Like many Catholics and right-to-life activists, I was shocked to read about Michael Schiavo’s recent Catholic wedding to Jody Centonze. As Gudrun Schultz reported on, “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, Michael and Jody were permitted a Catholic wedding in a the “Catholic Church of Espiritu Santo (located) in Bishop Lynch’s diocese of St. Petersburg.” The location did not surprise me. I have often found Lynch’s interpretation of canon law unique. As a canon lawyer, I am often unable to reconcile his interpretation of canon law with that of the Holy Father. Thus, Lynch is a good example of why lay Catholics should never neglect their canonical duty to pray for their pastors.

Yet, this raises a troubling question: how was Michael and Jody’s wedding conducted according to the Catholic church’s internal law?

Most of the church’s fundamental laws are contained in the Code of Canon Law. This code is divided into 1752 canons, or individual laws. Canon 1090 defines what canonists call the marriage impediment of crime (or crimen).

The first paragraph of Canon 1090 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.” In short, the church will not recognize your marriage if you kill your spouse while hoping to marry another particular person. After all, “Till death due us part” does not mean you can kill your spouse to marry another.

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.” This means that the church will not recognize the marriage of two people who co-operated in killing the spouse of one person or the other. This co-operation may be physical or it may be moral and marriage need not be the original motive for the murder.

For example, Jane and John meet and marry while working for Bill’s accounting firm. While auditing a set of books, Bill discovers that John has embezzled thousands of dollars from a client with whom John is carrying on an extra-marital affair. Bill encourages Jane to shoot her husband. Jane’s action is physical – in shooting her husband, she physically brings about his death. In contrast, Bill’s action is moral – by encouraging Jane to seek revenge for adultery, Bill morally co-operates in John’s murder. Thus, canon law would prohibit Jane and Bill from marrying each other. This is despite the fact revenge was their only motive for murdering John.

No reasonable person can deny that Michael Schiavo brought about his wife Terri’s death with the full intention of marrying Jody. While Terri was still alive, Jody became Michael’s fiancée, the mother of his two children and the object of his extra-marital engagement.

As such, she publicly stood by Michael’s actions in bringing about Terri’s death.  This is moral collusion. I do not make this charge based upon gossip, hearsay or idle speculation. Rather, it is a matter of public record. The civil courts allowed Michael to bring about his wife’s death. Michael and Jody’s actions were well-documented by the media and shared with millions of people.

Unlike most other impediments to marriage, only the Pope and certain high-ranking Vatican officials could permit Michael and Jody to marry in the Cchurch. The second paragraph of Canon 1078 is clear: without this dispensation from Rome, the church will not recognize such a marriage.

While I do not know for certain, I nevertheless find it difficult to believe that Michael and Jody received such a dispensation. First, the Holy See usually requires some expression of remorse before even considering such a dispensation. Second, when the incident is public, the church often requires that the expression of remorse be public.
Neither Michael nor Jody appear to have publicly expressed remorse for their involvement in Terri’s death. Not even the pro-life media has reported such an incident. Yet, Michael recently founded a political organization to help defeat politicians who tried to save Terri’s life. This suggests to me that Michael is not remorseful. Thus, Michael’s Catholic wedding to Jody – if indeed the church recognizes it – is a scandal to every Catholic, pro-marriage activist and to every married person with a disability.

Pete Vere is co-author of Surprised by Canon Law.