ASK FATHER: Spouse unwilling to seek convalidation of marriage.

From a reader…



You recently had a post, “ASK FATHER: Godparents must be confirmed, married properly

In this post you discuss the con-validation of a mixed marriage and a little but about the process.

I have an interesting situation that has been with me for a while:

Some background

I am a cradle Catholic that was raised in a home that didn’t practice the Faith. After Confirmation, I quit practicing and drifted further and further from the Faith. During that period, I met a wonderful women, we were married (in a Baptist Church).

Along comes April, 2005. I was sitting in my office and news came that Blessed John Paul II had died. I’m not sure what it was, the next thing I know, I attended the noon Mass at the Church a few blocks away. This was my first Mass in more then two decades.

I get get back to my office a scour the internet for directions on making a good Confession (I had previously availed myself of the Sacrament of Reconciliation only twice: before First Communion and before Confirmation)

The next day I head over to the local Church for the pre-Mass Confession. I get in the box and dump 20+ years of sin on poor father. He does something amazing. He thanks me, telling me I have made his day.

I began to immerse myself in the Faith, learning what it meant to be Catholic for the first time in my life. My wife is very supportive, we are actively raising our daughter as a Catholic (she loves the Latin Mass!) and I volunteer as a Catechist.

About fours years ago now, I stumbled on the issue of the validity of my marriage. For reasons all her own (and she has some good ones that have to do with me not the Church) she is not yet willing to seek validation for our union.  [There’s the point.]

This caused me all kinds of Sacramental angst. How can I receive Communion? How can I seek Reconciliation? How can I become a Catechist? What about my daughter’s upbringing?

I have sought guidance from numerous Priests, both on the canon and the spiritual. The guidance has come back two-fold: 1. Because I had more or less abandoned the Faith when I was married, I didn’t need to do anything. It would be like recognizing the wedding of two Protestants before they converted; 2. My wife and I can “live as brother and sister, not husband and wife” so that I can continue to receive the Sacraments until the validation.

The first response came from a single, rather 1970s diocesan Priest, so I’m iffy on that interpretation. The second I have heard from multiple Priest, some who I trust implicitly on this issue.

For the last year and a half, my wife and I have been doing just that, living “as brother and sister”. It has not impacted how we are around our daughter, simply the level of physical intimacy.

I read your post yesterday and would love to get your take on the situation.

As with everything, I pray about!

The “1970’s priest” is wrong, but possibly not maliciously so.

He may have been thinking that you “formally defected” from the faith and therefore, were not held accountable to ecclesiastical law (which is what the requirement of canonical form for marriage is).

“Formal defection” was – was – a very difficult thing to determine. In 2009, the Church did away with that concept.  We have returned to the more traditional understanding “semel Catholicus, semper Catholicus – once a Catholic, always a Catholic”. Your Catholic baptism initiated you into a family. No matter what you do, you are always going to be family.

There are good Catholics and bad Catholics.  There are practicing Catholics and non-practicing Catholics.  There is no such thing as an “ex-Catholic.”

One thing that might be possible.  It would be worthwhile sitting down and talking with a good priest canonist or someone at your local marriage tribunal.  You might look into a sanatio in radice.  This is sometimes translated into English as a “radical sanation”, but a more literal translation of the Latin would be “a healing at the root.” It is also called a “retroactive validation” (can. 1161-1165). In this procedure, the bishop retroactively grants a dispensation which “heals” the wound of the invalidly contracted union.

This procedure is especially useful when one of the parties is not willing to exchange consent anew (but still wishes to remain in the union).

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  1. Muv says:

    The return to the Faith started with John Paul II’s death, and he saw to it that the reader made a good confession. Entrust the whole issue to John Paul again. Mr. Reader needs to buy Mrs. Reader a big bunch of papal yellow roses for Sunday and they should attend a Divine Mercy mass together this coming Sunday to celebrate the canonisation. Somehow he will give the couple the courage and vigour to make a fresh start together. Contrary to what the correspondent says, the “brother and sister” relationship does have an effect on their daughter because she has no foreseeable prospect of brothers or sisters – which God might actually will for her. (If the couple are unable to have children for other reasons, apologies for any indelicacy.)

  2. MacBride says:

    Ditto..My situation almost exactly mirrors this situation..even down to varied advice by multiple priests…glad to know I’m not the only one.

