“I find your lack of faith … invalidating.”

All around Rome there is buzz that soon we may be seeing something from the Holy See about the issue of Communion for divorced/remarried couples.  Of course there would be, right?  There is a synod on the family coming up.

This is a burning issue. The flames of the issue were recently fanned when a second rate official of a new vacant (lacking a bishop) diocese in Germany issued on his own a statement contrary to the Church’s laws that the d/remarried would be given Communion, no problemo. See canonist Ed Peters This is why we have Canon 428.

I am told by those who know things that next week we may see something in L’Osservatore Romano on the questions.  I doubt it will be an official document.  It’ll probably by just an essay, which is not uncommon for L’O.  But it would not be nothing.  [UPDATE: I should I have look at today’s – rather, tomorrow’s (23 Oct) – issue.  Thanks to a reader who caught it and posted in the combox.  Archbp. Müller of CDF, no less.  HERE  The next day’s issue of L’O is released the afternoon before, Rome time. I wrote this before that hour.]

Furthermore, before I left the states for the Italian pilgrimage and this subsequent time in Rome, I had been told by a bishop somewhere or other that one of the ideas that was being explored was something that then Card. Ratzinger had advanced back in the 1990’s. I was going to write about this back then, but … I got busy.

At Vatican Insider there was something about this back in 2012 HERE:

Benedict XVI himself admits that communion for divorced and remarried persons is an open question. He spoke about it in a meeting with the priests of the diocese of Aosta on July 25, 2005 and, more officially, in his speech to the Roman Rota, on 28 January 2006. Both times, the Pope urged them to “deepen” a particular case: the possible invalidity of a marriage in the Church celebrated without faith, for those who, having passed to a second union, have returned to the practice of Christian life and request communion.

More on that Ratzingerian essay from Magister: HERE

The idea is this: if putative marriages can be said to have been null on the basis of psychological immaturity or inability to make a commitment, etc. (a common rubber-stamp reason in Canon Law used by marriage tribunals far and wide for a long time – happily now abating), then perhaps we might be able to say the same thing about putative marriages in which the couple really had no concept of or knowledge of or intention of faith.

Think about this: we are in a post-Christian society in many places in the world.  Many who were baptized, perhaps children of parents to baptized for the sake of appeasing gramma and who themselves had no idea of what the Catholic Faith is, who never had either the faith by which  we believe (qua – the virtue) or faith in which we believe (quae – the content of doctrine, etc.),  might not actually be married sacramentally even though they married another baptized Catholic and went through the form of the sacrament of matrimony without a single flaw in the form.

You could look at all the documents and say that, yes, they are married and there ought to be a sacrament binding them.  But… really?  Juridically yes.  More deeply, theologically?  And, if so, can that be determined with moral certitude?

This is an old argument.  Like I said, Ratzinger tossed this out there back in the 1990’s.

However, as I was catching up on email and blogs after our anabasis in Italy, I noted this posted on an Italian blog I look at… back on 9 October.

E Ratzinger risponde: 5 obiezioni e 5 risposte dell’ex-Papa sulla pastorale dei divorziati risposati … And Ratzinger responds: 5 objections and 5 responses from the ex-Pope on the pastoral (approach to) the divorced and remarried.

Lo and behold, the blog post begins with the very issue I have been hearing rumblings about for several weeks.

The game’s afoot, friends.

I can’t imagine what would happen in tribunals far and wide were some “solution” like this adopted and somehow enshrined in a change to the Code of Canon Law.

I can picture sweat breaking out on the brows of canonists who are reading this. They will need to stock up on their midnight oil and Mystic Monk Coffee.

There are seriously theological thorns in the proposal that “incapacity” due to insufficient faith might be somehow identifiable in such a way that a tribunal (for there would still have to be a tribunal process – marriages have juridical effects and the proper process of discernment and judging has to be involved) could declare a sacrament never took place on the basis of the lack of faith of two proven baptized Catholics who, even though they were psychologically mature in every respect, were insufficiently mature from the point of view of faith (both fides qua and quae).


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  1. Supertradmum says:

    What a slap in the face this would be to change rules concerning reception of Communion for those divorced and remarried for those of us who have gone through the lengthy and painful process of annulment. That the Church does not recognized divorce is a long-standing truth. That we recognized annulments is an altogether different theological position. What is being put forward as explained above is a movement away from objective truth to a subjective view of marriage. I have been under the impression my entire life, that the Catholic Church bases moral decisions not on so-called subjective criteria, but objective criteria which can be judged.

    Lacking faith is so highly subjective that I cannot even imagine decisions being made from this point of view. And, are we dumbing down marriage, stating that people need to fully understand what marriage in the Catholic Church is on the day? Is not marriage one sacrament wherein we grow to understand love and living from being two to becoming one? By the way, as you know, Fr. Z., immaturity is not grounds for an annulment. This is a worrying development, hinting at a relativistic view of morality, rather than the age-old ways of judging right, wrong, sin, etc.

  2. tm30 says:

    That would make nearly every marriage taking place in this day and age de facto invalid. The vast majority of couples who marry in the Church today leave the faith completely within 2 years and become self-identified “nones” (if they aren’t already when they approach the altar). At least that’s what our diocesan department for family ministry tells us.

  3. mike cliffson says:

    Surely , Father , it would be the same as confession is always and ecclesiatical tribunals are already – if one lies,not just muddled thinking , deliberate lies, there may outwardly be absolution, in confession, a or a decree of nullity, in an ecclesiatical tribunal , but inwardly and spiritually deliberate lying means all bets are off?
    but is “psychologically mature in every respect, insufficiently mature( for marriage) from the point of view of faith ” possible? I can see “insufficiently mature” the old one , for all that it was a copout , hence restricted, described a truth notable beyond a tribunal in many cases – but sure ly people are psychologically immature BECAUSE of secular society AND lack of faith.
    Part of my 50s childhood was spent in a quarter catholic,a bit clanny withit, a bit suspicious of anything new, from outside, modern, or different, a longhistory of recusants,bleak, weatherswept, isolated upper Teesdale.Radio, yes, cinemas, yes,one Tv and one car in the whole street, popular memory of the pilgrimage of grace and who had martyrs in their ancestry. Perhaps that, perhaps the historic hardships of eking out a living on the moors, perhaps wartime memories as well – children were still expected to be grownup as soon as necessary. The ambience fit thiseas of the scots following the church on 14 year-old marriage , boys of 11 even deciding apprenticeships , stuff like that.
    I lost – my feelings – a friend under ten to minor seminary – I am totally certain he knew perfectly well what he was doing, what he would give up and gain , was sure God wanted him to go and be a priest.
    I don’t think he was immature in the faith nor phsycologically, just under ten years of age. Was I wrong?

  4. jhayes says:

    Francis said:

    “We are on the path for a more profound pastoral care of marriage. And, this is a problem for all, because there are so many, right? For instance, I’ll tell you of just one, Cardinal Quarracino,, my predecessor, said that for him half of all marriages are null. That’s what he said. Why? Because they are married without maturity, they get married without realizing that it’s for an entire lifetime, or they are married because socially they must get married.

    And in this also pastoral care of marriage is a factor. And also the judicial problem of the nullity of marriage, that must be revisited, because the ecclesiastical courts aren’t enough for this.”


  5. Archbishop Müller of the CDF on the indissolubility of marriage in today’s L’Osservatore Romano:

    ‘Reconciliation through sacramental confession, which opens the way to reception of the Eucharist, can only be granted in the case of repentance over what has happened and a “readiness to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage.” Concretely this means that if for serious reasons, such as the children’s upbringing, the new [merely civil] union cannot be dissolved, then the two partners must “bind themselves to live in complete continence”.’
    ‘Even if there is no possibility of admitting remarried divorcees to the sacraments, in view of their intrinsic nature, it is all the more imperative to show pastoral concern for these members of the faithful, so as to point them clearly towards what the theology of revelation and the Magisterium have to say. The path indicated by the Church is not easy for those concerned. Yet they should know and sense that the Church as a community of salvation accompanies them on their journey. Insofar as the parties make an effort to understand the Church’s practice and to abstain from communion, they provide their own testimony to the indissolubility of marriage.’

  6. philosoph0123 says:

    Actually, I think that this is fully understandable…but then it should also be the case that no one should receive the privilege of a Catholic nuptial Mass (or even a marriage in a church) unless the celebrant has confidence that both members of the couple does have “sufficient” faith. If it is not a marriage because of insufficient faith, then there should be safeguards to ensure that such “false marriages” are not sanctioned by their taking place in a holy place.

