A friend based in Manila said that her parish charged her Php400 to post their marriage bann. “Ripoff,” she wrote on Facebook. I replied that I hope she is consoled by the fact that I had to pay Php1,300 to post at my parish three years ago. In a country where almost half of the population live on less than Php100 a day, what the churches charge to secure this requirement to get married is truly outrageous and shameless.
Before we got married, I had to explain to my husband several times what a marriage bann is as he has never heard of it. It is a public announcement – essentially a piece of paper with photos – usually posted on a parish bulletin board reporting who’s getting married, to whom, and when. Different churches charge different amounts, ranging from Php150 to Php700 but the parish that I was required to post the bann at was extreme at Php1,300. I never went to that particular parish (and was getting married in a different church) but because my home address was under their jurisdiction, I had no choice. After a set period of time after posting the marriage bann, you get a clearance from the parish stating that no one has objected to your impending marriage.
The odd thing is (and I learned this only recently), the Catholic Church has abolished this requirement in 1983. Why it’s still being practiced in the Philippines, I can only attribute to its sheer profitability since marriage banns have absolutely zero usefulness. I sent an email to no less than the Archbishop of Manila (Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales) raising the matter to him and a certain Fr. Edgardo Coroza (whose official designation is “Vicar Forane of the Vicariate of Loreto” – I’m not sure what this means) got back to me with a lengthy exposition justifying the parish’s right to collect Php1,300 for posting marriage banns. I can provide the entire exposition to anyone interested, but the paragraph that bothered me the most was this:
With the practice in Sta. Mesa Church, they are following an old system where it is stated clearly that 30% of the amount to be paid in the place of the celebration of the sacrament will be collected from the parties and which will deducted supposedly from the amount to be paid in the place of celebration. In your case, I was told that you said that the church where you will be married asks of you some amount of PHP 9,000.00. The coverage of this amount as to the preparations the church personnel will do in order to assist in your celebration, I do not know. But, I believe you have agreed to answer for the financial obligation imposed on you. Let it be known that this choice of yours has already deprived your parish of origin, I suppose it is Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, of the support that you could have given to the said parish. Hence, the system of collecting some amount for a simple posting facilitates the return of share of support to the parish of your origin. And the amount that Sta. Mesa is not the exact computation of the 30% in their papers. They limit it to PHP 1,000.00 for the permission and PHP 300.00 for the banns. (emphasis mine)
This sounds to me like a business transaction. I see no difference from restaurants charging a corkage fee for bringing in your own drinks or drinks from other establishments. And this doesn’t sit well with me. My main problem is not that I “feel burdened by the amount being asked” (quoting Fr. Coroza’s exposition) or that I find the fee “inconvenient” as, I feel, he unfairly assumed, but that it appears in his line of argument that God and the sacraments are equated with money. Fr. Coroza wrote that “no amount of money is enough for the gifts of God,” that is true, but it doesn’t sit well with me that the Church even conceives of bringing in the discourse of money into spiritual matters. His arguments begin with the presumption that God wants my money and this I feel is a disgrace to the Church. I sense echoes of the Protestant Reformation here and how the Church used and abused the sale of indulgences. I wonder whether the Church, who claims that grace is free, would still give us a blessing if we do not pay a single centavo.
As to the very rationale for marriage banns, Fr. Coroza wrote:
The reason why there is a posting of banns regarding the celebration of the sacrament by a particular person is to determine the total freedom of the same person to enter into the relationship without any hindrance like a previous marriage. The posting of the marriage banns is done in the parish or parishes of origin of the contracting parties. In your case, you bring your marriage banns to Sta. Mesa because it is presumed that you belong to that parish. And attached to this practice is the collection of certain amount from the parties. And any amount the parish collects is for the particular mission of that parish.
His explanation is very clearly a textbook example of quid pro quo (a favor granted in return for something), and I find it an abomination that it appears that the Church is using the sacraments as an excuse to get money, or what he softened by saying that the “financial considerations” are “meant to support the mission of the Church”. To even tie money (something temporal and profane) with the sacraments (something spiritual) disgraces the sacrament and it takes something away from the sacrament.
Marriage banns serve no purpose and here are five reasons why:
- The church requires both parties contracting marriage to obtain a CENOMAR or Certificate of No Marriage from the National Statistics Office, an official document proving that they are single.
- Marriage banns and the way they are done are ineffective in determining whether there are objections to the marriage:
- My marriage bann was posted in a parish that I don’t even go to. The parishioners there do not know me.
- How many people actually read that small sheet of paper? Wouldn’t it be more effective if an ad was published in the national newspapers with a number where objections to the marriage can be raised?
- In this age of globalization, people are so mobile. It might be more effective to check on someone through the internet.
- Marriage Banns imply that I need the Church to check up on my partner, a very paternalistic and patronizing approach which assumes that the parties contracting marriage are not mature enough to trust their own judgement.
- The Church is making me participate in a “service” that I did not ask nor feel the need for.
Collecting a fee for a service that is obviously ineffective and irrelevant is, sorry I have no other name for it, scamming.
I feel very sad because the upfront fee that the Church is asking is an outright message of exclusivity – that is, exclusive to those who pay. Catholic means ‘universal,’ and how sad is it that I do not feel that the Catholic Church is being universal and inclusive. Fr. Coroza wrote in his exposition that people are “free to give according to their financial capacity” but, as a social psychologist who has worked with low income groups, I know for a fact that poor people will not say anything. They will not speak up because they do not know how. They will either scrimp and save to get that amount to pay the Church, or they will opt not to receive the sacraments since it’s cheaper to get married civilly. While I may not even leave a dent on Church policies, I feel it my obligation to speak for those who do not have a voice against, yes, this outrageous and ridiculous fee (I stand by my words to the Archbishop and to Fr. Coroza) that goes against my spiritual sensibilities.
This experience has led to a growing distaste for the Catholic Church in the Philippines. My husband said, “How ironic that getting married in a Catholic country led me to lose my faith in the Catholic Church. What should have been a joyful celebration of one of the seven sacraments, turned into a bureaucratic hoop jumping process with paperwork, payments, and perfunctory interviews at each step. I expected the Church I loved to embrace me, not treat me as a money-making opportunity.” I couldn’t have said it any better.