  3. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Canonical form today causes more problems than it solves. But it is the law.

    The “resolution” on defection from the Church occurred in 2006, and, for reasons I could go into, is not likely to stand. But it probably is the law for now and for the foreseeable.

    “Semel baptizatus, semper baptizatus” is doctrinally certain; whether the same can be said of “catholicus” is, I think, debatable.

    Radical sanation is really, really radical. Approach it only with very good canonical and pastoral advice.

  4. madisoncanonist says:

    A sanatio in radice can be done without the knowledge of one or both parties, but the raw material for a sanatio is the perduring marital consent of both parties. In other words, the act of the will by which they (invalidly) attempted to take one another as husband and wife must not have been revoked. Without that lasting consent, it would be impossible for any human power to turn two unmarried people into a married couple. The reason I bring that up is that the man says his wife’s reasons against convalidating have to do with *him* and not the Church. I may be wrong, but I take that to mean that she isn’t opposed to a convalidation because she believes they are already validly married and the Church is insisting on a meaningless ritual (a somewhat common attitude among non-Catholic partners), but because she has doubts about him as a husband. If that’s the case, then I don’t believe a sanatio could be granted, at least until she could confirm that she wants to be his wife.

  5. Imrahil says:

    First, I find it remarkable (I do not say that in either sneer, nor jubilation; just that, remarkable) that the questioner’s wife agrees to living as brother and sister while not agreeing to convalidation.

    But then – for what it’s worth (not much) – I don’t think convalidation need necessarily on her part – as a non-Catholic, she’s not expected to confess that the Church does the truth – include acknowledgment of nullity. Catholic married couples always renew their vows at their jubilees, and can privately do so more often. I think it’d suffice if she does just that, while the husband (who, as a Catholic, may be expected to believe that the Church, when invalidating ex-Catholics’ marriages, does so with actual effect) also renews his, in due presense of ministers and witnesses and all. I don’t think she has to acknowledge that the marriage before was null and void* to make the convalidation valid. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. If true, maybe someone explain that to her.

    *Nor does the Church herself say that this living-together, null and void though it was as a marriage, yet entered into as it was with at least a good deal of innocence albeit erroneously, was altogether for the birds hitherto, or could properly termed concubinage. It’s an invalid marriage. Maybe someone explain that to her to.

    Otherwise, radical sanation might be good advice too. I totally grant Dr Peters’ advice to be cautious with it, and he’s the expert, but – after this caution is duly applied – it does sound like a situation where radical sanation might be “made for”. It’s about nothing more than the Church retroactively granting a dispensation from canonical form, or so it seems.

  6. StWinefride says:

    The reader says: For reasons all her own (and she has some good ones that have to do with me not the Church) she is not yet willing to seek validation for our union.

    Speaking from experience, I can say that the devil HATES to see a “marriage” moving towards being regularized. He really does a good job of introducing doubts about the other person or the situation, which is why good priestly advice and guidance is essential along with much prayer. Of course, one can’t blame the evil one and his minions for everything but they are definitely around.

    I think Muv’s advice is great (although for the bouquet to be truly Papal, I would add a few white roses with the yellow!) and puts the situation in the safe hands of God. He can work miracles.

    Prayers for the reader and his family.

  7. AngelGuarded says:

    I will pray for you and your spouse. My husband and I were very fortunate. We are cradle Catholics who were both badly catechized (1960s, ’70s, ’80s). We got married outside the Church. After we both came back to the Faith (together, Thank You Jesus!), we talked to our young associate pastor (from Poland, not a 1970’s type) and to our surprise, he told us we could not have any Sacraments (Eucharist, Confession) until we filed our paperwork and had our convalidation ceremony. I remember how angonizing it was to attend Mass and not receive the Holy Eucharist. I felt like I was on a tightwire in the wind without receiving Him. Finally, after our convalidation ceremony, we were able to be fully Catholic. Looking back at that time makes us really appreciate what we have. I am so sorry for your situation. It is very hard to make things right after we live our messy lives away from Mother Church, thinking, encouraged by society, that it doesn’t really matter, Jesus loves us like a lapdog, we can’t be really wrong, etc. I pray deeply for your wife to go with you to start the work of making your marriage the Sacrament it could and should be. There is nothing better in married life! God bless you for being so open in posting. May St. Michael defend you in battle!