    (OK, this was a bit fast, but I have to go!)

  7. joan ellen says:

    Oh, dear. Another custom is being established. Is it just a matter of time for yet another recognitio to be put forth. Supertradmum, it is for sure “…a worrying development…”

    We keep praying…but not enough of us… We keep working…but not enough of us… BUT…we must keep doing both…AND also pray and work, not necessarily harder, rather, smarter.

    To promote family…I encourage the parents and non-parents to have babies, make a big deal over the babies with a little card, ask the older children how school, etc. are going, ‘hang’ with the young people/young families, and affirm, affirm, affirm family.

    One young adult man believes family should all live close to each other, and that the father has a great responsibility for being father.

    tm30 says: “That would make nearly every marriage taking place in this day and age de facto invalid.” May I add…most of those marriages not of this day and age would also be invalid.

  8. OrthodoxChick says:

    Last I knew, the priest who will be conferring the Sacrament of Matrimony on a couple is supposed to meet with them several times in the months prior to their wedding. Isn’t the point of those meetings supposed to be precisely so that the priest can get to know the couple and thereby be better able to discern whether or not he should go ahead and proceed with conferring the Sacrament? I realize that these days, such meetings can descend into discussions solely focusing on the music, the unity candle, how the pews should be decorated, etc. But it seems to me that if the Vatican is going to try to invent some work-around for canon law on the grounds that any particular bride and groom “lack faith” in order to validly receive the Sacrament of Matrimony, shouldn’t some of the burden for determining “lack of faith” rest with the priest who chooses to confer the Sacrament in the first place?

    There’s a recently married couple who belong to my former N.O. parish. They met one another at various church functions while they were both still legally and Sacramentally married to other people, but also legally separated from their spouses. The husband had married his first wife in the Catholic Church. The wife had married her first husband in the Lutheran church and later converted to Catholicism toward the end of that first marriage. Once their civil divorces were final, they both obtained decrees of nullity of their first marriages prior to re-marrying one another in my former N.O. Catholic parish (they were not married by the current pastor there). The wife told me that when she went back to the Lutheran minister who married her to her first husband (apparently in order to complete whatever paperwork was required by the Diocesan marriage tribunal) she had to explain her situation to him. According to her, the Lutheran minister chuckled and told her that he knew the marriage would never last anyway and he felt that she should not have married her first husband at all.

    Now, that minister was Lutheran, but honestly, there have to be some, perhaps even many, Catholic priests who marry couples against their better judgement. So if a priest has concerns about “lack of faith” (or any other reason, for that matter) of a couple and confers a Sacrament upon them anyway, how is that to be regarded in all of these reconsiderations of Communion of divorced/remarried Catholics?

    Does the burden of being properly disposed to receive a Sacrament rest solely on the recipient(s) or does it rest on both the recipient(s) and the minister of the Sacrament?

  9. Jim in VT says:

    “…if putative marriages can be said to have been null on the basis of psychological immaturity…”

    This has always been troubling to me. My wife and I married at 19. In hindsight I know that we were immature. Who isn’t at that age? Now that we are just a few months away from our 25th anniversary, could it be said that we not validly married?

    If one immature couple can be said to be not validly married how can another equally immature be said to be validly married? Simple logic says one cannot be true without the other also being true.

  10. It is impossible to go the route of a faith ‘litmus test’ for couples who want to get married. Provided they are validly baptized, and it has been determined, as it must be ahead of time, that there are no impediments, and they have some minimal understanding and acceptance of marriage as permanent, faithful, and ordered to the procreation of children (not needing to know the mechanics of everything, but just some general idea) — and that it’s not just a temporary union, or an ‘open marriage’ or a ‘child-free’ arrangement — the bar for valid reception of the Sacrament of Matrimony is set very low. Catholics cannot be prohibited from receiving the Sacrament of Matrimony, even if the people preparing the couple – the families, the parish staff – think things might not turn out well, or that the couple seem to have no spiritual life at all. Take the case of a spoiled teenager about to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. She is only going through with it because her mother is insisting on it, and her father has promised her a big party and a new car. The girl has no interest in the Catholic faith, can hardly wait to stop being dragged to Mass every Sunday with her parents, and has no intention of living as a practicing Catholic once she leaves for college. But if she presents herself along with her classmates to the bishop – and she’s just willful enough so that if she truly did not want the Sacrament she’d dig in her heels – then it is a validly, if not fruitfully, received Sacrament. The grace is there, will be there, if she ever has a change of heart. The same is true for couples who marry ‘without faith’ — the grace of the sacrament will flourish in them if they give it a chance.

  11. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    This situation reminds me of another one in which a wealthy and fond father buys his son a shiny new sports car for his seventeenth birthday. The young man has his learner’s permit, but not yet his driver’s license; he has not taken any driver’s ed classes, either at school or privately, nor has he obtained a copy of his state Department of Motor Vehicle’s Driver’s Handbook and Rules of the Road. In short, he is completely unprepared.

    Laws of that state permit students with learner’s permits only to drive their own cars to and from school while alone. Son does just this with the shiny new, and proceeds to crack her up. Totalled.

    Son is heart-broken. “Don’t worry, son,” Mom and Pop reassure him, “we know the accident wasn’t your fault; you weren’t prepared. There will be another shiny new with your name on it parked in the family driveway faster than you can say ‘Annullment process.'” Nothing about, “you need to complete driver’s ed before you park yourself behind the wheel of the family station wagon again, much less get another car of your own.” Not, “having cracked up and destroyed one vehicle, you need to prove to us that you are capable of safely operating a motor vehicle according to the rules of the road.” Nothing like that. Just: new car – here are the keys.

    Bogus. Lameness and bogosity.

  12. OrthodoxChick: Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1623: ‘In the Latin Church, it is ordinarily understood that the spouses, as ministers of Christ’s grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the Eastern liturgies the minister of this sacrament (which is called “Crowning”) is the priest or bishop who, after receiving the mutual consent of the spouses, successively crowns the bridegroom and the bride as a sign of the marriage covenant.’

  13. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    And if because couples can’t be denied access to the sacrament of marriage, no matter how woefully unprepared, it turns out in retrospect that they were unable because of being woefully unprepared validly to contract said sacrament, then it must be assumed that after the annullment, and going forward, they remain in the woefully unprepared state which renders them unable to contract.

    Why would the Church continue to celebrate the sacrament of Matrimony for couples, one member of whom has already demonstrated that he or she is incapable of validly receiving it?

    What’s the point of that? It makes the entire enterprise into nothing but a big joke.


  14. kpoterack says:

    Thank you Magdalen Ross, your quote from Archbishop Mueller is reassuring. Still, if this was an issue raised by Pope Benedict, I do trust him. This issue of a lack of faith as an impediment to a sacramental marriage does seem rather obvious – but I still don’t quite get it. Would this be the equivalent of two actors acting out a baptismal scene in a play? That is, since they didn’t intend to really baptize/or be baptized (and might not even understand what it is) the sacrament doesn’t happen. Would this be the same as marrying without faith? They are literally just “play-acting,” going through the motions like two actors of something they don’t intend?

  15. Gus Barbarigo says:

    Didn’t the Inquisition take extraordinary steps to probe whether or not the faith of the suspect was sufficient? Isn’t this what happened especially in Spain, to Jews who had converted?

    Didn’t Martin Luther and his ilk posit that sacraments were invalid due to the faith or state-of-grace of the priest?

    So the “progressives,” crypto-Protestants, and other auto-destructors within the Church are showing their true colors; they are bringing back elements of the Inquisition that the Church has tried to put in its past, and possibly nudging forward theology refuted during the Reformation.

    How soon will this new progressive third-degree be used against traditional bishops, priests, and laity who fall out of favor? “Cardinal, you have encouraged the Latin Mass? Sorry to tell Your Eminence, we have determined that your ordination was invalid.”

    If this nonsense continues, I confess, my faith will be severely tested!

  16. More and more, some tribunals are making sure that if a declaration of nullity is granted on such grounds, that a formal warning or prohibition to attempt marriage again — a ‘monitum’ or ‘vetitum’ — is placed upon or attached to one of the parties or both of the parties, to make sure that the people involved receive extensive counseling or treatment to address the issues which may have played a part in rendering the marriage null from the beginning. The removal of such cautions or prohibitions are usually reserved to the bishop (or his delegate).

