Ed Peters has suggestions for Synod on Family

Ed Peters, distinguished canonist, posted at his blog, In The Light Of The Law, about the upcoming autumn Synod on the family.  He has no combox over there, but you should visit his place.

I suggest a careful reading of what follows.   My usual emphases and comments.

Three topics for the 2014 Synod on Marriage

The project to justify holy Communion for divorced-and-remarried Catholics seems to be losing steam. That’s good. [It would be good, were it true.  I don’t think it is losing steam.  I think the valve was closed and the steam is building for the fall meeting.] As I have said many times, unless one is willing to countenance the administration of the Eucharist to those obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin (pace Canon 915), or is willing to say that typical remarriage after divorce is not the grave sin of adultery (pace CCC 2384), or is willing to say that Christ was wrong about marriage lasting till death and about remarriage after divorce being adultery (pace the New Testament!), then that project was doomed from the start. It’s now time to consider ideas that would strengthen the Church’s witness to marriage, not weaken it.  [I don’t think that the advocates of Communion for the divorced/remarried will frame it in terms of changing doctrine.  They know that if they do, they will be shut down immediately.  They will try to stretch doctrine, maybe even suggest that this represents development of doctrine.  Then they will play the pastoral card as a trump to doctrinal purity or rigid legalism.  They will stress mercy over and against rules.  Then they will play the fear card.  They will shout that the sky is falling when it comes to practice of the faith by the rank and file. “People are leaving the Church!”, they will cry.  In short, they will be sly and manipulative.]

Leaving aside some important (but not urgent) ecclesiological questions about the ultimate future of the Synod of Bishops, the assembly convoked for October 2014 will not be legislative in nature and it will not make policies; instead the synod will be tasked with discussing, in an informed manner, natural and Christian marriage from pastoral and canonical perspectives. That sort of discussion requires study (general impressions and opinions about marriage are no longer adequate bases from which to respond to the crisis in marriage), and real study is hard work. [But the Synod could be a rally point for the agenda of the Kasperites.]

May I suggest (or re-suggest as the case may be) three marriage-related topics that need significant advance prepping if they are to be competently treated by the synodal Fathers.

1. Canonical Form for Marriage. The requirement that Catholics wed before clergy has always been an imposition on the natural and sacramental reality of marriage, and the societal conditions that supported its imposition a few centuries ago have all but disappeared today. [Have they?] Instead of defending marriage, the requirement of form now permits tens of thousands of Catholics annually to walk away from marital unions that we demand all others honor, deprives Catholics in such unions the graces specific to Matrimony, and relegates such unions to the status of concubinage. Further, the pastoral need to blunt the ecclesial consequences for disregarding canonical form has led to the elaboration and/or invocation of several juridically dubious “work-arounds” in such areas as jurisdiction, dispensation, and sanation. The question is: does the requirement of canonical form do more harm than good to the Church’s proclamation of marriage today?

2. The Annulment Process. In the popular mind (including many bishops’), the annulment process is a pastoral mechanism that “works” when it allows Catholics in failed marriages the chance to marry someone else. Correcting this massive misunderstanding about the vital juridic nature of the annulment process is of the utmost importance. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] Beyond that, however, the annulment process, being established and administered by human beings, is in need of reform especially regarding: (a) appreciating the canonical impact of widespread societal and familial dysfunction on young persons attempting to enter marriage as Christ and his Church proclaim it; (b) the actual or perceived disconnect between the interpretation accorded norms on consent as given in Rome versus that in many other tribunals around the world; (c) the real burdens and benefits associated with mandatory appeal; and (d) the feasibility of allowing third instance tribunals to function in nations that actually need them.

