From a reader…
Is it a better option for us to seek a Petrine Privilege rather than go through the usual annulment procedure if my husband was not baptized for his 1st marriage or his marriage to me? His 1st wife was baptized but not religious or monogamous. I have recently converted to Catholicism, and he will allow me to practice my faith without hindrance. We have been “married” for 31 years & have been living as brother/sister for 14 months. The pressure on our relationship is extraordinary. Please help! My priest suggested I contact you with this question.
Your question brings up a difficult pastoral point that comes up with some regularity.
Reverend Fathers: Before baptizing someone, or receiving them into the Church, make sure their marital status is clear! If you have questions, call the local tribunal or a trusted canonist. We mustn’t guide people into difficult situations, and we shouldn’t baptize or receive an adult into the Church and then, later, try to straighten out a problematic marriage situation. Get the marriage situation regularized FIRST! Then proceed with the baptism/profession of faith/confirmation/reception.
Now to the question.
A Petrine privilege, or privilege of the faith, is an indult whereby the Holy Father intervenes, using his authority as Vicar of Christ, to dissolve a non-sacramental marriage so that one of the parties can marry in the Church.
Most Tribunals recommend that people in situations like this pursue a declaration of nullity first. There are both practical and theological reasons for this.
Practically, the process of determining whether a marriage could be declared null takes place locally. Usually, this can be done in about 18 months. A privilege of the faith case, on the other hand, can be more complex. It involves sending the documentation over to the Holy See. It can take longer.
Theologically, it is best before asking the Holy Father if he is willing to wield the awesome Power of the Keys (remember that this is a privilege we’re asking for not a right – the Holy Father can, for various reasons, deny the request), to see if the marriage can be proven to be null. If it’s a null marriage, then the Pope need not dissolve it: it was never established in the first place.