  17. anilwang says:

    This opens up an enormous bag of worms.

    If you read the lives of marriaged saints, a significant number of them married spouses who lacked any sort of faith, and more than a few of those spouses were converted by their spouses faith. St Paul specifically states this in 1 Corinthians 7:23-16. In a significant number of marriages, one spouse is significantly more lukewarm than the other. Either their marriages were valid or not. If not, they don’t suddenly become valid if the spouse of weak faith suddenly becomes a saint. That would mean that a significant number of marriages are today and in the past are/were invalid, and if the spouses know that one of them lacked faith at the time of the wedding, they need to get their wedding again otherwise they are knowingly living in sin.

    Theology has consequences, and the consequences of this one are enormous.

    The covenant of marriage calls the spouses to share in the free, total, faithful, and fruitful. No matter how much they are prepared, most people going into marriage or having their first baby don’t really know what they’re getting into, but they grow into it, and mature because of it. By this theology, most marriages start out invalid and then become valid over time or unknowingly stays invalid. But if it becomes valid over time, what prevents it from regressing and becoming invalid again?

    There is currently a catechetical crisis WRT marriage. Despite this, Catholic have a significantly lower rate of divorce than Protestants and the general population. Its dismaying that than fix the catechetical crisis, there’s a trend towards “fixing theology to be more worldly due to the hardness of their hearts” and encouraging Catholics to divorce like everyone else because our theology is like everyone else’s.

  18. mamajen says:

    We had a priest in our diocese who made waves in his parish as he tried to enforce existing Church law with regard to divorced/remarried couples. When mergers took place and priests had to reapply for jobs, he wasn’t reassigned anywhere. He ticked off the wrong people.

    I have a hard time blaming most lay Catholics themselves though–I really think a lot of them have no clue. They’re not receiving proper catechesis, and then when the time comes to marry, they can simply shop around until they find a sympathetic priest who will perform the ceremony despite church attendance (or lack thereof), co-habitation, etc. There are too many enablers, and people know that if they do encounter resistance, they can just pitch a fit until they get their way.

    I do feel for the people who, despite their best efforts, have divorce thrust upon them.

  19. gretta says:

    I think you are all supposing that we are talking about two baptized Catholics or at least knowledgable Christians. What about the number of marriages between a Catholic and a protestant, or between two baptized protestants, who wholeheartedly deny the existence of sacraments? Many protestant churches teach formally that sacraments do not exist, and their people will say outright that marriage is NOT a sacrament. Or, there are any number of people who are baptized as babies (both Catholic and Protestant) but never again darken the door of a church. They would technically have a sacramental marriage because of their baptism, but have no knowledge whatsoever of the Christian faith – much less what is expected in a sacramental, Christian marriage. While there would certainly be cases that would be hard to prove, I would think that there are vast numbers of marriages out there where it would not be hard at all to prove that a sacramental marriage never existed because the person 1) outright denies that their marriage ever was sacramental since sacraments don’t exist, or 2) the person is baptized but completely unchurched, and truly has no idea that a sacramental marriage is expected to be permanent, faithful, open to children, and for the good of the other spouse. It isn’t much of a “test of faith” if the person is completely unchurched (not uncommon in this day and age). Neither is it much of a test if the person is clear in in their belief that sacraments are an imaginary construct that was created by the Catholic Church.

  20. Sissy says:

    I may have missed it, but did Pope Benedict suggest that those who didn’t have sufficient “faith” would not still go through the tribunal? All I took from his comment was that there might be other indices of not having entered into a sacramental marriage (in addition to lack of capacity, etc). I don’t see any reason to get too excited about this, at least not in a negative sense.

    As one who went through the tribunal, I certainly would not resent at all that others might be able to avail themselves of judgement based on some new criteria. I’ve always thought it was odd that converts were not held accountable for mortal sins that they did not know were sins at the time, yet were held to be married when they had no earthly clue about nor desire to enter into a sacrament. Catholics who were married in the Church are a different story, obviously.

  21. Michael_Thoma says:

    The Orthodox have been criticized by some Catholics in the past for allowing divorce and up to three marriages with withdrawl of the Sacrament for some years as penance. Unfortunately, the “annulment process” sometimes creates a worse theological problem – instead of divorce with penance, annulled are treated as no sin even occurred and all is peachy. For the Eastern Catholic Churches, many adopted this annulment process in the 19th Cent., creating a theological nightmare. Since in the East, the priest is Crowning the couple representing the Church, there can be no room for annulment – except extreme situations, such as a forced marriage, fear of death, or mental illness.. by accepting the Latin annulment method, the Eastern Catholic Churches find themselves in the same troubling pattern, treating a second marriage as the first, even though all present, including the priest performed the Sacrament with other spouses earlier. Since it was annulled, there is no penitential rite and everything is treated as new.

    This “new” faith criteria can and will be treated broadly so as to allow everyone living in sin to be treated as a baptized and chrismated infant. Strangely, some of the Eastern Churches adopted the Latin practice of restricting Communion for their own baptized and chrismated infants to mimic the Latins – if this “new” rule goes into effect, the sinless children are restricted, while the sinful adults are not. Topsy-turvy!

  22. SimonDodd says:

    This could be Francis’ Humanæ vitæ moment. As I understand it, there was, in the run-up to Humanæ vitæ, enormous anticipation that the teaching was wrong, unjust, unstable, and was about to change.

    I’m told that progressives were absolutely certain that they were right and the church was wrong and things were about to change, and so they even anticipated it, telling congregations so from the pulpit, causing enormous scandal and injecting even more hype and anticipation into the atmosphere. (This isn’t exactly what happened in Germany, but the similarities are striking.) I’m sure that on the other side, comments analogous to that of Supertradmum (“What a slap in the face this would be to change rules concerning reception of Communion for those divorced and remarried for those of us who have gone through the lengthy and painful process of annulment”) were heard.

    And so Paul, assuming that he wasn’t as sick and dim as I suspect him to have been, was faced with a situation that wasn’t really of his making, in which he had to choose between seeing the church (and his pontificate) crippled, or completely broken. Outrage ensued, and I suspect that many in the Church, not just the heretics who were pushing for the change, got whiplash, and the Church has borne that injury ever since.

    If he reaffirms the traditional teaching, the heretics who have feted him as the second coming of John XXIII will turn him into the second coming of Pius IX overnight. Does Francis have the backbone to tell them “no,” especially when they can claim, not implausibly, to have been just trying to do what he told them to do? Or will he tell those who have followed all those “petty rules” of which he is so openly-contemptuous that they’re suckers? No matter which route he chooses, he seems likely to cripple his pontificate, which makes it all the more mystifying why he would take up such a cause.

  23. Sissy says:

    Gretta: thank you; you beat me to it. How many of us have attended Great Vigil Masses where we witnessed adult converts receiving baptism? Our culture is full of people who were only baptized as babies but then unchurched, as Gretta points out. But in addition to those, there are numerous adults who were raised with no religious experience at all….not even baptism. Is it so hard to believe that they really had no concept of entering into a sacrament when they married for the first time (or would positively deny such a thing happened, not believing in sacraments)? If intention matters when we sin, is it far-fetched that intention might matter when we attempt a marriage?

  24. SimonDodd says:

    “[I]f putative marriages can be said to have been null on the basis of psychological immaturity,” then why not “putative ordinations”?

  25. Nan says:

    @Sissy, one of the requirements of a mortal sin is that you’re aware that it’s a mortal sin and do it anyway. For example; not going to Mass on Sunday without good reason is a mortal sin. But because I wasn’t raised in a religious household, although I was baptized, my religious education ended at age 7. My failure to go to Mass each Sunday wasn’t a mortal sin because a) I had no idea, and b) I had no way of getting there. Marriage is different; it’s a public act by the husband and wife (ministers of marriage) and witnessed by the church, so it doesn’t matter that the witness isn’t the Catholic Church for marriage to be valid.

    @Michael Thoma, welcome to the wonderful world of Latinization. In my diocese, the Byzantine Rite was suppressed for a generation. Even when it was eventually allowed, the Bishop encouraged many latinizations, some of which have only recently been rectified.