3. Same-sex unions vs. ‘same-sex marriage’. If there is a philosophically, juridically, and pastorally defensible distinction between same-sex unions and ‘same-sex marriage’, the time to articulate that distinction is now. Earlier ecclesiastical documents on this issue, striving (correctly!) to avoid any semblance of support for the idea of ‘same-sex marriage’, rejected same-sex unions in terms that admit of no toleration in the secular arena and indeed, if taken literally, demand sacrifices by Catholics that the Church should, in any age, be loathe to impose. [?] Besides this important clarification of categories, the practical issues occasioned by having faithful in same-sex unions or ‘marriages’ (chiefly in regard to their admission to the sacraments and participation in Catholic public affairs) need systematic elucidation. [Does this take scandal into adequate consideration?]


Final thoughts over at Peters’ place.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Ray says:

    “In short, they will be sly and manipulative” doesn’t sound like the Holy Spirit will be guiding their work. Somehow, I pray they won’t resort to those two descriptors for this serious matter.

  2. wmeyer says:

    May I add to the second point that the radical variability of the annulment process from one diocese to another seems to me to be a clear injustice. In my own diocese, the average is supposedly one year to process a case, yet mine took 33 months, my wife’s took 36 months, and of the dozen or so cases I learned about in that parish, only one was accomplished in a year. My uncle’s case, in a different diocese, took about 11 months, and involved much less paperwork.

    In this diocese, there seems to be a presumption of validity, such that all cases are for annulment, and none seem to meet the criteria for the Pauline privilege.

    I often hear that “there are too many annulments.” Yet having read Dr. Peters’ book on the subject, I am firmly of the opinion that there have been too many marriages committed by people with insufficient understanding of what marriage should be. Some of those are failures in which a priest participated, many more, perhaps, are not.

  3. McCall1981 says:

    “I think the valve was closed and the steam is building for the fall meeting.”

    This is pretty chilling. What I’m really wondering about is why the instrumentum laboris for the Synod is taking so long to be released. I’ve been anxiously awaiting it, and originally read it would be out “around Easter”, then in May, and here we are still waiting. I wonder whats going on?

  4. anilwang says:

    WRT canonical form, I 100% agree, but I don’t see it changing since it provides an easy out for bishops to allow fallen away Catholics who divorce to return. It’s my understanding that before Trent, marriage outside the Church was considered to be valid but it was a a sacrilege so you could not receive Holy Communion until you were regularized. But if this understanding were to accepted by the bishops, I think it’s important to define the nature of the sacrament received inside and outside the Church. For instance, I don’t believe Protestants who marry sacramentally in their Churches receive the same graces as Catholics that marry in the Church.

    WRT same sex unions, I think there can be no compromise on this issue. In states wherever same sex unions appear, they slowly start assuming the privileges that marriages have including adoption of children and anti-discrimination laws. The state is not involved in regulating private relationships, nor should it. How would you like it if the state required you to register your friends? The reason a state acknowledges marriages is because they are for the good of society and need to be supported. Same sex unions do not add to the public good, so there is no reason to support them other than to weaken true marriage and implicitly promote of immoral sexual behaviour which weakens society.

    That being said, there is no reason a state couldn’t define a standardized partnership contracts. There are many siblings and good friends that for one reason or another don’t want to live get married but do want their property, inheritance, and visitation rights clarified and may want some power of attorney privileges (e.g. in the event that one is incapacitated and permission is needed for risky surgery). Such standardized partnership contracts can aid in the functioning of societies and do not diminish marriage or imply approval for immoral sexual behavior. They might even be used by religious orders.

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  6. Phil_NL says:

    With all due respect for the esteemed Dr Peters, I think he has point 1 exactly backwards.

    Canonical form at least guarantees that the parties to a Catholic wedding have a chance of being told which obligations they take upon themselves. Even if they aren’t told, they have the obligation to get themselves informed. Form is what sets a Catholic marriage apart. And as just about any other church, and certaintly the society as a whole, has a wholly different idea about the insollubility of marriage, without the form chances are huge that upon reversion to the Faith, they will discover they have obligations they did not bargain for at the time. That is a very unhealthy situation, and will lead to even more attacks on marriage, as the “pastoral need” would be huge.