  8. The Astronomer says:

    I’m awaiting a by-the-book annulment of my wife’s previous one and a half year marriage from 25 years ago and am going on month 17. The longer this process goes, the further into ‘high risk pregnancy’ zone my 44 year old convert wife gets. I keep praying to stem her resentment and bitterness, but its not easy. She hears all of the warm fluffiness and “who am I to judge” in the media and then runs into the brick wall of the local chancery bureaucracy.

    To top it off, we ARE living as ‘brother and sister,’ but it’s getting old…really old.

    Prayers, please.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Praying for everybody. To be faithful despite difficulties will bring you great blessings. You are imitating Jesus’ wait for His bride the Church.

    That said, it would be nice if archdioceses had a good customer service help line, even if it was just the one old secretary lady who knows how to get signatures from people who usually aren’t in their offices.

  10. VARoman says:

    Thank you everyone, for the wonderful, insightful responses. What a bless ing this blog has been!

    I posed the above question to Father Z yesterday, and I can tell now that I need to add a few additional details:

    1. The issues holding my wife back from “consenting” to the convalidation are both regarding me and the Church. For my part, there is/was no abuse, cheating, stealing, etc. The issue has been more familial (my crazy family) than anything else; 2. She has uttered the line, multiple times, “Why do I need the Catholic Church to tell me I’m married!?”

    I am, and have been for the last 18 months, receiving the Sacraments, per the arrangement detailed above and under the direction of my Pastor.

    I live in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and I am very blessed to have access to wonderful Church-based resources.

    My wife does not participate in Mass, but was happily present for our daughter’s Baptism and First Communion.

    My wife is not baptized.

    I have come to believe that all of this is a very just penance for a 20+ year run of unabated sinfulness. While I’m not enjoying it, I do thank God for it. If I hadn’t been reawakened to my Faith, I never would have realized this issue was present and would have died blissfully unaware/disdainful of my sins.

    Thank you everyone for the help! You are all a blessing going into Divine Mercy Sunday.

  11. My heart goes out to the posted-question-asker as well as to others in similar situations. With all the rampant examples of dissing marriage today, I am impressed by the courage of those trying to make the best of it. Every aspect of marriage is attacked currently, its not easy.

    Perhaps it would help to emphasize the benefits of doing marriage correctly? A dear friend of mine was baptized in the Church but then raised Evangelical after her mother left the Church and subsequently spent her life ‘saving’ Catholics from its ‘evil’. In the same vein the daughter, my friend, married a fallen-away Catholic, ‘saving’ him from ‘the whore’. It was a rough marriage and almost didn’t survive. Eventually both my friend and her husband miraculously returned to the Church. My friend states that after the marriage was convalidated, the union is happier, stronger, and changed in many positive ways.

    As in many world vs. Church scenarios, life really isn’t about what we can’t have but about the awesome and generous gifts awaiting us with a little bit of self-denial.

    I offer my meager prayers for those here.

    Pray the Rosary, besides the 15 Promises:
    “There is no surer means of calling down God’s blessings upon the family . . . than the daily recitation of the Rosary” (Pope Pius XII)
    “No one can live continually in sin and continue to say the Rosary: either they will give up sin or they will give up the Rosary” (Bishop Hugh Doyle)
    “In these latter times in which we live, the Most Holy Virgin has given a new efficacy to the recitation of the Rosary. She has given this efficacy to such an extent that there is no problem, no matter how difficult it is, whether temporal or above all spiritual, in the personal life of each one of us, of our families, of the families of the world or of the religious communities, or even of the life of peoples and nations, that cannot be solved by the Rosary.” (Sister Lucia, of the seers of Fatima)

  12. Michael says:

    The Astronomer,

    It is my opinion that you have nothing to be ashamed of and that you should live as husband and wife as there is nothing filthy or sinful about sex. I am not sure why some deities concern themselves with sexuality so much. It is almost like it reflects the sentiments and culture of the people who belong to the religion when the holy books are written…

  13. LeeF says:

    madisoncanonist answered the question that I was going to raise re the wife’s consent, both at the time of the Baptist marriage and currently. Perhaps she only originally married in a church to satisfy her family and has no notion of what a sacramental marriage entails (and it is a forgone conclusion that the couple did not go through pre-Cana counseling). Thus to her, perhaps she currently is only consenting to cohabitation just as if they formally were unmarried.

