The Archdiocese of Baltimore has announced a policy to allow weddings to be held outside of parish churches, including at outdoor venues.

“The archbishop has been emphatic about reaching out to young people,” Diane Barr, chancellor of the Baltimore archdiocese, told the Catholic Review in an article published June 6. “There is more openness to considering other options.”

The revised policy was promulgated Feb. 14, and is the fruit of conversations with people who want to be married in the Church, but also want to have the wedding at a location special to them.

Since the policy was promulgated, more than 20 requests have been made under its provisions; all have been approved.

The policy states that weddings “ordinarily shall take place in a parish church … While always encouraging the faithful to celebrate their wedding in a place of worship, another venue may be deemed a suitable place by the Archbishop or his delegate.”

The preference is that weddings occur in the parish church of the bride or groom, though they may take place in another parish or a school, university, hospital, or other Catholic chapel.

In addition, the new policy allows for wedding to take place at indoor or outdoor wedding venues which are not Catholic chapels.

School chapels are among the most common requests, the Catholic Review reported.

The request for a wedding outside a parish church is to be made by the preparing cleric to the chancellor's office at least six months in advance of the wedding date.

Non-Catholic wedding venues “should be reasonable and in keeping with a religious celebration. The place of the ceremony should establish a prayerful, sacred feeling for the couple and their guests,” the norms state.

A list giving examples of places unsuitable for weddings mentions boats, and places where alcohol is served as a matter of course, including casinos, bars, and nightclubs.

To be permitted, outdoor venues must also have an indoor venue available in case of inclement weather.

The application for a wedding outside the parish church directs that common sense be applied, providing the guidelines that the venue should be in keeping with the sacredness of the character of Catholic marriage; it should be a physically meaningful place for the couple and provide the couple and their guests with the feeling of sacredness for the occasion; and it may not be a bar, restaurant, boat, or on the water. If the location is not a public venue, the application asks that photos be provided which fully describe the venue.

The application requires that canonical reasons be given for requesting the permission, which might include the spiritual good of the couple; the probability of conversion of a non-Catholic; the validation of a previously invalid marriage, among others. It also asks the cleric to describe the reasons the couple is seeking the permission.

The chancellor will review the petition and reply within 30 days. If the request is declined, the reasons for refusal will be included in the letter, and the decision of the archbishop is final.

“People take getting married very seriously,” Barr reflected. She told the Catholic Review that wanting to get married “in their grandmother’s field, behind the family home” is an important reason.

The norms note that “in a ceremony outside the parish or approved Catholic chapel location, a Liturgy of the Word ceremony with Exchange of Consent and blessings is permitted,” and that “all liturgical norms for weddings continue to apply.”

This norm also permits a priest to celebrate a wedding Mass at a location outside a parish or Catholic chapel; but “given the varied venues the policy did not want to oblige that a Mass be celebrated,” Sean Caine, vice-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, told CNA.

The Baltimore archdiocese noted that requests for venues outside the archdiocese would require the permission of the local bishop and cannot be guaranteed, though the chancery “will work with other dioceses to try to secure the requisite permissions.”

The Catholic Review suggested that popular venues outside the Archdiocese of Baltimore could include the Eastern Shore or Chesapeake Bay, much of which is in the Diocese of Wilmington.

Caine said that there have been requests for venues outside the Baltimore archdiocese, and that nearby dioceses have indicated a willingness to accommodate these requests, “on a case by case basis as long as it involved a cleric from the Archdiocese of Baltimore.”

The permission to use other locations is a one-year experiment. It will be reviewed after a year, and the archdiocese is “keeping detailed records to be able to determine the efficacy of the process as well as its impact on our community,” Caine indicated.

While their processes are distinct, the Diocese of Helena and the Diocese of Harrisburg both have similar policies for permitting weddings outside of parishes.