    I believe the requirement of canonical form should be introduced for all others as well. Yes, this means many can and will walk away from marriages contracted before conversion, but a lot of these marriages will be that in name only, not having had any expectation of true permancy to begin with (“till death do us part, or the divorce lawyer, whomever comes first”).

    This would mean that Catholic marriage would be strengthened, as it would be crystal clear to everyone that with the form comes the substance. Yes, this is different from the concept of natural marriage over the past centuries, but what was once understood by that simply doesn’t exist in any relevant quantities anymore. What others call marriage, do with it, or understand it to be, should be no concern of us anymore in the canonical sense, as the battle to maintain the classical, natural meaning of that word is lost – maybe forever, but at least for several decades.

    We should act accordingly, exactly by requiring canonical form for all marriages the Church recognizes.

  7. JBS says:

    I agree with number one. “Church weddings” have become something atrocious in the West, so permitting couples to administer the sacrament to each other in simpler venues could serve as a stepping stone away from the present madness. There would, however, surely still need to be a required notation of the wedding, in keeping with its public nature.

  8. Unwilling says:

    If you want to be a materialist/anti-realist, you believe certain things about human nature — or even deny that the concept of “human nature” has any referents in the material world — or even deny that the concept of “nature” or “kind” has any reality.

    If you want to be a Hindu/Buddhist/Daoist, you believe certain things etc.

    If you want to be a [Religious] Jew, you believe certain things.

    If you want to be a Christian, you believe certain things, including Revelation, the Bible, Romans 1.

    If you want to be a Catholic, …you know…

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    We already have “partnership” contracts. We use them for businesses.

    If you want to start next of kin contracts, you would have to take great care not to denigrate natural families and next of kin rights. Maybe “next of kith” would be more accurate.

  10. Magash says:

    I believe that in the present age most people who marry outside the Church, and without good Pre-Cana instruction take their expectation of marriage from the culture. That view is a flawed view of marriage which is not reflective of what marriage is. That being the case since to validly marriage the participants must deliberately wish to conduct the Sacrament in the way the Church intends, I have a hard time believing that most marriages conducted outside the Church are valid. As I’ve said before a priest cannot validly consecrate by accident, nor can he validly absolve by accident, so how can someone who does not understand what marriage is accidentally conduct a valid marriage. The sooner we accept that most non-Catholics do not have an understanding of marriage that is in conformance to the Church’s understanding of marriage, the sooner we can address the overwhelming problem of broken marriages and second marriages in a way that makes sense. In other words I am suppose to believe that a couple who go to someone, secular or non-Catholic “clergy” to have their marriage carried out or blessed by someone who twenty minutes ago was “marrying” Adam & Steve and who will if asked say that what they are doing and what Adam & Steve did are equivalent, are by default, validly married by default?
    It’s time for the Church to reset their default stand on the validity of non-Sacramental marriages.

  11. Austin Catholics says:

    Why is the Catholic blog-o-sphere so apprehensive about this Synod?

    Large organizations are forever having meetings where people fly in from all over the world. They are regular part of corporate life.

  12. dans0622 says:

    Phil_NL: I think there is still substantial value in requiring canonical form but to go as far as you did in saying that the Church should require canonical form for everyone is unprecedented, as far as I know. While the Church has the ability/authority to make ecclesiastical law binding upon all the baptized–even non-Catholics–I don’t know of any time when ecclesiastical law was made binding upon the unbaptized. I don’t see how that is within the Church’s jurisdiction.
    Magash: A lot of non-Catholics submit their cases to Tribunals. I have trouble recalling a case where it was even alleged that a person did not understand what marriage is (i.e., there was a lack of knowledge). Rarely, there is error (mistaken judgment). More often, there is exclusion of what marriage is (which, logically, requires an understanding of what marriage actually is). Maybe there will be more of that sort of ignorance in the future but I don’t think we are there yet. And, as far as a “reset” of the presumption of validity–to do that might make a change in anthropology necessary. I mean that we believe (cf. Genesis 1-2) that man was made male and female such that the one is made for the other. Marriage is, by our nature, the normal way of life for the person. To say that unbaptized people are presumptively unable to do what the human person was made to be capable of doing is, to say the least, consequential.

