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Real Catholics Don't Get Married Outside: Why the Church Should Reconsider

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My sister-in-law is getting married this spring. I've tried on my bridesmaid dress, jotted down the date of her New York City bachelorette party and also, intrigued, watched her struggle as she strives to book a priest.

Like me, she was raised Catholic and is marrying one. And, like my husband -- her brother -- and I did when we got married in 2005, she and her fiancé are trying to make this a Catholic affair.

Trying. Because there are rules.

I remember sitting in the chapel of the Newman Center at the University of Chapel Hill with many other couples during a Pre-Cana conference prior to our own wedding, listening to the priest talk about the importance of our forthcoming unions.

And then, unexpectedly, but with true passion: "You can't get married outside." He paused, then repeated, "You just can't."

My sister-in-law, however, wants to do just that. Plenty of people do.

Why can't a Catholic ceremony take place outside? I turned to the wisdom of the internet to help me sort this out, and found many reasons, both casual and, seemingly, from on high.

Catholics marrying non-Catholics can get a special dispensation allowing marriage someplace other than a Catholic church. But if you're both Catholic, the church wedding is important. The answer, as I've interpreted it, mostly concerns the fact that the church is the true "house of God," and marriage, being a sacrament, should be celebrated there.

The sites Catholic Education Resource Center and Catholic Answers , as well as many others, approach the subject with articles and online forums.

But really, the best explanation I've heard was from that priest. "You just can't." And to be honest, I didn't mind that brash, in-your-face brand of Catholicism at the time, despite the fact that I approach my religion with many questions, and many complaints.

There was something pompous, but somehow satisfying, about the air of inclusion and the "follow the rules!" ethic, since -- although we hadn't attended mass in ages -- we were getting married the way they wanted. Church, full mass, long veil, bread into body.

We simply didn't care. Fine with us.

My sister-in-law, however, wants to get married outside due to a combination of factors, including the fact that the reception location is not close to a church and is a lovely place to hold a wedding.

Not to mention that the diocese where she and her fiancé will wed is not one either belongs to, and is rumored to be strict, so may not have allowed them to hold the ceremony in a church there anyway.

She's been looking for a priest who would agree to marry them at their reception site -- outside the house of God, within the house of nature -- for several months. She's had priests outright refuse, refer her elsewhere and one memorable man of God who agreed to do it but only for a considerable sum of money.

The result? She's resigned to go outside the traditional church in more ways than the outdoor wedding.

A Catholic priest might still marry them, but one who has broken with the church in his own way. She's talked to a priest who decided to get married himself, but stayed with the faith, even after this obvious breach in the sacred code.

He agreed to marry them outside, but first held long, serious talks with the couple; not about their venue, but about their decision to spend their lives together.

We attended a non-traditional, half-Catholic wedding this summer, when two very dear friends, one Jewish and one Catholic, got married under tall palms and bright sunshine in Florida by both a priest and a rabbi. I found the effort they'd made to include both faiths just as moving as their absolute love for one another.

And having it outside was beautiful, even beyond the aesthetic.

I know what the critics will say about my sister-in-law and her problem.

"If they want to have a Catholic marriage, they should follow the rules."

And...

"This is a poor representation of the Church's beliefs regarding marriage."

And...

"Who cares?"

And...

"This writer is an non-practicing phony, who has no idea what she is talking about concerning the Catholic faith, or anything else."

I concur that I'm no expert.

But what I know, and stress, is this: They tried. But there are unbending rules, and the rules on not getting married outside are a minor compared with so many regulations held at high standards by the modern Church.

The multitude of congregants, however -- both young and old -- sometimes want to bend. And if they can't, they will break.

It's something for the Catholic hierarchy to think about.

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