Priests Forbidden to Perform Weddings on Cruise Ships

The Catholic Church plans to issue new guidelines intended to clarify the role of priests on cruise ships, one of which forbids them from performing weddings while at sea.

Regional directors for the Church's Apostleship of the Sea program met at the Vatican on February 9th to set and ratify new guidelines for chaplains working on board cruise ships, according to a report by the Catholic News Service on Friday, February 12th.

While the new rules do prevent priests from celebrating Catholic weddings while sailing the high seas, priests will be authorized to offer blessings to newlyweds or couples celebrating wedding anniversaries. Priests will maintain their ability to perform daily and Sunday Masses, as well as ecumenical prayer when required.

The report also encourages priests to make their services available not only to cruisers, but to all cruise passengers, including the cruise ship crew and talent. Priests are even persuaded to attend staff meetings while on board to better understand the issues facing ship workers.

In exchange for services, the guidelines ask cruise lines to provide each priest with everything needed to celebrate Mass, like chalices and vestments, as well as a private cabin and all standard meals.

The new "Cruise Ship Ministry Guidelines" were prompted by the recent growth of the cruise ship industry and come only weeks after Celebrity Cruises discontinued their practice of regularly carrying priests on their ships.

The report states that seven cruise lines sailing out of the United States currently use the Apostleship of the Sea's services.

Inconsistencies across the industry presented problems when drafting the guidelines, which were meant to apply to cruises servicing a variety of different locations. While Italian cruise ships have priests that are integrated into the cruise ship staff as commissioned officers, many U.S. companies carry volunteer priests who exchanged their services for free accommodations.

"In Italy the priests go as part of the crew, while in the U.S.A. the priests go as part of their 'R and R',–there is a big difference," Father Bruno Ciceri told the Catholic News Service. "But at last we will have a common policy on many aspects of having Catholic chaplains on cruises."

The official guidelines are scheduled to be published later this year.
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