  13. StephenGolay says:

    Addendum: Unlike 1968, this time progressive Catholics know they have the power of the state behind them to “force” change within the Church – if they wish to avail themselves.

    And they will. And, unlike 1968, the state will muster forth to support their Catholic allies. That is the sub-text story.

    Where’s the Canon reference to address that.

    It may be addressed with imprisonment and shed blood.

    Will the state – abetted by progressive Catholics – view any “conservative” outcome as a “terrorist” act against the peace secured by equality and pluralism? Will such an outcome signal the authorization for the state to act – heeding to the pleadings of progressive Catholics? Will the state do so by imposing, as agents of court or legislature, politically disposed progressive Catholics to rule over us – our diocesan administrative structures, our selection of employees, our schools, publishing houses, and media outlets – in order to monitor the Church’s compliance with state mandated standards of equality and diversity? Will progressive Catholics take up that duty with enthusiastic glee, for the good of all? What tells us that this will *not* come to pass?

    As progressive Catholics see it, the Synod this Fall can not not go their way.

  14. Heather F says:


    A couple of thoughts. Regarding your belief that a valid marriage between validly baptized non-Catholic Christians is somehow less sacramental, do you also believe that their baptisms are less sacramental too? Sure, the disposition of the people in question will determine how much they benefit from the graces of any given sacrament, but something is either a sacrament or it’s not.

    As for your thought on same sex unions and other adult non-marital partnerships, you might look up what the Canadian province of Alberta has done with its “adult interdependent relationships” law. I dearly wish it were more widespread, as it gives adults who live together as a household (as opposed to transitory roommates) certain legal rights with regard to each other, regardless of whether or not it is a “conjugal” relationship.

  15. robtbrown says:


    Completely disagree.

    You are implicitly denying that marriage is a natural institution.

  16. Marc M says:

    In response to the last several comments- as one who spent several years among very serious Evangelical Protestants, and who has now, as a revert, gone through the processes being discussed, I can tell you that it’s inaccurate and unfair to make a blanket assumption that those outside of the Church do not understand what marriage is. Yes, if your Episcopalian priest married two dudes right before your wedding, maybe that’s a bad sign. But remember that those churches are emptying, and the growing Evangelical movement takes these things very seriously.

    If this sacrament is conferred by the spouses upon each other by their act of consent, which *is* Catholic doctrine, then I think there are a lot of valid, sacramental marriages outside of the Church. Please note: it should be expected, if that’s the case, that not many people in those sacramental, grace-filled marriages would pursue annulment.

    Another aspect of this, and something else that played a role in my own reversion and my wife’s conversion. Despite individuals’ serious consideration of the words of Jesus on this matter, and proper understanding of marriage, it’s true that modern Protestant practice fails to live up to a sacramental mentality of marriage. And that dissonance, if people look hard enough at it, can lead people home to the Church. It happens all the time. There’s even a big Evangelical movement against contraception going on. If the Church stands firm here, many people may notice that big city on a hill and start walking towards it.

  17. Marcus de Alameda says:

    The change agents from the religion of progressive secularism are hard at work preparing the scripts for MSM and new social media saturation to politic for this upcoming synod. I hope and pray that the synod does not fall prey to the frenzy of media twits and trends.

