Getting Married in Italy; a Referendum Fizzles

Where There’s a Will There’s a Way

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By Catherine Smibert

ROME, JUNE 16, 2005 ( Marrying in the heart of Christendom is just a dream to many Catholics, but one that can become a reality too. I know because I just did it.

May 28 saw me exchanging vows in a medieval basilica built on foundation stones laid by St. Peter and blessed by Pope John Paul II: the ancient cathedral of the Sabine valley.

The occasion and locale had a number of highlights. The locale boasted a variety of holy relics, as well as exquisite architecture and artwork — all set off by the flora of the surrounding countryside.

And all this and more could be yours, if you are willing to do the bureaucratic work.

Foreigners wishing to marry in Italy should contact the Italian authorities via their nation’s embassy about the legal requirements. Embassy Web sites have pages dedicated to this aspect.

Though a little tough, all procedures are actually easier when neither of the spouses-to-be is Italian. Since my new husband is Roman, we had to follow an extra detailed «to do» list in order to be wed.

We had to participate in a six-week marriage preparation course (not a bad idea, really) at Mirko’s local parish, regardless of our own outside spiritual preparations. Only then could our marriage banns be published. And they had to be posted up to two weeks in his parish and the one I grew up in Australia.

These announcements had also to be drawn up separately by the state and posted for extended viewing periods in local government offices.

By contrast, two non-Italians marrying would only have to produce written statements for the bride and groom, testifying that they were free to enter into marriage in the Catholic Church. Such couples would then only need to have their religious certificate stamped to make it internationally recognized.

An American friend who married here last year, Andrea Kirk Assaf, told me: «I had no model to follow, but my research led me to two wonderful Web sites — that of my embassy and of the American church in Rome, Santa Susanna’s.»

Indeed, Santa Susanna’s, along with places such as the Irish
College, specializes in Rome weddings for English-speakers. The former even offers particular assistance with the Vatican itself.

The Vatican is even easier in some ways. Wherever you are married in Rome, the wedding requires both civil and ecclesiastical authorization, while at the Vatican they are combined.

If you cannot get to Rome for your holy union, you can still benefit from papal blessings, either in parchment or in person.

We were fortunate to have parchment blessings from both Pope John Paul II (having placed our request prior to his passing) and then Benedict XVI, as well as a personalized telegram from the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, on behalf of the new Holy Father.

These can be ordered via the Ufficio delle Benedizione (Blessings Office) via fax (39-06-698-83132). Or for more information, you can call 39-06-698-83133.

My husband and I, in our wedding outfits, are looking forward to meeting the Holy Father at his general audience next Wednesday, June 22. With «sposi novelli» (newlywed) tickets in hand, obtained via a fax request to the Pontifical Household (39-06-698-85863), we will arrive in our wedding attire as expected.

Benedict XVI might not necessarily bless the couples individually as his predecessor did, but rather as a whole group. Either way, Mirko and I are thrilled about the wonderful opportunity to mix faith and romance in true Roman style.

* * *

«No» for the Sake of Life

Church groups have expressed a sense of victory at the failure of a four-part referendum intended to dismantle Italy’s assisted-fertility laws.

The ballot, held last Sunday and Monday, failed to reach the 50% quorum necessary to modify existing legislation on in vitro fertilization and embryonic research.

Impressed with the outcome, I spoke with some of the people about how the pro-life voice was heard over the din of the politicians and media.

For one, it is generally agreed that most of the heat of the debate could be felt in Rome under the strong leadership of their Bishop, Benedict XVI, who had been expressly calling for people not to vote.

The rest of Italy followed suit with their bishops’ conference urging all Catholics to boycott the vote.

Most of the papers, posters and television coverage slammed this stance, using celebrities to back their campaigning. Monica Bellucci was quoted demanding, «How can a priest know what’s best for my eggs?»

But the Italian people, with the help of active Catholic groups such as the bishops’ new Science and Life committee counteracted this bombardment with its own posters, lecture series, publications, Internet sites and blog banners.

Dr. Paola Binetti, co-president of Science and Life, told me how hard the committee members worked under the encouragement of the vicar of Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini. «The people tended to respect the involvement of the Church at this level,» she said.

Binetti explained how unique a case it was. The Church had expressed moral views during past national referendums, such as those on divorce (1974) and abortion (1981), but it had never expressly told the people what their response should be.

As Science and Life representatives explained, the immorality of this situation did not lie in the complex subject itself so much as it lay in asking people to vote on it without their having any real understanding of the arguments at hand.

«It was all about demystifying the arguments and the confounding slogans in order to demonstrate the truth behind the game,» explained Binetti.

«The most important factor was working together as Christians, scientists, medics, families and especially females to denounce the sophism that lay beneath questions presented by the politicians such as ‘vote for the liberty of research’; ‘for the health and self-determination of woman’; ‘for the right to maternity’ — all strong, captivating slogans.»

Binetti’s co-president of Science and Life, Dr. Bruno Dallapiccola, added: «Despite the work carried out by the different political parties, Italy’s citizens feel liberated and have decided to think for themselves. By not voting, they’re saying more than just ‘It’s not OK to use embryos for experimentation.’ They’re demanding balanced information.»

The current laws, approved last year, ban egg and sperm donations as well as embryo research and freezing, and allow only three eggs at a time to be fertilized in the test tube for a variety of reasons.

«Before then,» explained Dallapiccola, «there were huge excesses of embryos being discarded. Out of 100 produced, only 15 would be used so this 85% destruction rate initiated the laws, and one lobby deemed it best to use the rest for stem-cell research. No media was explaining the fact that this would not necessarily be the case and what it really meant …»

Perhaps the secular media underestimated the power of the «Io Non Voto» (I’m not voting) posters, which featured leading female scientists on them. These posters were in stark contrast to those of the opposite side of the debate, which featured bikini-clad models.

There were also the youth groups who arranged «info stalls» around the squares of Rome, along with bioethical Weblog discussions. These saw true «conversions of thought,» according to one blog director, Concita di Simone.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone of Genoa is convinced that the failure of the referendum is a clear sign of the people’s natural will, when correctly informed, «to protect the life of the unborn.»

This is the hope of Science and Life co-
president Binetti: «I hope that more and more people will feel called to express their views and intervene with their choices for life.»

* * *

Catherine Smibert can be reached at

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