A growing trend in Japan has couples seeking out priests to conduct Western-style wedding ceremonies, complete with makeshift chapels designed to look like traditional European churches.
The problem is, many of the "priests" they find are fakes -- white Americans and Europeans who find their clerical subterfuge to be a fun and lucrative business.
Even some hotels reportedly are offering the service, putting regular staff members into the priestly role when an imposter from a local agency is not available -- raising the very real possibility that some couples could be "married" by a bellhop.
"In the past, almost all weddings in Japan were Shinto, but in the last few years Western-style weddings have appeared and become very popular," one legitimate Japanese Catholic priest told BBC News. "People like the dress, the kiss and the image. Japanese Christians make up only 1 percent of the country, but now about 90 percent of weddings are in the Christian style."
One actor-priest, an Englishman named Mark Kelly, said the ceremony is about image, not religion, and that there are not enough real Japanese priests around to meet the demand for "church" weddings.
Illegitimate is not unique to Japan. In the United States and elsewhere, many lapsed Catholics who want a "Catholic" wedding anyway simply bypass the Church's canonical rules or sacramental-preparation requirements by hiring a "rent-a-priest" -- usually a priest who has been laicized or who left the ministry but still offers his services for illicit weddings in rented halls, vineyards or private homes.
To the extent that those seeking a "fake" wedding are unaware of their distinction from a legitimate Catholic ceremony, they may be forgiven for their ignorance of the faith.
Those who seek the trappings of a valid sacramental wedding while willfully rejecting Church requirements -- and the false or laicized priests who perpetrate such a ruse -- bear the greater shame for making a sham of a sacred rite.