardness in attending, since he is not being married in a religious ceremony. Explain to him what the Catholic faith has meant to you, how it has sustained you over the years, offering comfort and guidance. Tell him how much he means to you and that your deepest hope and prayer is that, one day, he might return to the practice of the faith he grew up with and seek the church's blessing on his marriage. If you do that, he will not see your attendance as an "endorsement" by the church, you will not risk a family rupture that could be permanent, and you keep open the possibility of his return to Catholic practice through your prayer and gentle example.

Q. I have read that Joe Biden, when he was vice president, presided over a same-sex wedding. As you know, Mr. Biden professes to be a Roman Catholic. I would think that his officiating at this ceremony would have resulted in his excommunication. Has he been excommunicated? And if not, what is the reasoning behind that? (Little Rock, Arkansas)

A. It is true that in 2016, Biden, who was then the vice president, presided at a same-sex wedding for two men who were longtime White House aides. The ceremony took place at the vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory. Reaction from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was swift in coming. Within a matter of days, three officials of the conference -- without mentioning Biden by name, but clearly referencing his action -- said this: "When a prominent Catholic politician publicly and voluntarily officiates at a ceremony to solemnize the relationship of people of the same sex, confusion arises regarding Catholic teaching on marriage and the corresponding moral obligations of Catholics." Such an action, the bishops wrote, "is a counterwitness, instead of a faithful one founded in the truth." The three bishops who signed the statement were Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, then-president of the USCCB; Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, then-chair of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; and Bishop Richard J. Malone, then-chair of the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. Their statement continued, "Pope Francis has been very clear in affirming the truth and constant teaching of the church that same-sex relationships cannot be considered 'in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God's plan for marriage and the family.'" As to the question of excommunication, Edward Peters, professor of canon law at Detroit's major seminary, explained at the time in his blog that there is no specific canon that excommunicates a Catholic for officiating at a same-sex wedding and that Biden would have to demonstrate a pattern of behavior that violates church law in order to trigger formal disciplinary action.

Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.