After Death Do We Part

Like many people, I was disturbed by news of Michael Schiavo’s recent wedding to his fiancée Jody Centonze. As Gudrun Schultz reported on Life Site News, “Michael Schiavo, who had his disabled wife Terri killed last March by refusing her food and water, was re-married last Saturday in the Roman Catholic Church of Espiritu Santo in Florida. Schiavo married Jodi Centonze. He had two children with her during the years he worked towards achieving Terri’s death.”

Yes, you read that right. After bringing about the death of his first wife, a Catholic church allowed Michael to attempt a second marriage within its sacred confines. The report also states: “The Catholic Church of Espiritu Santo, where Michael Schiavo’s second marriage took place, is in Bishop Lynch’s diocese of St. Petersburg.” Being a canon lawyer, I note that this is not the first time Bishop Lynch’s interpretation of canon law has been at odds with that of the Holy See. Nevertheless, I remember that we as lay folk have a duty to pray for our pastors.

Michael Schiavo’s wedding caused quite a stir among Catholic bloggers. One news report noted that there was no homily at the wedding. “The priest offered no homily?” replied Fr. Rob Johansen, a young priest who happens to be a close friend of Terri’s family. “Well, what could the priest say? Don't kill this one, Michael?

One of Mark Shea’s readers was a little more succinct: “I too, am disgusted and outraged.” I sympathize with this fellow, however, I find myself too disgusted to be outraged.

Like my colleague Dr. Ed Peters, I wonder about the validity of Michael and Jody’s marriage. Canon 1090 §1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law is clear: “One who, with a view to entering marriage with a particular person, has killed that person’s spouse, or his or her own spouse, invalidly attempts this marriage.”

Canon 1090's second paragraph is similarly clear: “They also invalidly attempt marriage with each other who, by mutual physical or moral action, brought about the death of either’s spouse.” Thus canon 1090 defines what canonists call the marriage impediment of crime (or crimen).

Setting aside the civil legalities, or the fact he carried out his actions with the blessing of the state, can anyone dispute that Michael Schiavo brought about his wife Terri’s death with the full intention of marrying Jody? After all, throughout his court battles with Terri’s parents Jody was Michael’s fiancée, the mother of his two children and the object of his extra-marital engagement.

Can anyone deny that Jody colluded, at least morally, in this action? This is not a matter of gossip, hearsay or idle speculation. Rather it is a well-documented incident that played out before millions of people for several years. As such, it is a matter of public record.

Thus permission for Michael and Jody’s marriage would have had to come from the Holy See. Unlike most other impediments to marriage, only the Holy See can dispense from the impediment of crime (canon 1078 §2.2). Without this dispensation, the Church would consider such a marriage invalid under normal circumstances. Was such a dispensation sought and obtained from the Holy See?

I do not know with certitude, but I have my personal suspicions. The Holy See usually requires some expression of remorse before even considering a dispensation from crimen. After all, the Church wishes to avoid a repeat incident. And when the case is this public, the Church will often require that the expression of remorse be public.

Neither party appears to have publicly expressed remorse. If they have, the media failed to pick it up. This would include the pro-life media that almost always rejoices over that type of conversion story. Yet given Michael’s recent founding of a political action committee — one dedicated to defeating politicians who attempted to save his former spouse’s life — I think we can safely assume that Michael publicly stands by his actions in bringing about her death. In this light, Michael’s second Catholic wedding is a scandal to Christ’s faithful, if indeed the Church recognizes it as valid.

Rather than stand for this scandal, Catholics should write Francis Cardinal Arinze at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments and ask for an investigation into this matter. Here is His Eminence’s address:

Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prefect

Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments

Palazzo delle Congregazioni

Piazza Pio XII, 10


© Copyright 2006 Catholic Exchange

Pete Vere is a canon lawyer and a Catholic author. He recently co-authored Surprised by Canon Law: 150 Questions Catholics Ask About Canon Law (Servant Books) with Michael Trueman and More Catholic Than the Pope (Our Sunday Visitor) with Patrick Madrid. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Sault Ste. Marie, Canada.

Pete Vere


Pete Vere is a canon lawyer, author, and Byzantine Catholic from Northern Ontario, Canada. He and his wife Sonya have six children. In his few spare moments, when he is not cooking or camping with his family, he enjoys hunting, reading, video games and scotch.

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