    No mention was made unless I missed it, of children in this marriage. But whether or not they are present, another option is for this man to leave his spouse if she is unwilling/unable to consent to a sacramental marriage, even if only enough to satisfy the requirements for a radical sanation without a ceremony. Obviously this is easy for someone else to say since he obviously loves this woman and wishes indeed to be married to her. But sometimes a rediscovery of one’s faith necessitates hard choices.

  14. HeatherPA says:

    Asking St. Joseph’s intercession for OP and Astronomer.
    My husband and I went through a horrible, rocky, difficult time years ago when we really began to live our Catholic Faith true and for real, and I agree there is a touch of the demonic when a couple deepens their faith. I did a 30 day novena to St. Joseph, begging his help, and fasted more too, and it sincerely wrought a miraculous turnabout in our marriage and personal feelings toward each other. Things since have never come within the same universe as being as bad as that time in our lives. Prayers work along with fasting. God wants your marriage to succeed.

  15. PA mom says:

    Prayers for all of you.

    It makes me realize how ‘easy’ the fix for my husband’s reluctance was. I miscarried when three months along (while the priest hearing my 15 year confession had mentioned that I needed my marriage blessed, I do not recall him suggesting that I was in a state of mortal sin unless I refrained from relations. Certainly the husband would not have agreed to any such thing…) and the following depression was so deep that my husband finally begged me for anything he could do to help me. So, I asked him again to agree to the blessing, pointing out that a bit of blessing could surely only help from where we were at, and that he was not going to be required to do anything other than participate in the ceremony and allow me to raise our child and possible future children as Catholic.

    He relented, and it was beautiful. Years later he is still not converted but does attend Mass weekly quite willingly with us.

    The Lord can do the impossible. I have seen it happen.

  16. Imrahil says:

    As I hear something about “ceremony” here,

    I do opine that for a couple of reasons, convalidation of marriage should not depend on them taking part in any substantial ceremony if they don’t wish to do so.

    They have to exchange the vow in the presence of minister and witnesses, after necessary dispensations (if existent) have been granted. Right. That’s what the law says.

    But the law, as far as I know, doesn’t say this cannot be done in five minutes in the couple’s personal living-room (followed, of course, by the usual decent invitation for a somewhat longer coffee) or… say… the sacristy. Right before Mass, after the parish councillor comes to sign some protocol, the bulletin-distributor comes to fetch his bulletins, and before some other pious people come to have their not marriages but only rosaries blessed; the altar servers, while dressing, can act as additional witnesses.

    There’s a great psychological barrier against having to feel that the previous married life was for the birds, and there’s even more of a barrier if not both are Catholics. Don’t make it harder than it is. It needs, if the couple does not wish for a real wedding, the air of “we’re just fixing the mistake and then let’s go on”.

    Dear Tina in Ashburn,
    life really isn’t about what we can’t have but about the awesome and generous gifts awaiting us with a little bit of self-denial.

    Great line. Thank you!

  17. chantgirl says:

    Michael- You are quite right that there is nothing dirty about sex. In fact, Catholics view sex as incredibly good, holy, and powerful. To us, sex images the love within the Trinity and is a foretaste of the love we will experience in Heaven. Through sex, we enter into the creative power of God. Because it is so good, profaning it is a grave sin. Sex isn’t sinful; our abusing it is.

  18. frbkelly says:

    VARoman, I add my prayers for the reconciliation of these difficulties and for your full reconciliation with the Church and with your wife.
    The matters you speak of are very difficult, especially in our hyper-sexualized society.
    Taking into account all the things that have been said, it seems you are receiving some help, but one question remains that I have not been able to determine from what has been said. And that is this:
    The “Brother -Sister” arrangement that you say that you and your spouse are living under the guidance of your pastor, is this something you have taken on yourselves only, or have you received permission for this from the Bishop?
    Matrimony is a public concern, and brings with it the permission both to cohabitate and to all other marital rights, including the right to engage in those acts which of their very nature are open to the procreation of children. The “Brother -Sister” arrangement is formally a permission granted by competent Ecclesial authority to continue cohabiting with your civil spouse while renouncing all other marital rights. The competent authority for this permission is the Ordinary (usually the Diocesan Bishop). The Pastor is not competent to grant this permission on anything like a stable basis unless it has been ceded to him by the Ordinary. There is a formal application process in which an account must be given as to how you intend to avoid scandal and “mira” on the part of your neighbors and others (eg. family, friends, acquaintances) who see you receiving Communion despite your public cohabitation with someone with whom you are not married. Your confessor is also instructed to be solicitous for you in helping you to keep the promise of permanent continence as long as the irregular marital situation lasts. One of the most important means for this is frequent and thorough sacramental confession.