  26. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    I married a Protestant boy in 1987, and before the wedding, we had to meet as a couple with our priest numerous times to discuss what was expected of us, andto give to Father our agreement – each of us – and we had to attend a week-end pre-Cana retreat. So my Protestant husband would have had to bald-facedly lie to a Christian clergyman when asked if he understood and agreed that “until death” meant “until death.”

    If children as well as adults being received into the Church must be prepared and examined before making their First Holy Communion, First Confession, and Confirmation, then why is it so inconceivable that there be some such requirement for Holy Matrimony?

  27. Speravi says:

    1a. If we are talking about nullity because of lack of faith, then there will need to be a declaration of nullity. Therefore this is simply a new grounds for annulments and does not concern the divorced and “remarried” in any new way (expect that those who have had their request for an annulment denied may have new grounds to resubmit their request).

    1b. This idea of nullity b/c of lack of faith seems to open lots of cans of worms! I thought a sacrament is valid so long as there is an intention to do what the Church does. If more than matter, form, the proper ministers (with the right faculties) and right intention is required for a valid sacrament, this would raise a lot of questions!

    2. Mueller is indeed talking about the divorced and remarried. He seems simply to be saying that in some serious cases (when there are small children involved) repentance for the sin of an adulterous and false civil marriage may not require a civil divorce and moving apart. It would, of course, demand total and life-long continence. This is little different from absolving such a person on their death-bed. One concern, though, will be the factor of scandal. A civil marriage is a public act. A civil marriage by someone who is already sacramentally married to someone else certainly appears to be a grave public scandal. Should something be published, can we assume there will be clarification about the obligations of these who do not have a grave reason (e.g. small children) to remain together?

    3. Nothing substantial in this matter can change, since we are dealing with divine law. If a Catholic marriage was not found to be null from the beginning (and declared thus (annulment)) or one of the two spouses has not died, then the individuals are understood to be married. If you are married you have marital rights only in regard to one person…the person to whom you are married. Any other conjugal relations are gravely sinful. Someone committing grave sin cannot approach Communion without first repenting (which includes an intention to avoid such sin in the future).

    Even the Apostles reacted strongly to this teaching: “His disciples say unto him: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry” (Mt. 19:10).

  28. Sissy says:

    Nan, I’m aware that you must be aware it’s mortal sin. That’s my point. Suppose you aren’t aware that marriage is a sacrament? Does one enter into a sacrament while totally ignorant or even rejecting of that concept? I was present at a wedding between two atheists whose only vow, before a clerk of the court was “we’ll live together as long as both shall love.” Can that be a sacrament?

  29. Bressani56 says:

    “The idea is this: if putative marriages can be said to have been null on the basis of psychological immaturity or inability to make a commitment, etc., then perhaps we might be able to say the same thing about putative marriages in which the couple really had no concept of or knowledge of or intention of faith.”

    OK … but in that case, they need to go and get an annulment first, right? Before receiving Holy Communion? Also, should they really be receiving Holy Communion if they have “no concept of or knowledge of or intention of faith”?

    If they have (at a later time) gained a “concept of or knowledge of or intention of faith,” then they ought to go get an annulment before reception of Holy Communion, correct? Or am I missing something?

  30. ChrisRawlings says:

    I am reading a lot of comments that go something like this: why would so many sacramental marriages be invalid when the priest is obligated to try to ensure the validity of the marriage?

    The fact is that many do not. When you have a very marginally Catholic couple who marries sacramentally only to make Dad happy, a priest can turn them away and perhaps push them out of the Church entirely–and maybe lose the angry parents, too–or he can marry them and hope that the required marriage preparation is enough to move the couple to take their marriage seriously. Here in Denver we have a very strong marriage prep program that is required of all couples, and includes NFP classes to help couples open themselves to life–a requirement of a valid marriage, of course. But do they have that in Latin America, where secularization is hitting with a punch right now? There is a big priest shortage in much of Latin America, and priests may simply be too overwhelmed to take the time and care to deal extensively enough with engaged couples. Remember that the Church extends way beyond our own comparatively unique religio-cultural circumstances.

    I say that the priest ought to make the validity of the marriages performed by him a chief priority. The poor witness to marriage that Christian often provide hurts us immeasurably in the battle against same-sex marriage.

    Moreover, the comment above about this being a problem that especially affects those who are either converting or returning to the Church is also true. How many people will stay away solely because the Church inadequately deals with this problem? Maybe full access to Communion is possible or maybe it is not. But all should agree that how the Church often deals with marriage generally is problematic and should be more attentive to the treasure of marriage and also the unique pastoral needs of divorced and also remarried people.

    Hence, folks, why there is an Extraordinary Synod and why Fr. Z is hearing about this in Rome. It is a big deal and I’m glad that the Holy Father understands that.

  31. Michael_Thoma says:


    Of course that isn’t a sacrament, and the Church didn’t say it was. That is it a marriage civilly is for certain. If they do enter the Church, they should get a convalidation, which is as close to the Sacrament of Matrimony as can be, it’s almost a retroactive Marriage.

  32. OrthodoxChick says:

    Thank you, Magdalen Ross. Duh! I should’ve just checked the Catechism myself before I asked the question.

    I asked it because I had my own situation in the back of my mind as well as the one I relayed above. When I was younger and dumber, I approached my parish pastor, who had watched me grow up in his parish. I insisted on marrying the “luuuv” of my life, who was a non-Catholic Christian from out-of-state. The pastor didn’t know him at all, other than for one initial meeting. After that introduction, the pastor pulled me aside and told me that he would not marry me. I was crushed and while I didn’t angrily lash out at him, I did throw a spoiled, bratty hissy fit while tearfully begging him to reconsider. He didn’t. He held firm. I went ahead with the marriage anyway but had to have it done by a J.P. The marriage lasted 13 months. And on the day that my ex was walking out the door to go run away to another state with his girlfriend (who was leaving her husband and kids behind), my ex told me that a divorce was for the best, because even though he knew how desperately I wanted to start a family with him and had planned to raise my children as Catholics (we had talked about it many times during our engagement) my ex revealed that he had had a vasectomy before he ever met me. He chose to marry me anyway knowing full-well that he was deceiving me.

    Years later, when the man who is now my husband and the father of my children proposed, and it took the tribunal-equivalent of a nanosecond for my decree of nullity to go through, I was overcome with gratitude to that dear pastor for having the courage to stand up to my tantrum and save me from my own stubborn stupidity. So, even though a priest is not required to confer the Sacrament of Matrimony, I hope that more of them will take some time to discern whether or not they should allow a Catholic wedding for any particular couple. If something doesn’t seem right to a priest, there may be a very good reason that merits some further deliberation.

    If any of you have a minute and would be so kind, perhaps you could say a little prayer for my former pastor. My understanding is that he is now quite elderly and in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s.

  33. Sissy says:

    Michael_Thoma: in a case such as I described, what Pope Benedict has mentioned would be grounds for receiving a declaration of nullity from the tribunal. That’s my point. There are many cases like this among the divorced/remarried who have converted to Catholicism after the fact. As Speravi says, all this would do is give one more possible reason for a declaration of nullity. The couple would still need to go through the tribunal (I would assume).

  34. Speravi says:

    SimonDodd: Ordination and marriage are different. In marriage (as Latin Theology understands it), it is the couple who confer the sacrament on themselves by a deliberate act of the will (consent). Immaturity could, in fact, vitiate the deliberate and volitional character of this act, just as immaturity could be, in certain cases, grounds to think that a sin of grave matter was venial rather than mortal.

  35. Robbie says:

    I thought the Pope told us the two most important issues facing the Church today are youth unemployment and the lonliness of the elderly? If that’s the case, why is the Vatican “obsessing” over an issue like this?

    Seriously, I guess nothing is set in stone anymore. Fifty years of failed novelties seems set to continue. Who knows what will suddenly be on the table and might possibly be dealt with a tribunal in the future?

  36. colospgs says:

    I always thought that the whole idea behind the prohibition was that people living in an objective state of mortal sin may not receive communion (Canon 915). I have never been married, but sometimes have my own problems with other mortal sins. Well great! If someone in mortal sin because of their irregular marriage situations can receive communion, why not me? There is nothing different about D/remarried Catholics from other Catholics who have problems with other sins. I don’t go around demanding, and no one hits the presses demanding that I should be treated more “pastorally”. When I find myself in that situation, I don’t receive, period. Why should others think that they can? Is their brand of mortal sin special, less mortal?

