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Canonical issues in a Schiavo-Centonze marriage

January 23, 2006

1. Michael Schiavo, while married to Terri Schindler-Schiavo, cohabited for several years with Jodi Centonze, a woman he described several times as his “fiancee“.

2. Michael Schiavo, through the instrumentality of the civil courts and various medical personnel, instigated the starvation-dehydration death of his then-incapacitated spouse Terri in March 2005.

3. One who, desirous of marrying a specific third party, is the mandans behind a current spouse’s death, incurs a canonical impediment known as crimen (1983 CIC 1090 § 1).

4. The impediment of crimen can only be dispensed by the Apostolic See (1983 CIC 1078 § 2, 2°).

5. According to press reports, Michael Schiavo just married, in a Catholic ceremony, Jodi Centonze.

6. Nothing suggests that the conditions were present by which a “reserved” dispensation could, if needed in this case, have been granted by lower level ecclesiastical authorities (1983 CIC 1079-1080).

7. The diocesan officer known as the Promoter of Justice is generally “bound by office to provide for the public good” (1983 CIC 1430) and is specifically authorized to challenge the putative validity of any marriage where “the nullity has already become public” (1983 CIC 1674, 2°).

In light of the above, I believe the following questions warrant careful investigation:

A) was a Schiavo-Centonze wedding attempted under color of Catholic canon law; if so,

B) did the pastor of the place or his delegate first verify that “nothing stands in the way of a valid and licit [wedding] celebration” (1983 CIC 1066); specifically,

C) was the impediment of crimen incurred by Michael Schiavo; and, if so,

D) was a dispensation from the impediment sought and duly granted?

Resources: Edward Peters, “Neither Shalt Thou Kill Thy Spouse: A Canonical Aspect of the Terri Schiavo Case” originally appeared in This Rock, January 2004. For an overview of how Promoter of Justice actions under 1983 CIC 1674 would work, see Question 40 in my book, Annulments and the Catholic Church.

Follow-up: Some folks have wondered whether the strict canonical standards that apply to incurring a canonical penalty apply to incurring a matrimonial impediment as well. The answer is No. While ignorance of a penalty means, for most practical purposes, that one does not incur it (1983 CIC 1323, 2° and 1324 § 1, 9°), ignorance of an impediment does not excuse one from incurring it (1983 CIC 15 § 1). If Michael Schiavo has incurred the impediment of crimen in regard to his attempted marriage with Jodi Centonze, that impediment applies regardless of whether he is aware of it or agrees with it.

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