From a reader…
My next door neighbor (unbaptized) has enrolled her 5 year old daughter in CCD classes at a local parish to have her baptized and receive her first holy communion. She decided to also enroll herself in RCIA and be received into the Church simultaneously with her daughter. However, she hit a snag in that she was informed that in order to proceed, her husband (not religious but supportive of her decision to become Catholic) would need to receive a declaration of nullity for his first marriage. His first marriage ended in a very ugly fashion with him getting custody of his two older sons because their mother was verbally abusive. Being that her husband did not himself decide to become Catholic and not wanting him to have to resurrect some very painful memories going through the annulment process, she instead dropped out of RCIA but has kept her daughter in CCD. I spoke with a deacon I know well who said the parish was wrong to tell her that her husband’s first marriage must receive a declaration of nullity.
Who is correct here?
The deacon is wrong. The parish is right.
The deacon should be informed that he is wrong, lest he continue to spread error. He probably means well, but he is wrong.
Marriage is a covenant involving two people, a man and a woman. It’s either wholly correct or wholly incorrect. It can’t be correct on the part of one spouse, and incorrect on the part of the other. To be married, a man and a woman have to be capable of marriage. To be capable of contracting marriage, both parties must be free to marry; neither one can be married to another.
In this case, because the non-religious husband is already married to his first wife, the Church starts with the presumption that that first marriage is valid. When he and his first wife said, “I do, until death do us part,” we presume they meant it. Since he is already married, he cannot enter into a subsequent marriage. Civil divorce has no power to overturn a valid marriage.
For him to be married validly to the next door neighbor woman in the query, the Church would have to determine that his first marriage was somehow invalid. Only if that can be established and the presumption of validity overturned could this second marriage been considered a valid one.
Were the next door neighbor in this case to be baptized and confirmed, she could not be admitted to Holy Communion. She is currently living in an irregular marriage, which is an objective state of sin.
We don’t welcome people into the Church halfway.
Her marriage situation will have to be rectified before she could be admitted, wholly and entirely, into the Church. This doesn’t mean that she is forbidden to go to Mass or other parish events. But, she does so as a non-Catholic (i.e., no Communion).
Marriage choices have consequences, deep and lasting consequences. We can’t simply wish away difficult situations. Nor can we, in the name of being “pastoral”, ignore the hard truths that some situations present.
Lying to folks about their situations does not bring them closer to the Lord, who is the God of Mercy and Truth. No Truth… no Mercy.
We all can hope and pray that the husband in question loves his second wife enough that the discomfort of investigating his prior attempt at marriage will be a sacrifice he is willing to make.