  18. Phil_NL says:


    It would be unprecedented, but I don’t think it’s a matter of jursidiction. I’d rather say it’s one of recognition. I’d say that (natural) marriage is one of those cases where a truthful pronouncement on the facts is often nigh-on impossible, as intent (and what exactly is intended, e.g. permanency) is a relevant input variable, but we cannot look into a persons mind or soul. I therefore cannot exclude the possibility – although it would be a fairly rare one, perhaps even hypothetical – that a proper natural marriage is conducted outside the Church.
    The question is, does the Church have to recognize it as a marriage? I say no, as the Church cannot reasonably presume the existence of a proper marriage anymore (as it did for centuries) and it has no means to prove one way or the other. In recognizing marriages (or not), it has to make a presumption. What I propose is primarily a shift from presuming that marriages outside the Church are marriages, to the presumption they are not, and maintaining this presumption up to the point where a marriage is celebrated with proper canonical form.

    Moreover, I cannot imagine this placing any meaningful additional requirement on the unbaptised: either they know they should join the Church, and then a marriage without proper form would be the very least of their worries, or they are oblivious to our Lord, in which case proper form for marriage would surely be excused, as they would see no relevance in it anyway. After all, proper form is a human law, not a Divine one.

  19. Phil_NL says:


    No, I’m not. What I’m saying is that the natural institution has been twisted, warped and mutilated by society over the past century, and what we see empirically, has little to do with the natural institution – that it shares a name does not mean it shares the substance.

    I think its time to recognize those facts, and create a clear demarcation between what’s marriage and what’s not. The definition of common language does not do anymore. And that has consequences for what the Church should recognize, and what it shouldn’t. (also see my response to dans0622)

  20. Ray says:

    To be valid, each of our sacraments require proper matter and form. At least that is what I think I remember learning back in the 50’s. The matter would be the man, woman and their consent(I suppose the priest fits in here also). The vows would be the form. I’m not a canon lawyer, so this may be a naïve way to try and grasp this matter.

  21. Marc M says:

    Even a purely secular marriage generally involves the spouses making vows to each other that, unless they are lying, or lack some capacity to consent, pretty much cover what a marriage truly means. A presumption that only Catholics really mean their vows seems to lack charity.

  22. Phil_NL says:

    Marc M,

    Does it? The words may be the same, but the meaning isn’t. A purely secular marriage has the option of divorce in it. Just about any protestant marriage has that too. The category where remarriage is an option isn’t much smaller. I’d say the vows are not the same anymore, in substance.

  23. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Even a purely secular marriage generally involves the spouses making vows to each other that, unless they are lying, or lack some capacity to consent, pretty much cover what a marriage truly means. A presumption that only Catholics really mean their vows seems to lack charity.”

    I thought one made promises to people, but vows to God. One makes the conjugal vow to God in the presence of the other person.

    Can. 1191 §1. A vow, that is, a deliberate and free promise made to God about a possible and better good, must be fulfilled by reason of the virtue of religion.

    Am I wrong?

    Thus, there are certain criteria for some statement to be a vow: one must believe in God (however hazily), one must be free, one must be deliberate, one must be informed, the vow must be achievable, the vow must contain a better good.

    Thus, neither atheists, nor gays can make a vow of marriage, because the the atheist does not believe in God and the gay is not promising a better good.

    There is no such thing as a secular vow.

    The Chicken

  24. Alba says:

    Fr Z said:
    Then they will play the pastoral card as a trump to doctrinal purity or rigid legalism.

    There is an example of this thinking in a book ‘ From Maintenance to Mission’ published by Fr Robert Rivers CSP, in 2005. Here is the relevant section:
    “We have official policies from Rome or from the diocese, and we have the world of pastoral practice – and there is often a vast divide between them. Interestingly, this divide reaches back to the very beginning of the church (sic). One of the most ingenious aspects of Catholicism is its way of affirming both moral principle and pastoral practice, abstract law and concrete application, official policy and lived reality. The Italians are rather notorious for their disregard for the rules. They have a wonderful expression that captures their sense of this discrepancy between the rules and the travails of ordinary life: si arrangia. One somehow makes do; one finds a way to get by. One can have both rules and pastoral practice, structure and flexibility. This attitude infuses the ordinary Italian’s views on the church. And curia members – Italians – are often surprised at the seriousness and literalness with which Americans regard church law. The Anglo-Saxon tradition of rule of law doesn’t always apply in church matters.”

