Secular state that allows religious control (1)

The Ecclesiastical Marriage Tribunal at the Archbishop’s Palace in Valletta. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The Ecclesiastical Marriage Tribunal at the Archbishop’s Palace in Valletta. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

When two spouses marry they sign a form for statutory purposes and make certain undertakings to one another, some of which create legal obligations. Superfluous religious declarations and sweet, fuzzy, tear-jerking promises and incantations are lovely but carry no legal significance.

With copious religious comments about God’s involvement in marriage, I thought I’d have a look at my own marriage certificate, my parents’, my grandparents’ and my great grandparents’, all married in Malta in a Catholic church by Catholic priests over a 150-year period.

I couldn’t find the word God anywhere. Jesus, Moses, the evangelists, Papal encyclicals, “sacrament”, “holy”, “Catholic” – all were conspicuously absent.

In fact, as the world has always known and shown, what happens in the fullness of time to the undertakings made by spouses remains solely their own personal, private business and responsibility. They have no legal obligation to any Church, state or anyone else to remain married; only to themselves and their children.

The state enacts laws to ensure separating spouses fulfil their financial obligations to one another and to any children but state intervention to enforce spouses to remain in a marriage is unheard of. So how can the state, which does not possess the capacity or the legal right to enforce spouses remaining together, incongruously and ridiculously enforce the concept, based purely on the belief of one Christian denomination that a state marriage contract must be binding for life?

The state further compounds this paradox by allowing priests to annul a secular state marriage contract solely by ecclesiastical decree. Then, the ecclesiastical authorities allow the released spouses to remarry and the state obeys.

There’s more. The state also forbids divorce and entraps everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, and lumbers them with what is entirely a Catholic requirement of marriage indissolubility. No exceptions; no divorce for anyone, including those who weren’t married by Catholic rite or who don’t wish to be Catholic any more. It beggars belief how a secular state allows religious interference, intervention and control of the business of secular family law and government.

How can the state deny its citizens the right to end a marriage and start another, yet allow priests to authorise just that?

How can a government surrender the fate of a state marriage contract to a third party ecclesiastical court, comprised of celibate men, who unilaterally decide if, why, how and when a state marriage contract can be not just cancelled but annulled and a fresh one authorised?

This is a monstrously undemocratic and irresponsible state of affairs.

Consequently, family law is a legal and social train wreck, which is not only a shambles but a dysfunctional sham.

Malta declares itself a secular state, yet delegates the management of such a sensitive issue, relating to remarriage, to a theocratic third party. The ecclesiastical authorities can dictate to those who welcome their guidance but it is patently preposterous that bishops, theologians and priests should dictate to the government and affect every citizen’s life and destiny.

Ending a marriage and starting another is a matter for the spouses to decide upon, so long as this is done in line with state regulation of divorces according to equitable secular family laws protecting the spouses and the children.

The Church controlling the fate of my marriage is as ridiculous as my controlling the fate of an ordained priest or nun becoming laicised.

Little wonder the Catholic authorities have lost every divorce battle they fought in every country. They shall lose this one, too.


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