ASK FATHER: Converting to Catholicism. Do we need convalidation of marriage?

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I am in RCIA and am scheduled to be confirmed at Easter. I was raised Baptist and baptized as a teenager, as was my husband, but we had both left church and were only married civilly. I am converting to Catholicism. My husband is not and is hostile to Christianity. I asked my pastor about this and he said our marriage would be made OK when I was confirmed and that convalidation would not be needed, but everything I have read seems to say otherwise.

Also, there is a good change we may end up divorcing, so would it be wrong to have a convalidation if one is needed, knowing that upfront?

If not, should I hold off on confirmation, go through with it but abstain from the Eucharist until my marriage situation is sorted out and made valid, or what?

Thanks for your helps, and for the wise words and straight talk on your blog.

I double-checked on this with a good canonist.

It seems your pastor is telling you the truth. At the time you married your husband, if I’m reading this correctly, neither of you were Catholic. Therefore, presuming it was a first marriage for both of you, all that was needed to make that marriage valid was a valid act of consent (“I do”). That marriage is presumed valid.  When you enter the Catholic Church, you bring that presumed-valid marriage into the Church with you, as it were. There is no need for a new marriage, or a convalidation, or a blessing.

You raise the prospect of the marriage possibly ending in divorce. That is definitely something you should talk about with your pastor.

Divorce is serious business and should not be considered lightly.

If the reason for a possible divorce is the tension created by your new-found faith and your husband’s apparent hostility to Christianity, that should be discussed.  Perhaps counseling would help. Propose professional counseling, if your husband is unwilling to attend pastoral counseling. Divorce should not be seen as an inevitability.

Pray for your husband. His hostility to the Church might be something that can be overcome by your prayers and the witness of your own joy in embracing the faith.

ASK FATHER: Converting to Catholicism. Do we need convalidation of marriage?
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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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10 Responses to ASK FATHER: Converting to Catholicism. Do we need convalidation of marriage?

  1. Priam1184 says:

    God be with this reader. She’s got a heavy cross to bear.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    ” I asked my pastor about this and he said our marriage would be made OK when I was confirmed and that convalidation would not be needed…”

    Those two thoughts don’t go together. I suspect the pastor got it right, and it is being miscommunicated here. Anyway, bowih, the marriage already “OK”, and conversion, even Confirmation, will have zero canonical effect on it (it’s ALREADY sacramental, though neither of you likely knew it).

  3. ReginaMarie says:

    Asking the intercession of St. Monica for the above reader’s husband.

  4. JacobWall says:

    I appreciate the sound advice given here. I know many, many laypeople who are hesitant, for some reason or another, to approach their priest directly about any “tricky” situation that they are going through. I’ve been through that myself (for a completely different kind of situation.) It’s natural to worry about telling a priest about something problematic, but it really does help to sit down and talk about these things. It’s also nice to keep the admission of problems to the security of the confessional, but some issues require a different kind of help – especially a situation like this where the reader has not yet divorced but foresees this in the future.

    From the note, I don’t think it’s clear if this woman has talked to a priest, or if she hasn’t if the reason is that she’s worried about him finding this out. But if this is the case, it’s MUCH better to start talking about this now and getting help immediately rather than waiting it’s a question of having kept something like this in the closet for a few years and then trying to sort it out.

    I have found my priests to be very approachable and supportive. I’ve been involved in both situations – working through an issue ahead of time, and working through an issue after it’s been kept under the covers for too long; the first is definitely easier.

    This reader will do well to follow Fr. Z’s advice.

  5. everett says:

    The tricky part here is that both are baptized Christians, thus there is the assumption of sacramental validity, and yet, as Peters mentioned in a recent post, they don’t have the option that two Catholics would have of lacking form. Lacking the simpler signs of nullity, they’d have to go through the full process, and it might be helpful to discuss with a canonist, or pastor with significant experience with the tribunal process.

    In any case, congratulations on your coming into the Church,!

  6. DaveH says:

    “You raise the prospect of the marriage possibly ending in divorce. That is definitely something you should talk about with your pastor.
    Divorce is serious business and should not be considered lightly.
    If the reason for a possible divorce is the tension created by your new-found faith and your husband’s apparent hostility to Christianity, that should be discussed. Perhaps counseling would help. Propose professional counseling, if your husband is unwilling to attend pastoral counseling. Divorce should not be seen as an inevitability.
    Pray for your husband. His hostility to the Church might be something that can be overcome by your prayers and the witness of your own joy in embracing the faith.”

    Thank You, Father, for the wise counsel given to the lady. Pro-active efforts in preserving a marriage is/should be the first recourse in marital troubles and not simply a shrug of the shoulders and say “Oh, Well, marriages fail”. If for no other reason than for the sake of any children, every couple in troubled marriages should avail themselves of counseling, especially the Spiritual. We spouses tend to forget we should be trying to sanctify our wife/husband at the same time we are trying to sanctify our children, but how can we do so if we allow the rancor of marital woes to interfere with the necessary forgiveness of our spouses wrongs? Christ forgave his persecutors from the Cross;can we do no less?

  7. St. Epaphras says:

    To the OP: Don’t limit God re your marriage. You are entering the Catholic Church. Offer everything for your husband’s conversion and for your marriage. Be a saint. God can do absolutely anything. The very thing you thought was the Last Straw in your marriage can turn the other way over night. Don’t waste the suffering and don’t waste the abundant graces of the sacraments once you are Catholic. Love your husband, support him, respect him, meet his needs, don’t argue, be pleasant, but through your life let him know you are on a ROCK now and that’s where you live and trust and are secure.

    God bless you and your marriage. Praying for you.

  8. GloriaIED says:

    As a convert who was in much the same situation seven years ago, let me recommend Lynn Nordhagen’s book “When Only One Converts“. And, of course, patience, prayer and love.

  9. Rachel K says:

    I will be praying for this reader and her husband. How courageous to pursue Christ in such difficult circumstances. God Bless.

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