  37. Deacon Augustine says:

    Fr. Z, have you thought through the consequences of the validity of a Sacrament being made dependent upon the degree of faith held by the recipient?

    This wouldn’t just be disastrous for marriage – it would ultimately destroy the Sacramental nature of the Church. How could any of us have trust in the validity of our clergy’s ministry if the validity of our priest’s own ordination could be questioned by the degree of faith he had or lacked at the time of his ordination, for example? How could the validity of an infant’s baptism be relied upon if a parent who presented it to the Church for baptism was subsequently found to be deficient in faith? How could we know that a Pope was a valid Pope if he started muttering some strange utterances contrary to the faith after his election – could it be that he was never validly ordained in the first place?

    Quite apart from redefining the nature of sacraments, such a proposal would also fly in the face of reality. It would seem to be proposed that concepts such as fidelity in marriage are only capable of being understood by those who hold the Catholic Faith to sufficient as-yet-undefined degree. However, by virtue of the natural law that God engraves in the hearts of all men, even the most benighted pagan can know that marriage entails fidelity to one’s spouse. To say that valid marriages could only be contracted by those with sufficient faith would entail a redefinition of the nature of man as well as the redefinition of marriage.

    It is time for some honesty rather than pastoral sentimentality about this matter. People do not get divorced because they had insufficient faith or maturity when they got married. People get divorced primarily because one or more of the parties concerned choose to think with their gonads rather than with their brains. They choose adultery rather than fidelity. That will never change until Kingdom Come and the Church will never help anybody by telling them that a bit of adultery is ok if they didn’t know enough of the Catechism when they got married.

  38. Nan says:

    Sissy, your atheists don’t have a sacramental marriage; they must 1) be free to marry; 2) freely consent; 3) promise to marry until death, to be faithful and to be open to children; and 4) marry in front of a properly authorized church minister and 2 witnesses. You can see why most protestants would be considered to have a sacramental marriage.

    The Orthodox Church doesn’t recognize marriages that take place outside of their Church, so anyone marrying an Orthodox must marry at the Orthodox Church.

  39. Supertradmum says:

    Again, the pseudo-science of psycology has trumped objective truth and rational discourse on this subjective.

    We do not have to be mature to accept any sacrament. I was aware of my First Communion as being the Body and Blood of Christ, but was I mature enough to understand the Indwelling of the Trinity and the process of holiness? No.

    Why are these Church leaders relying on criteria less than convincing in order to decide whether some one has lost the Faith or not at the time of marriage? And, if this is the case, why have priests gone ahead and married these types of couples in the Church?

    Marriages still are passed out like candy, especially in England. To deny someone a sacrament seems to trump common sense that these people of no-faith will separate in a very short period of time. Without the cooperation of grace and the intention to stay married until death, without clear teaching on contraception, the REAL elephant in the room with separating couples, marriages are doomed.

    Priests need to simply stop marrying people in the Church who are not faithful Catholics and showing good intentions for continuing living in that manner in the future.

    Why change the rules for marriage and divorce, when people are allowed to marry without real faith to being with—this all seems to be shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted.

  40. Supertradmum says:

    many apologies for typos–and prayers, as I am now legally blind in one eye and marvel that I can type at all. Thanks.

  41. Sissy says:

    Nan, I believe the Church assumes all marriages to be sacramental until proven otherwise in the tribunal. No divorced/remarried person can enter the Church until clearing up that fact through the tribunal. A first putative marriage being undertaken while not aware of the religious nature of marriage isn’t grounds, so far as I know. I believe that is the situation Pope Benedict is addressing. I could be wrong, of course. ; )

    I went through the tribunal, and the fact that it was a civil marriage was not grounds.

  42. Sissy says:

    Correction: the Church doesn’t assume all marriages to be sacramental, but I believe the default position is that all marriages are VALID unless proven otherwise. So, a civil marriage between two non-religious people is valid. Under the possible proposed change (?), that factor might be grounds for a declaration of nullity.

  43. SimonDodd says:

    Speravi says:
    “SimonDodd: Ordination and marriage are different. In marriage (as Latin Theology understands it), it is the couple who confer the sacrament on themselves by a deliberate act of the will (consent).”

    You don’t need consent for Orders? Suppose a bishop has a non-consenting but otherwise-eligible man chained to the floor and “ordains” him using the proper form and with requisite intent; is that man now a priest? I should have thought consent necessary.

  44. robtbrown says:

    Not sure whether I wrote this here before. If so, I will again:
    There are two basic approaches to this problem.

    1. The Divorced/Remarried can decide acc to their own consciences whether or not the first marriage was null (this is the advice given by some pastors). The obvious response, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in the 90’s, is that marriage is a matter of external forum, eliminating the internal forum (conscience) as a solution. Of course, if conscience is the arbiter in marriage, it makes any public vows irrelevant: “We’ve never gone through a ceremony, but we think we’re married–and so, we are.”

    And the consequence would be that there are only six Sacraments.

    2. The first marriage is considered null on the basis of lack of psychological capacity for the bond (which includes lack of faith). This is a real possibility, and there are many very good priests who agree that this is the situation. It must be noted, however, that such incapacity is the consequence of the destruction of the cult. Any Ratzinger mention of this situation must be considered in the context of his liturgical views, especially that the problems in the Church are by and large the consequence of the liturgical disaster since Vat II, which was the wrecking ball of the cult.

    A few months ago I read a talk given by Pope Francis to seminarians in which he wisely warned against the Culture of the Temporary (which is of course cultural relativism). Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to make the connection between vernacular, versus populum celebration of the mass and the cultural crisis he identifies. It must be asked whether by the present liturgical situation the Church is not only not condemning the Culture of the Temporary but in fact has become an enthusiastic promoter of it.

  45. SimonDodd says:

    I mean, we’re used to the formulation that one needs valid “matter and form,” but that’s a shorthand, it’s incomplete. You need other things for a sacrament, too. You need a valid minister; you need intent; and so on. We have two vocational sacraments, marriage and orders; it would be astonishing if either of them could be imposed on a person without their assent.

  46. Pingback: Favorite quotes from Arch. Muller’s marriage essay | The Four Marks

  47. gretta says:

    Actually, a marriage between two validly baptized, non-Catholic persons is presumed to be both valid and sacramental, even if it is performed before a justice of the peace. And even if they are now saying they are athiest. It is only a non-sacramental marriage if one of the parties isn’t baptized (or baptized invalidly). Otherwise, the sacramentality is presumed. Catholics who marry outside the Church without the Church’s express permission are also in invalid, non-sacramental unions, even if neither have ever been married before.

  48. americangirl says:

    If I am reading this correctly, I believe we are opening up Pandora’s box! And how does this apply to a man entering the Priesthood for all the wrong reasons? Does this mean that the ordination can be held invalid? And if that is the case what happens to the Consecration and Reconciliation would that Sacrament also become invalid ? I was always instructed that a man when ordained is always a Priest regardless of intention. So much confusion ! How do you grant exemption to one group and not the other? God help us!

  49. Stephen Matthew says:

    A key distinction must be made between natural marriage and the sacrament of holy matrimony.

    Natural marriage can, at least in theory, be contracted between a man and a woman, regardless of faith.

    Sacramental marriage, aka holy matrimony, contains all the same minimum requirements as natural marriage, but ads the necessity that BOTH parties be Christians, as well as certain other requirements regarding sacramental form and intention.

    It perhaps seems a lack of faith (or a rejection/repudiation) could cause one of the parties to be in fact not a Christian, thus making sacramental marriage impossible (but natural marriage would still be a possibility). On a less extreme case, it could be that a lack of faith would cause issues with both free consent and with the intention of the minister since the couple are themselves the ministers. If a priest had a radical misconception about the Eucharist, there would at least be slight cause for exploring the question of validity of consecrations he performed/attempted, so likewise if there is some radical misunderstanding or absence of Christian faith, it would seem that could be cause to at least explore the question of sacramental validity. I know the standard answer for intention is to “do what the church does” but if you have a more specific intention, and that specific intention contradicts what the church does, then it would seem there could be a problem.

    All of this makes the usual concept of sacraments operating “ex opere operato” a bit more convoluted. There are real, objective realities and truths, but all of the messy subjective aspects obscures so much of that.