    I wonder if this preference for ‘pastoral practice’ over Church law would be recommended by similar people in the area of sexual abuse?

  25. amenamen says:

    I know that Dr. Peters does not mean it this way, but the argument to do away with the requirement of the canonical form of marriage reminds me of the argument to do away with Holy Days of Obligation, and the argument to do away with such things as Friday abstinence. Remove the obligation, they say, and accommodate the multitudes that fail to observe the obligation. But the removal of the obligation, time after time, leads to greater laxity and greater forgetfulness of the Faith in a secularized society.

    The old danger of secret or clandestine marriages may well re-surface at some point in the future, but there are many other dangers that would occur immediately if there were no requirement to be married in a canonical Catholic ceremony. With no required canonical preparation for marriage, there is no way for most people to ascertain that the bride and groom are actually free to marry in the Church. For example, if you are invited to a civil wedding, how do you know if the bride and groom are free to marry? Do you trust the state government to determine this? Given the condition of Catholic catechesis, do you trust the good judgment of the bride and groom?

    If the Church were to remove the obligation for the canonical form of marriage, I am afraid that the very notion of marriage as a sacrament would simply vanish, more completely than ever. For the Church to dispense with the requirement of canonical form, at this point in history, would be to give the appearance of a colossal surrender to the secular state. It would be perceived as a collapse of the Church in the face of a hostile culture.

  26. Tradster says:

    “…the assembly convoked for October 2014 will not be legislative in nature and it will not make policies.”

    Didn’t we hear something similar about Vatican II when it was being planned? That it was merely pastoral and not dogmatic? Everyone on both sides of the issue know that this synod, no matter how it is presented, will be used by the liberals as legislative.

  27. ConstantlyConverting says:

    Any merciful interpretation of the communion issue would necessarily also apply to Catholics married outside of the Church due to lack of form. This could easily be overlooked by closing the lack of form loophole; however, it is patently unmerciful to ignore the great problem of communion in open rebellion to the spouse of all Catholics that is the Church.

    As far as the annulment process, pastoral counseling of couples based on results of annulment decisions would be a huge step in the right direction.

    The biggest help would be a flowering of authentically Catholic teaching in the beauty of the indissolubility of marriage and a further investigation of the works of such fathers as John Chrysostom and Fulton Sheen with respect to marriage, the Trinity, Christ and the Church… As Chrysostom said, denial of the reality of marriage denies the reality of virginity and teaching the beauty of marriage strengthens the beauty of virginity. The implications for the consecrated life are far reaching.

  28. Marc M says:

    “Thus, there are certain criteria for some statement to be a vow: one must believe in God (however hazily), one must be free, one must be deliberate, one must be informed, the vow must be achievable, the vow must contain a better good.”

    Fair enough, though I suppose I was imprecise in using the term “vow” in the way I did. My point was in reference to the cultural practice of “wedding vows,” and that the Catholic Church doesn’t have a monopoly on them. I don’t see the term “vow” anywhere in the canons related to marriage, I see “consent.”

    In any case, I had valid Christian but non-Catholic marriages in mind, not any funny ideas about sacramental marriages between those not baptized. I.e., when baptized Protestants follow the cultural practice of giving their “wedding vows,” and those vows imply “…a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children” (canon 1055.1), it’s quite uncharitable to automatically assume them to be lacking in consent simply because of a failure to follow the rules of an organization to which they sincerely don’t believe themselves attached.

  29. HyacinthClare says:

    I am looking for Dr. Peters to comment on your comments. He appears often in these threads. Wish you could send me a text or something: he’s responded!

