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Catholics/Officating at a non-Christian wedding


I am a practicing Catholic and have been so since I was 13, however in my early 30s I decided, on a whim really, to get ordained via a non-denominational church (ULC). Recently a friend came to me and related a problem a mutual friend (we'll call him M) is having. M is engaged to get married (I'll call her F), however he is a low-level public servant and cash poor. His parents are deceased and he's managed to save only a little money, most of which has recently gone to purchase a newer (used) car. M's fiancée F is cash poor as well and her parents are also deceased. Neither M nor F are Christian, much less Catholic. In fact I found out that they are 'Celtic neo-pagans' (and after I was done laughing at that I looked that up, laughed some more, and didn't stop until I realized my friend was serious).

My question is this, my friend has offered to allow M and F have their 'hand fasting' marriage ceremony on his property, but both M and F are still worried about not having the money for a minister. My state does not require the officiate to be licensed but some county offices will ask to see the minister's ordination paperwork if a non-civil ceremony is performed. Since it is known to my friends that I was ordained some time ago, I have been asked if I would officiate at their ceremony. I am more than willing to do so however I have some concerns - does this go against the teachings of the Catholic Church? Would I be able to do this and remain a Catholic in good standing with the Church? Is there any other issue I should be aware of that I might be overlooking?

If you intend to be a practicing Catholic you cannot be a functioning ordained minister for another Church.  Being a functioning ordained minister of any Church while at the same time being a practicing Catholic is mutually exclusive.  You have to choose one or the other. If you are going to be a practicing Catholic you have to resign your credentials and ordination--at the very least no longer function as an ordained minister.

If you want to be an ordained minister for the ULC, (Universal Life Church) then do so, but you cannot be a practicing Catholic if that is what you want to do.  This also means that as a practicing Catholic you could not in good conscience perform a wedding.  Many people think when it comes to religion the differences between religions or the Christian sects don't matter.  They do.  They matter greatly.  While all Christians share in common one God and Father, Baptism, and the profession of Faith that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, equal to the Father and Holy Spirit in divinity, they are very different in the details.  We are all brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are not all united or configured perfectly to His Church (The Body of Christ.) What we believe and profess effects our degree of unity with the Body of Christ. This is why you could not be a practicing Catholic yet function as an ordained minister of the ULC

If your friends are concerned about the ability to pay a minister to marry them, I would suggest they stop worrying. I cannot speak for all ministers, obviously, but a minister who is truly a minister should be willing to perform a wedding at no charge if the person cannot afford a stipend.  I know in my Church and in the Catholic Church in general--there are costs associated with a wedding, including my stipend.  However, I waive the costs or reduce the costs if there is legitimate financial need or concern.  Any minister who understands what it is to serve should be willing to do the same if they understand what it is to be a minister--especially a Christian minister.

As a Catholic priest I cannot marry non-Catholics.  I can marry a Catholic to a non-Catholic but only with permission from the bishop. I am not sure how it works with Protestants however.  There are so many Protestant sects that I cannot speak to every one.  They all have their different policy, but you might find a sect that allows their ministers to marry people who are not of their Faith or sect. You might even find another ULC minister who would be willing to marry your friend at no charge.

You must do as you think best--but if you want to be a practicing Catholic (a Catholic in any meaningful sense of the term) you cannot function as an ordained minister for another sect, nor can you perform weddings.  

As an aside: the Universal Life Church is an ordination mill.  They have no real requirements, vetting processes or other controls in place to ensure their ministers are truly qualified for ministry.  Anyone can get ordained for them regardless of ability, etc.  All they have to do is fill out the online form, and they get ordained. Filling out the form is free, but then they offer "packages."  From someone who has been through seminary, and has friends in Protestant churches who are ministers, I can tell you becoming a qualified priest, minister, Rabbi, or other clergy is not an easy process. It takes far more than just filling out a form on a website, paying a fee for an "ordination package" and there is accountability from both the civil law and one's superiors.   

The ULC was founded by Kirby Hensley who was disillusioned by mainstream religion. He founded the church out of his garage.  The thing is---in real denominations Catholic or Protestant there is accountability. If the minister commits some act of negligence, spiritual abuse, crime against someone, etc, the victim has the right to not only pursue damages from the actual minister, but their parish and denomination.  If someone "ordained" through the ULC commits some act of negligence, spiritual abuse, crime against someone, etc, does the victim get to sue the ULC since they ordained them? Where is the accountability? What controls are in place?

In any case, thank you for your question.  I hope my answer helped, even if it was not necessarily the answer you were hoping for.  


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Father Dave Bechtel


I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.


I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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