    I must also second the concerns of those above that mention the immature couples who remain married for life, but who likely could have qualified for decrees of nullity at any time. What is to be done with this? I know priests that even made note in the sacramental ledger regarding doubts as to validity, but then lived to see the couples celebrate 30th wedding anniversaries. Is there some possibility that some element that may have been lacking on the wedding day is in these cases somehow supplied over time? Or will these couples get to heaven and discover that they were never really married (but because they thought they were that no sin was committed?)?

    Perhaps it is worth keeping in mind that for all the binding force that canon law has, it does not legislate truth, truth can not change, and canon law is not some sort of de fide teaching of the church that is without error. Rather, canon law is imperfect, it is intended as a help to the church in the salvation of souls.

  50. pannw says:


    re Pope Paul VI and Humanae Vitae, if ever I had doubted the primacy of Peter, that event would have convinced me. Jesus promised the Paraclete would teach the Church and abide with her forever, and that Peter would have the keys, etc…and even though it was expected that the constant teaching of the Church on contraception would be overturned, and by of all people, Pope Paul VI who apparently showed so much weakness towards the liturgical vandals, etc…Still, the Paraclete did not allow error into the Official Teaching of the Church. I’m sure that it was the Holy Spirit protecting us. Thanks be to God Pope Paul VI was open to the Paraclete! I wonder sometimes what would have happened to him if he had not been.

    As to divorce, I trust Jesus’ words. “Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning IT WAS NOT SO.” He is talking to people who did not have the benefit of access to the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church (even if those today who do, chose not to avail themselves of this gift) or to validly conferred sacramental marriages by the Holy Catholic Church, yet still for them divorce WAS NOT SO. I simply don’t see how the Church’s constant teaching is overturned on the matter. To say that she was wrong all these 2000+ years….what of the multitude that have left her because of this teaching over those years? Does the Church just say, “Whoops, sorry bout letting you abandon Christ, Truly Present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar because we weren’t pastoral enough to let you divorce and remarry, even if Jesus did say from the beginning allowing one to put away their spouse WAS NOT SO.”

    I will be stunned if the Paraclete allows such a change in teaching. And incredibly confused…

  51. McCall1981 says:

    I may be misundertanding it, but isn’t that essay by Muller (that Magdalen Ross posted) very reassuring? Unless I’m misreading it, it seems to be quite solid, it’s coming from the head of the CDF, and it would seem that Francis must have approved of it.

    What am I missing?

  52. If we cast doubt on the validity of substantial numbers of marriages, how can we avoid casting doubt on the validity of the Sacrament of Matrimony itself — and through it, all the rest of the Sacraments?

  53. av8er says:

    I agree with Deacon Augustine. When I got married, I was 27 but my theological maturity was 7, when catechism ended. If this were to have been approved 10 yrs ago, I would have jumped all over this. Now that I actually live my faith, by the grace of God to the best of my ability, I’m glad I didn’t have an easy out. Part of my marriage troubles is what led me back to the Church. My marraige is deeper now than when I got married.

  54. RJHighland says:

    As speakers for Catholic Engaged Encounter for four years I can attest to the lack of understanding of the faith in couples seeking to be sacramentally married and can only imagine how few people understood what they were getting involved in if not catechised properly. I have actually seen people who’s 1st marriages fell appart because they did not practice their faith, understand their faith or even have a desire to understsand their faith. Especially in cases of Cafetieria Catholics who pick and choose what they want to be obedient to. I would think there would be a means of anullment for those that were sacramentally married but one or neither of them practiced their faith in marraige, I know many cases of this. A couple remarries not sacramentally but with the desire to live their 2nd marriage sacramentally. My greatest fear however would be that this would be handled as badly by Bishops and Priests in the Church as they have handled the sacrament of Marriage and annulments. This crisis in the Church has been, once again, created by the Bishops and Priests and lived out by the poorly catechised and openly disobediant laity. How one can survive with out recieving our Lord is as unthinkable for me as recieving Him unworthly but that is a position many Catholics have found themselves in. Our goal is to bring them back to communion and to the hope of gaining heaven but that is rarely an easy journey.

  55. Quanah says:

    I can see how a lack of faith could be grounds for an annulment. However, I can also see how greatly abused this would be. While judging the degree of faith one has is quite subject, for something like a tribunal it is possible to set up strict objective criteria for making that judgement. For instance, were one or both people not regularly practicing the faith through Mass attendance leading up to their marriage?

  56. Speravi says:

    I will leave the intricacies of your question to the bishops and theologians. However, it is clear to me that there is this difference: Matrimony is a contract which is raised to the status of a sacrament of the New Covenant. This contract is made by an act of consent. As the common phrase goes, “consent makes marriage.” This kind of language is not used in regard to the other sacraments, even if some level of consent is presumed necessary. Consent makes marriage. Therefore, the efficacy of that act of consent seems to have a much more central place in the question of the validity of marriage than it does in the other sacraments. Furthermore, while history shows clearly that there are cases of men seeking Holy Orders with an improper motive, it seems that the instinctual drives which God has placed in man and woman for the preservation of the human race, the effects of original sin, and the sentimentality of “puppy love” (not to mention other psychological (but not necessarily rational or volitional) bonds created through undue familiarity), would increase the likelihood of couples being drawn by sentiment to a romanticized and erroneous image of marriage (“happily ever after”) rather than the couples making a mature and deliberate act of the will to bind themselves to each other fruitfully and exclusively until one of the two is dead.

  57. downyduck says:

    Robtbrown mentioned the “internal forum…” When my mother went to a priest to inquire about annulment and she gave him her story about how difficult it would be for her to create a case for various reasons (as well as the fact that she is wife #3 to her current husband), he told her that she could in effect declare her own “first” marriage null based on her conscience. I have since tried to find information on the internet about this practice, but there is a dearth. Is this prevalent? Is it legitimate? And if this is allowed, why have the lengthy, involved external forum if you can simply justify your own annulment in your mind? You Fr. Z readers are so knowledgeable and your experiences so varied, I hope you can clear some of this up for me. Thanks, downyduck

  58. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    colospgs wrote: “. . . I have never been married, but sometimes have my own problems with other mortal sins. . . . If someone in mortal sin because of their irregular marriage situations can receive communion, why not me? . . . Is their brand of mortal sin special, less mortal?

    I don’t think so, colospgs. I think some folks in irregular unions know how to make their wheels squeak louder, that’s all.

  59. robtbrown says:


    I know that some people have been given such advice. And in the early 90’s certain German bishops wants it to be the policy.

  60. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    I think that this . . . accomodation is being looked at in part because, sadly, the Church is hemorrhaging membership; surveys show that one reason for the hemorrhage is that many Catholics have entered irregular marital arrangements, and then ended up leaving the Church. The thought on the part of some in leadership has been to adjust Church regulations to accomodate these arrangements so that the hemorrhage may be staunched.

    An admirable goal: I’m just not sure that this is the right way to go about it.

  61. robtbrown says:

    should be: Certain German bishops wanted it to be the policy.

  62. robtbrown says:


    I don’t think this problem can be solved by (yet another) plan to improve marriage catechesis. (That sounds very American: We simply need to improve our Program!) It can be said in Marriage prep that it is permanent, but it is of little use when people are dominated by the Culture of the Temporary.

    No matter how often people say that those who attend Latin masses are “moralistic and rigid”, there is little doubt that they take the faith very seriously. I am of the opinion that vernacular versus populum liturgy encourages a superficial attitude toward the faith.

  63. tm30 says:

    I think we need to remember that, first and foremost, a marriage is a covenant between the two spouses, who are administering the sacrament to each other. Additionally, marriage (between a man and woman) is the primal form of relationship and the foundation of society long before we had the sacramental form. It’s hard-coded into us. The sacrament confers grace because the two are establishing a covenant before God, and God loves us enough to provide us with the strength of sanctifying grace in such an important, lifelong public vocation and event.

    I find it hard to believe anyone who bravely says “for better or for worse” doesn’t have sufficient faith for the sacrament to be valid from that perspective. It might apply to someone who is mentally impaired, and does not understand the covenant, but the Natural Law would seem to hold people to the knowledge that a promise is not meant to be broken, nor taken in vain.