    It seems, from your post, that your situation does not involve a one- time reception of Holy Communion, but a more or less stable practice of receiving Holy Communion. If your “Brother-Sister” arrangement has not been formalized, I would urge you to get your Pastor to apply for it for you.

    These four proposed solutions to an irregular marriage situation such as this that have come up in this discussion, each have different parameters and different consequences: 1) The renouncing of all conjugal rights while seeking, and receiving permission to maintain the common domicile (“Brother-Sister” arrangement) , 2) The renouncing of all conjugal rights with the departure of one of the spouse from the common domicile (Ending of the state of _de facto_ concubinage) , 3)Radical Sanation, and 4)Convalidation.

    1) For just cause one may apply for this permission from the local bishop (eg. common support of a minor child). In applying for this permission (application is usually made for you by you Pastor or other priest – this is a matter for the external forum, though due to it pastoral sensitivity, it is kept confidential) an account must be given as to how you are to be cared for pastorally, while minimizing the risk of _mira_ (wonder) and scandal to those who see you receiving the Sacraments while to all public appearances, retaining illegitimately what are truly marital rights.
    This is by its nature a temporary fix, which is necessarily aiming toward the more permanent solution provided by 2,3,or 4.
    2) This is you or your spouse moving out and giving up rights to both cohabitation and all sexual congress. This has the disadvantage of making it more difficult to fulfill your duties to minor children, etc.
    3) Healing at the Root can be performed by the Diocesan Bishop for just cause if it can be shown that the original consent persists. This sanation dispenses retroactively from those impediments that fall with in the competence of the Local Ordinary. (Even the Bishop cannot dispense from an impediment stemming from the Natural or Divine laws, so e.g.if there were a prior bond, the sanation would only take effect upon the ceasing of the previous bond – either by death or Dissolution)
    4) Convalidation. This is a new exchange of consent and is in fact the making _de novo_ of a true marriage. It, of course require the free consent of both spouses.

    Any effort you can make to help your civil spouse come to the point of agreeing to have your marriage convalidated will be well worth it. There is something profoundly unsatisfying in all of the other solutions. The loving, patient conversations that this will require of you will go a long way toward winning your, and her, eternal salvation — and maybe even lead you to a truly fulfilling marriage in this life.
    It is really, really worth it to spend all your effort on this persuasion. Court her again. Win her over to you and Christ. She is now an imperfect member of the Catholic Church — You might even be able to lead her to perfect membership in the Church. Is this not a pearly of Great Price, worth sacrificing all to attain?

    God Bless you in your efforts.

  19. slainewe says:

    Dear Astronomer,

    You have my prayers, but it does not sound as though you are prepared for a negative outcome from the tribunal. Have you asked the Lord what HE wills for you both? What if His plans for you surpass the gift of marriage and your own children?

    It may help to remember that you are not man and wife, but a man who dated and is now living with another man’s wife. You will not know otherwise unless the annulment is granted, and even that will not change the fact that you thought so little of the Sacrament of Marriage that you dated a divorced woman.

    What amount of penance is enough for that outrage against Christ and His Bride?

    “Blessed be the Divine Mercy.”

  20. Giuseppe says:

    I agree with Dr. Peters that ‘once baptized, always baptized’ makes sense. I was surprised ~10 years ago with the declaration that one cannot defect from the Roman Catholic Church.

  21. everett says:

    VARoman, in speaking with the priests regarding advice on your situation, have you mentioned that your wife is not baptized? Not being baptized, it isn’t even possible to enter into a sacramental marriage, as one must have been baptized to receive a sacrament. I say this, because if priests have been answer your questions thinknig that this was a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Catholic Christian, you’d get different answers than it being a marriage between a Catholic and a non-Christian (sacramentally non-Christian, as baptism is what initiates us into the Church as Christians).

    Perhaps you’ve already addressed this, but just wanted to make sure, as this is something that many people aren’t aware of, but is a crucial detail for the tribunal.

    In any case, prayers for your difficult situation.

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