Vatican views on the Middle East; Officiating at wedding
Q. I am a faithfully practicing Catholic and read the Bible daily. As a supporter of Israel, I see their task in protecting the Holy Land as difficult but necessary. I find it hard to accept the Vatican's proposal of a two-state agreement as a solution to the woes of the Middle East. I base my opinion on the history of the Palestinians' actions and on their too-close affiliation with the terrorist organization Hamas. I feel guilty disagreeing with the Vatican, but I see this personally as the moment to side with Israel. Because of my Catholic faith, am I wrong to think this way? (Plainfield, Indiana)
A. The Vatican has long believed that the way to peace in the Middle East is best served by the creation of two separate independent nations living side by side. In a May 2014 visit to Tel Aviv, for example, Pope Francis called for the "universal recognition" of "the right of the state of Israel to exist and flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders." At the same time, Pope Francis said "there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement."
The position of the Vatican is that both parties should respect the legitimacy of the other with no recourse to violence. As Pope Benedict XVI told the president of Israel in 2009, "A nation's true interest is always served by the pursuit of justice for all."
To your question, the Catholic Church acknowledges that all issues of public policy do not carry the same moral weight and that there is a hierarchy of values. Stances regarding intrinsic evil - on racism, for example, or on the unborn child's right to life - have special claim to a Catholic's conscience.
There are other issues, though - such as health care, immigration and foreign policy - where moral teaching, prudential judgment and political strategies are intermingled. On these, the positions taken by the church, while deserving of thoughtful examination, do not carry the same binding authority. The two-state solution in the Middle East is one of these, and you are free to disagree.
Q. Two friends (who are in their 40s) asked me to "officiate" at their wedding. The bride is a baptized Catholic and the groom was previously married. They claim that a person can go online and become licensed in their state (in this case, Georgia) to perform weddings and some other ceremonies.
Though I was honored to be asked, I said no because I think that, since marriage is a gift from God, a wedding should be performed by a priest, deacon or other ordained minister. That said, I am curious as to what the position of the church might be on a Catholic layman's "officiating" at a wedding. (Atlanta)
A. I have seen websites, such as the one for Universal Life Church, which offers "online ordination." A Catholic could not accept such an offer even if his state were to recognize it because it would imply that you had joined that church and that you are a minister of a non-Catholic religion.
You properly declined the invitation from your friends. As to whether a Catholic layman can ever officiate at a wedding, under certain circumstances that is allowed. A Catholic judge or justice of the peace, if authorized by the state to preside at civil weddings, may do so if those marrying are non-Catholic and not bound by Catholic marriage law with no obvious impediments to the marriage.