  64. Speravi says:

    I am afraid that, based on what you have related, this does not sound like something legitimate. For a subsequent marriage to be contracted as a Catholic marriage, the Church has to have moral certitude that the individual is not already married. The only way to have this certitude is for the Church to examine what happened in the first marriage. But if everything is left to the individual conscience, how can such an examination take place? For a valid Catholic marriage it is necessary that it be performed before a witness who represents the Church (normally a priest or deacon). There can also be a case in which a marriage is made valid without speaking the vows again in front of a priest or deacon, but this is less common. In any case, however, the priest overseeing the process cannot proceed if the baptismal certificate says that the person is already married to someone else…and the only way that that can change is if there is a formal process to declare that that previous marriage was null from the start (annulment). Finally, it is possible that more was done than what you have related or even than what you know or than what your mother understood. Thus, in a matter of such personal import, you would probably benefit more from talking to your own parish priest.

  65. Good comments in general, but I feel I am obliged (in all charity, sincerely) to add this from Ed Peters’ fb wall/page today: “I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing what a canon actually says before attempting any analysis of what a canon means. The problems caused by people opining on canon law without knowing what canon law actually says are legion.” Having said that, Archbishop Mueller’s reiteration of Church teaching is, in my opinion, a very good sign (though regrettably, the debate or discussion of this issue does have the *potential* ultimately to become something of a “Humane Vitae” moment for the Holy Father, with all of the sad consequences…). As for the so-called “internal forum solution” for the divorced and civilly “remarried” — no, it does not exist: http://www.scribd.com/doc/46811462/Does-there-exist-an-%E2%80%98internal-forum%E2%80%99-solution-for-the-divorced-and-remarried

  66. The whole way the Church handles civil marriages is the root of the problem here! Either a marriage is a sacrament – Holy Matrimony – or it is not. The whole concept of recognizing a civil arrangement between non-believing individuals as a “de-facto sacrament” is what created most of these problems to begin with. We should NOT confusing sacraments with civil contracts.

    FWIW it is that same concept that is going to (barring some change in Church teachings) the political pressure to perform and recognize same-sex “marriages”. How can an organization logically claim that their religious weddings are any different than a civil “wedding” if they hold to their members that the civil one carries largely the same canonical weight.

    And I must agree with others in that the idea of giving an annullment – thus presenting a previously married couple as all new in the eyes of the church does create quite a few absurd situations. Witness my best friend’s wedding wherein he and his fiance (both lifelong Catholics) were wedded in the presence of her three (3) children from her previous marriage (to another lifelong Catholic) – all under the guise of her never having really been married. I love them both – and they are married still – some 30 years on – but I always saw the whole ceremony as comical.

    The Orthodox are right on this one. Divorces happen. They shouldn’t – but sometimes they do, often with good reason (abandonment, abuse, etc.). Better to recognize them under some limited circumstances and let the faithful be penitent and then move on.

  67. The Masked Chicken says:

    “I have actually seen people who’s 1st marriages fell appart because they did not practice their faith, understand their faith or even have a desire to understsand their faith. Especially in cases of Cafetieria Catholics who pick and choose what they want to be obedient to. I would think there would be a means of anullment for those that were sacramentally married but one or neither of them practiced their faith in marraige, I know many cases of this. A couple remarries not sacramentally but with the desire to live their 2nd marriage sacramentally. ”

    Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind. Until the society changes, sacramentally married (non-annulable), but civilly divorced people can either accept to be alone and live that as their Cross or try to be civil to each other and reconcile. Until such time as the disorder bringing about this spate of bad marriages changes (please, God), people will suffer and the church will shrink. There are consequences to decisions locally and globally. Priests have a heavier burden before God to try to prevent twisted marriages and lay people owe it to themselves to either put up or shut up. If they want to get married by the Church, let them learn what they are getting into and decide either to follow it or leave. In this day and age when most questions can be answered with a click of a button (sometimes five wrong answers for one right, but, still), there is little excuse for someone wanting to be married in a Catholic Church not to know what they are getting into. The priest should tell them, simply, “no take-backsy.” Priests should be the gatekeepers and, at this time in history, turning away more people than they marry, probably, given the fuzzy-headed thinking of many young people. They don’t know the Faith or live it. Why should they want to be married in it or assume they have even a right to be. They are broods, not of vipers, but tribbles. Let them give evidence of their change before they are wed. St. John the Baptist weeps.

    The Chicken

  68. servulus indignus Christi says:

    If “lack of faith” is invalidating for Matrimony, what is to be said of all those priests (who seem to me to stand in the majority of the modern presbyterate) whose faith in the Eucharist is suspect. So much for opere operato… besides…doesn’t the Church say that in addition to valid form, matter, subject and minister that intention is necessary? How can one psychologically have the intention to consecrate when one does not believe in what the Church does? What a mess the post Vatican II Church is in. Our Lady of Fatima pray for us!

  69. Deacon Augustine says:

    Speravi, regarding the issue of consent in Marriage vs. Holy Orders. You will find that consent freely -willed is also an essential aspect of the process towards ordination in order for an ordination to be valid. I can’t speak for the pre-conciliar rite, but at each stage of the new rites, the candidate for ordination must write free-hand (i.e. no type-written stuff) that he is asking his bishop of his own free will to be admitted to ministries of lector, acolyte, candidature and then ordination as deacon, and then priest if he is a transitional deacon. Without freely expressed consent at each stage, the ordination cannot proceed. The consent process is complicated further in the case of married candidates for the Permanent Diaconate (or priesthood in the Ordinariates) in that the wife must also freely consent in her own hand in confirmation that she is under no duress from her husband or other sources to give her consent.

    The ability to consent of one’s own free will is as essential to the Sacrament of Holy Orders as it is to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and the Church goes to even greater lengths to establish it with the former. If the criteria to assess ability to consent freely were to be changed to incorporate some measure of faith for the validity of Marriage (and that would no doubt be a retrospective change if it were aimed at people already living in sin), then not only could it cast the validity of all marriages in doubt, but I can’t see how the same logic would not also apply to Holy Orders.

  70. APX says:

    I remember one young diocesean priest who publicly stated that it is an absolute miracle of God that any marriage lasts a life time considering the amount of prep time spent with the bride and groom compared to any other vocation. I thought about this, and I think he makes an excellent point. How many years does it take for someone to discern whether or not they are called to the priesthood, religious life, or consecrated life? And with these vocations, one must have a spiritual director working along side them all the way.

    To further complicate matters, because people have a natural right to marriage, and Catholics must be married within the Church, even if a priest knows that a couple isn’t really ready for marriage, he still has to go throught with it. It’s ridiculous if you ask me. It would make more sense to have a lengthy and thorough marriage prep discernment period to make sure they have the ability to live out their vocation, and if it is determined that the couple is not capable of living out their vocation together, Canon Law should be revised to put the onus on the priest to defer a sacramental marriage until the couple works out what needs working out or decides to not go through with it, or if they insist on marrying each other, put an escape clause in Canon Law allowig the priest to refuse to marry them in the Church sacramentally, and allow in Canon Law that in such circumstances, permission be granted to enter into a natural civil marriage not in the church building.

    And lots of paperwork and due diligence needs to be required too. It’s too easy to get married these days.

  71. Marion Ancilla Mariae says:

    If “lack of faith” on the part of one or either party to a Catholic marriage – in the church, with the vows – is enough to invalidate the marriage, then how is it the case that this “lack of faith” is not virtually automatically assumed to operate in the case of civil marriages, where the promises often consist of little more than “until, sort of . . . like, it’s basically not real anymore, you know, . . . dude?”

    And secondly, in the case of a couple with young children who seek an annulment due to either of their lack of full capacity at the time to give consent for reasons of psychosocial immaturity, it seems to me that the tribunal ought to ask the couple, “is either of you contemplating remarriage in the near future?”, and if the answer is yes, then the tribunal ought to require both of the couple to go directly through the counseling / marriage prep programs mentioned by other commenters. And then, having completed said programs, to return to the tribunal. And upon being asked by the tribunal if they can show that they have successfully become informed enough and mature enough to contract Christian marriage, and having replied that they now have, a clergyman on the tribunal should then add, “then by the powers vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife together. Congratulations, andite in pacem!

  72. Lin says:

    Spirit of Vatican II? WHY BE CATHOLIC? Everything is relative?

  73. The Cobbler says:


    Thing #1: “psychologically immature” is not what we ordinarily refer to when we speak of immaturity. If it were, it would not be relevant, for the same reason that the fact that men’s brains don’t finish changing till about 25 is irrelevant to us becoming adults several years before that: no matter how related and/or similar the concepts might seem, the things are not only distinct but separate. Psychological maturity is relevant to the Sacrament of Marriage because it is in its very nature a block against truly knowing or against truly consenting to what actually is a marriage — in other words, it falls under, and is not an addition to, the form, matter and/or intention — this cannot be said of average, everyday immaturity or even of headstrong knowitall highschool/college student immaturity, or else no one could be sacramentally married before their mid-twenties at the earliest.

