Norway Catholic Clergy Opt Out of Civil Marriages

News: Crisis in the Church
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by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  April 25, 2016   

Oslo bishop wants to separate Catholic marriage from civil ceremony to avoid marrying gays

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OSLO ( - Bishop Bernt Eidsvig of Oslo is saying his priests should stop officiating civil weddings while conducting Catholic marriages. He's doing so to protect his priests from eventually being ordered by the state to perform so-called same-sex marriages.

In Norway, as in the United States, a priest signs the the couple's civil marriage certificate after they receive the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. In this way the clergy is acting as agents of the state in conducting civil marriages.

In 2009, Norway legalized civil marriage for gays but but left it up to the various churches to develop a liturgy for them, which Lutherans refused to do until now.

The Church of Norway, to which three fourths of all Norwegians belong, last week overwhelmingly approved church weddings for same-sex couples. Bishop Eidsvig now fears the day will soon come when his priests will be ordered to perform weddings for homosexual couples.

"But politicians may now get aggressive toward churches who resist these weddings," Bishop Eidsvig told Catholic News Service, "so the best option is for us to stop conducting marriages on the state's behalf."

The bishop is now seeking counsel from the Vatican on how to implement such a split. Eidsvig related, "It's clear we must distinguish our own Church marriages from others. This is a matter of liturgy, so it doesn't necessarily reflect broader change in our society's moral values."

Bishop Eidsvig's solution is a reflection of the plan Abp. Charles Chaput of Philadelphia proposed at a talk in October 2014, where he suggested "the Church should get out of the civil marriage business altogether."

Chaput affirmed,

The issue now becomes how aggressive gay issue activists will be in punishing and discriminating against those with traditional views. ... Refusing to conduct civil marriages now, as a matter of principled resistance, has vastly more witness value than being kicked out of the marriage business later by the government, which is a likely bet.


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Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.

Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th. is a staff writer for

Follow Bradley on Twitter: @BradleyLEli