Priests to replace marriage commissions

Published September 1, 2001

Waterloo, Ont.

DIOCESAN matrimonial commissions, which rule on applications by divorced people to remarry in the church, will become a thing of the past if the next General Synod in 2004 ratifies changes to the marriage canon adopted here this summer.

Decisions now made by the commission would instead be made by parish priests. Proposals to abolish matrimonial commissions were defeated by general synods in 1992, 1995, and 1998. This and several other revisions including changes to the “table of kindred and affinity” and changes allowing marriages in places other than church buildings, were proposed by a task force set up in 1998.

Each of the three major changes was approved by substantial majorities after debate. The revisions now will be forwarded to provincial and diocesan synods for review and possible amendment before the canon returns to General Synod in 2004 for second reading and final adoption after which it will take effect across the Canadian church.

This process is required because changes involve the “doctrine, worship, or discipline” of the church and must therefore be passed by two successive synods.

The present marriage canon – which remains in force until changes are ratified – requires that a couple in which one or both partners is divorced and a former spouse is still living must receive dispensation from the bishop on the advice of a matrimonial commission to marry in a church.

This body reviews extensive documentation about causes of the breakdown of the earlier marriage and the chances of a successful second marriage. Critics have complained that the commissions are over-legalistic; supporters have said the exercise helps people jettison past hurts.

Under the revised canon, the decision as to whether divorced people may re-marry will rest with the parish priest, who is required to explore with the couple many of the issues raised in the applications presently used by matrimonial commissions. The priest has the option of discussing doubtful cases with the bishop.

(Meanwhile, as Canadian Anglicans voted to abolish matrimonial commissions, the Church of England is being urged to look at matrimonial commissions on the existing Canadian model as the way to obtain approval of proposed rules to allow re-marriage of divorced persons.)

Changes in the “table of kindred and affinity”, when approved on second reading, will bring Anglican church law into line with civil law. The church table lists 15 relationships within which marriage is prohibited, while federal law allows any marriage except between persons related through a line of ascent or descent whether by blood or adoption, as brother and sister by whole or half blood or adoption.

Synod also considered where marriages may be solemnized. Despite semi-serious concerns about “bungee-jump ceremonies,” synod agreed that while churches are appropriate places, the ceremony may take place elsewhere so long as solemnity is preserved.

Among other recommendations from the task force approved by synod were the following:

  • Continued refusal to bless common-law relationships;
  • Posting of guidelines and model form of service for interfaith marriages on the Anglican Church of Canada website.
  • Commendation of the Pastoral Guidelines for Interchurch Marriages between Anglicans and Roman Catholics in Canada produced jointly by Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops.

Synod called for preparation of appropriate liturgies for the blessing of civil marriages and for rubrics allowing appropriate adaptation of the marriage services to provide for renewal of marriage vows to be included in future revisions of the Book of Common Prayer or the Book of Alternative Services.

Synod rejected a proposal to reduce the required notice of intention to marry from 60 days, as required under the present marriage canon, to 30 days as required in the Book of Alternative Services.


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