    Thing #2: Correct me if I’m wrong, but would not a “lack of faith” similarly be irrelevant unless it was a similarly technical concept and precisely was a block against the knowledge necessary for consent, i.e. simply an example of and not an addition to lack of form, matter and/or intention?


    Thing #3: We don’t need more marriage prep time (not like most dioceses in the US don’t already require several months along a day of “pre-Cana” class anyway). It is a red herring; at best it discourages a handful of foolish couples while saving the priest from having to defend his decision to marry one couple and not another, at worst it encourages couples who don’t care what the Church says to spend more time shacking up before the wedding and gives couples who do care what the Church says more hoops to jump through (i.e. is completely countereffective).

    We need priests to not marry couples unless A) they demonstrate that they understand the Church’s teachings about marriage and relates matters, B) they demonstrate that they are living out the Church’s teaching in general (exceptions made for non-Catholic spouses-to-be on the same basis as allowances for mixed marriages in the first place, i.e. agreement to cooperate with the Catholic spouse raising the children Catholic), C) they demonstrate that they have responsibly prepared for living out their married life together and D) they demonstrate that they have taken the process of discernment seriously (but this should be easy enough to see in A-C if A-C are met). If they cannot say no in the absence of such criteria, or if they cannot judge such criteria, more time and effort spent on prep is nothing more than an admission that they cannot address the issue; if they can, on the other hand, see that a couple meets those criteria, why add extra time and effort except to maintain the delusion that all couples can be treated more or less the same?

    In my opinion this whole “crisis” comes from a combination of three things:
    1) Culture in general went off the rails a long time ago, longer ago than you think. (I won’t go down the rabbit-hole of how long ago — well, not in this thread anyway.)
    2) Catholics no longer live like Catholics. Insert various reasons for this fact here (yes, “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”).
    3) Pastors aren’t equipped to weed through all the people who want to get married and think the Church should say some words over it.

    If you want to help 3 in particular, a simple place to start would be making people go through the tribunals to *get* married instead of waiting for when they want to prove they never were back when, rather than the current waiting period and attending a conference (err, “classes”?) thing that seems to be the best the Church in America can come up with. Barring that, some system whereby the diocese and/or episcopacy would actively support pastors in making the judgement (and prevent simple circumvention by merely going to another parish when the judgement comes up in the negative) would be imperative. Anything else would be little more than a band-aid on a compound fracture, however much it might help the tribunals sort out annulment cases (which sorting tweaks are, as far as I can tell, all that’s been seriously suggested with regard to this “lack of faith” idea).


  74. The Sicilian Woman says:

    I, in my fallen-away years, married in a civil ceremony to a man who was supposedly raised Catholic and whose previous marriage in a Christian ceremony ended in divorce. There was no involvement of the Church in our ceremony. I was able to obtain a decree of nullity easily: filled out some paperwork, gave my pastor a copy of my divorce decree and a recent copy of my birth certificate (which indicated on that back that there were no known marriages). Paperwork sent to the diocese, and within a couple weeks, I had my decree.

    A male member of my family, raised Catholic (in the typical lukewarm, fuzzy, post 60s fashion) married recently in the Church. He stopped practicing in his late teens. His wife, another Catholic raised in similar fashion to my relative, is even more fallen away that he is. Seems caught up in this poison culture. As is common fashion, they booked their reception before booking the church, and they chose a church – not his family’s, not her family’s – but one that was close to where the reception would be held. He made a point of telling me a couple of times that they weren’t planning of having children for a long time. Yeah, you know what that means. I have little doubt that either of them, regardless of whatever their pre-Cana experience was, entered their marriage with the intent of it being sacramental or even understanding what that meant. If I were a priest and saw a couple like this choose my parish out of convenience, not out of being part of its faith community, and that choice being a priority second to where the reception venue was, I don’t think in good conscience I could perform their wedding or allow it to take place there. I’m not a priest, so that’s my $0.02.

  75. joan ellen says:

    robtbrown says:
    “… I read a talk given by Pope Francis to seminarians in which he wisely warned against the Culture of the Temporary (which is of course cultural relativism). ”
    “…the Church is not only not condemning the Culture of the Temporary but in fact has become an enthusiastic promoter of it.”

    Thank you for this robtbrown. We do not seem to understand the words “until death do us part.” , words counter to the “Culture of the Temporary”. Words that are real clear, easy to understand, and that anyone, almost, regardless of the degree of faith …full of faith or that of a mustard seed…should be able to grasp. They are words that are not easy to do since the temporariness in the culture almost imposes itself upon our lives, and, it seems, even dares us, or challenges us to re-think the words “until death do us part.”

    This lack of living together “until death do us part” is a terrible disadvantage to children, to the whole family, extending even to extended family and to society.

    There are situations when the “for better or for worse” clause is difficult to live out the “…for worse” part. Some couples remain married for the sake of the children, and some opt for legal separation…but remain married for the sake of the children, some divorce but remain married in the Church out of consideration for the children and the Sacrament of Matrimony.

    The lack of living together is tough enough for children, but worse is divorce, remarriage, and the possible resultant 2 or more families trying to live as one family. Doesn’t this all make a mockery of the Sacrament of Matrimony? Could this marriage disarray be a major reason for so much cohabitation and lack of commitment to the married state of life/vocation?

  76. robtbrown says:

    The Cobbler says,

    Thing #2: Correct me if I’m wrong, but would not a “lack of faith” similarly be irrelevant unless it was a similarly technical concept and precisely was a block against the knowledge necessary for consent, i.e. simply an example of and not an addition to lack of form, matter and/or intention?

    Knowledge is of course relevant in any human act, but IMHO this is a situation that cannot be resolved simply by telling people in marriage prep about “death till us part”. Rather, it involves the formation of personality and whether people have a Sense of the Permanent.

  77. Cathy says:

    I don’t consider this Pope Francis’ Humanae Vitae moment, as much as I consider this Humanae Vitae’s moment. If there is a particular widespread lack of faith moment regarding marriage, it honestly is found in the issuance of Humanae Vitae and the widespread dissent regarding it among theologians, bishops, religious and priests. How can a person be prepared for the sacrament of Holy Matrimony if they are being prepared at any point in their Catholic upbringing by those who hold the teachings of Humanae Vitae as wrong?

  78. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Psychological maturity is relevant to the Sacrament of Marriage because it is in its very nature a block against truly knowing or against truly consenting to what actually is a marriage .”

    We call this delusional thinking and it invalidates only, then, where it relates to the substance of marriage. If someone thinks that Obama is the anti-Christ, are they unfit to marry? If someone thinks that they hear voices from God are they unfit to marry? Should we all be psychologically evaluated before marriage? Wow, talk about giving too much power to an immature science. Psychological maturity is what psychology doesn’t have. For a, “science,” to decide, one day , that homosexuality is a disorder, but two years later, without any change in the fundamental science, to decide that it isn’t is not the sort of science I want deciding if I am fit to marry.

    I had a long talk at a humor conference with an expert in Borderline Personality Disorder (she wanted to study humor as a coping mechanism, I think) and she told me, flat-out, that she was having a hard time getting subjects because of the number of misdiagnoses made by the work-a-day clinical psychologist who referred subjects to her for her experiments. I know or have heard of many people given annulments for exactly this condition under the guise of psychological immaturity and, yet,

    a. They may have been misdiagnosed
    b. The latest science shows that there is a strong environmental component, so that if girl marries boy A, symptoms occur, but if girl marries boy B, no symptoms occur. This indicates that the simplistic idea that the girl is psychologically immature or incapable of forming a ligament (bonding within marriage) and that this is an acceptable reason to grant an annulment is very questionable.
    c. Most psychologists in the field are not up on the latest science
    d. The DSM-IV is not science, except in the sense that data mining is. It is a statistical symptom cluster locator.
    e. There are NO strong theories (in the Feynman sense) in psychology.

    In my mind, only full-tilt psychosis is invalidating for marriage. I suspect many canonists would disagree, but they should spend time on the front lines of the development of mental processing theories, like I do. It would, quickly, disabuse them of the security of psychological pronouncements.

    The Chicken

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