Sunday, September 8, 2013

Young and the Restless: Canonical and Legal Commentary Time!

In episode 10237 of the Young and Restless, the second half of the fantastic memorial service for Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper), Paul Williams (Doug Davidson) and Christine “Cricket” Blair (Lauralee Bell), spontaneously got married in the wake of the letter Mrs. C had arranged to be delivered to Paul. 

Paul Williams
It was deliciously romantic and we're all thrilled that these two finally tied the knot, again. The problem is, as the event was depicted in the episode, it was neither valid under Wisconsin Civil Law, nor under Roman Catholic Canon Law. 

Now, I was born and raised in Wisconsin.
Christine Blair
And I happen to enjoy the field of Canon Law. So I watched the episode in bewilderment, realizing the legal and canonical disaster that had unfolded. I'll explain exactly what the issues are and then suggest an easy fix they can write into some upcoming episode to solve the legal problem.

Problem One - Solved

Michael Baldwin
Now, the writers were aware that Paul and Christine could not be married without a marriage license. And so they wrote in a line delivered by Michael Baldwin  to the effect that the County Clerk had issued and would rush over a marriage license yet that afternoon. That will permit the couple, two witnesses, and the officiant to sign the license and file it to be recognized as a valid civil marriage. But the legal problems surrounding this spontaneous wedding run deeper than just the detail of getting that license.

Problem Two

Father Todd, Paul's brother (played by Corbin Bernsen, son of the late [and dearly missed] Jeanne Cooper), is ostensibly a Roman Catholic priest in good standing residing in Michigan. Some states permit an out-of-state officiant to preside at a civil ceremony so long as they are licensed to officiate at a wedding in their own state.

But that's not Wisconsin law. According to Wisconsin Statute 765.17:

Any member of the clergy … who is not a resident of this state may solemnize marriages in this state if he or she possesses at the time of the marriage a letter of sponsorship from a member of the clergy of the same religious denomination or society who has a church in this state under his or her ministry.

Lauren Fenmore, Paul's former wife
Father Todd has to identify where he's from in that paperwork. When he sends in the license without that letter of sponsorship, it's going to be kicked back, informing him that he was not authorized to officiate at a wedding in Wisconsin without that letter. And even if the County Clerk is very lenient (as he or she apparently is) and allows Father Todd to get that letter of support after the fact, Father Todd will run into serious trouble getting one. Here’s why.

Problem Three

Now, the wedding we saw was just your classic ceremony in
Danny Romalotti, Christine's ex-husband
which Paul and Christine used the traditional marriage vows generic to all traditions. It was not a civil ceremony. And it better not be, because Father Todd is not authorized to perform a civil ceremony at all. Roman Catholic chaplains are given special permission by their bishop to perform marriages that do not have canonical validity in the Catholic Church. This permits them to minister to members of the armed services who are not members of the Catholic Church. But outside of that narrow exception, a Roman Catholic priest cannot officiate at a wedding that he knows does not have canonical validity. So, if Father Todd tries to get a fellow priest to write him a letter of support for a civil ceremony, he'll get no where fast.  If the Wisconsin bishop learns that one of his priests issued a letter of support for such a thing, the priest would likely face some type of censure or even canonical penalty. In short, if he values his career at all, he's not going to touch this matter.

Problem Four

But again, by all appearances, Paul and Cricket's wedding was not a civil ceremony such as Father Todd can't perform. 

Avery and Nick at the Wedding
It looked like a religious ceremony, presided over by a priest who identified his authority to perform the ceremony as "the power vested in me" and even declaring “Those Whom God Hath Joined Together Let No Man Put Asunder.”  And let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Paul and Christine have each already, behind the scenes and, of course, never mentioned on the show, obtained a Decree of Nullity for their previous marriages to other people. This would render them "Free to Marry," to use the canonical term. There is also the very real possibility that the only valid marriage either of them ever contracted was already their previous marriage to each other and that this marriage was never annulled. In that case, getting remarried civilly is a legal necessity, but the Church still considers them married anyway.

But even if they are free to marry, this was still a non-canonical ceremony.  According to Canon 1118, if there is even one Catholic party in the marriage, they need to obtain permission from the diocesan bishop to hold a wedding outside of a church. A priest alone can't just bend the rules and perform a valid wedding in the park. You are free to believe this is a silly or stupid law, but it is, in fact, the law that governs the ministry of Father Todd. Worse yet, Father Todd performed a non-canonical wedding inside the diocese of a man who is not even his own bishop.

Canonical Fix for Problem Four

Now, it has happened in the past that weddings were conducted non-canonically. Maybe Father Todd screwed up, but the Church doesn't make Paul and Christine suffer for his errors. The bishop can give the permission for an out-of-church wedding after the fact and then issue a decree making the marriage valid retroactively. This is called a Sanatio In Radice (Healing from the Root; Canon 1163). In other words, validity is retroactively extended to the marriage all the way to the "root" of the invalidating cause. So, while the wedding was invalid the day it happened, once the necessary permission is obtained and the Sanatio also granted, it's a valid marriage from the beginning.

Conclusion: No Way Out for Father Todd

So here is the Catch-22 that Father Todd is in. If it was a Catholic wedding, it's invalid by Canon Law and that's the reason no priest will issue him the letter. If it was a Civil wedding, he's not permitted to perform such a thing in the first place and that's the reason no priest will issue him the letter. The Church is the least of Father Todd's problems. It's Wisconsin Law.  And it doesn't seem likely that he will be able to fix the problem.

How to Move Forward

I propose to the producers of The Young and Restless that a short scene such as the following will fix the problem.

[Setting: The Police Station]

Kevin: Congratulations again, Paul. You and Christine are just such a lovely couple. I always hoped you two would eventually tie the knot, again.

Paul: *laughs* Thanks, Kevin. Turns out we ended up getting married to each other for the third time later that day.

Kevin: What? Why?

Paul: When we were signing the paperwork later, we discovered that my brother needed some letter ahead of time from a priest in Wisconsin in order to be an out-of-state officiant. So later that evening, to make it all legal, we just stopped by the house of one of my judge friends and re-said our vows.

Kevin: Got it. Well, I'll still always see that magical moment at Chancellor Park as your real wedding.

Paul: Oh, me too, Kevin. Me too.

This little scene will quickly address the problem, establish the wedding as legal under Wisconsin Law, and avoid the intricacies of the Canonical causes behind the legal snafu.

Congratulations Paul and Christine!