  30. kcdoh says:

    A different point of view: I’m married to a cradle Catholic. I’ve been an active Protestant Christian my entire life. We’ve been married 19 years, 6 kids, mortgage, God centered life, etc. though in a Protestant church since he was the more typical cradle Catholic (baptism, confirmation, holiday).

    This past fall, I felt a strong calling to the Catholic faith. I went through RCIA, we attend Mass every week, support the church financially and with our time and our children will be starting RCIC this fall. The problem? I’m denied confirmation because my husband was briefly married 25 years ago. They married in the church but it was a church in a state they didn’t live in, they weren’t required to take any marriage prep. They didn’t even live in the same state as one another. The marriage lasted a few months and then they were divorced, no kids. She’s been married and divorced again since then.

    But because two people I didn’t know married in the Catholic Church 25 years ago, then divorced, I’m forbidden from entering the Church. He’s applied for annulment and has gotten an affirmative declaration, but it has to go to another court still. So remember, a lot of anullments are being requested by Protestants who want to enter the catholic church but can’t until they follow rules they didn’t even know existed when they married.

    It seems like that the innocent protestant spouse of a Catholic should be able to follow their own faith journey and not be excluded from reception while the Catholic spouse works towards being welcomed back to the sacraments. It’s tough being in limbo and not being truly accepted anywhere anymore. Rules are rules, I know. But I know most would-be converts have no idea that they will be excluded before they even start.

  31. Pnkn says:

    Isn’t marriage a >covenant< between two people ? Not a vow to God ?

    Meanwhile in Denmark:

    It will be interesting to see how the Vatican supports the bishops.

  32. The Masked Chicken says:

    Marc M,

    I understood that you probably meant vows in the sense that many secular people understand the term. I just thought I would clarify what the actual term meant, since the nature of vows are not so well understood, these days. The better term might be promises or vows in quotations, since that would cover what most people, including atheists do.

    I agree that most people intend to marry, but what the mean by intend and marriage form the crux of uncertainty in the marriage bond, I think.

    The Chicken

  33. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oh, and, maybe I owe you a little apology for being too nitpicky.

    The Chicken

  34. The Masked Chicken says:

    Okay, maybe a big apology.

    Also, should read:

    “I just thought I would clarify what the actual term meant, since the nature of vows is not so well understood, these days.”

    The Chicken

  35. Kathleen10 says:

    StephenGolay, you may be right that the state may be ready to inject itself into this debate in order to determine the outcome they clearly want, the advancement of what they call “human rights” or “civil rights” for homosexuals, which in this case means marriage. With a world full of attorneys, marriage is not necessary for two people to protect each other legally. Remember that old argument about the poor gay person not allowed to see his or her partner in the hospital because they did not have that legal protection? That surely did happen somewhere, but, that situation is most unlikely now, if you have a decent attorney. Same-sex marriage promotion has nothing to do with that. I do believe there are forces, judges, groups, politicians, who may be ready to jump into this with both feet and take over where they can. It’s not absurd. In Connecticut, only about five years ago, a few openly gay legislators, Andrew McDonald and Michael Lawlor, sponsored a bill to take over control of the local Roman Catholic churches and put in place a “board” that would provide oversight. The people rose up and shot it down, but, it took an effort and a real showing at the State House. That was five years ago and progressives have all the mojo right now, much more than they did then. They are feeling invincible and probably feel they are riding a huuuge wave right on to the beach. We’ve had first rate tutorials in soft tyranny and government overreach. People see how it’s done. Unelected judges now change law as they see fit, just, ignoring what the people have actually voted on and they thought, settled. There is apparently nothing we can do about either. Who knew! This must be why it was early said America “is a Republic, if we can keep it”. Maybe we can’t. Someone wisely said in another post the other day that democracy always descends into mob rule.
    If there is any capitulation on homosexuality by the Synod, any nod, any acknowledgement beyond the usual “we love everyone” mantra, IMHO, it will be like a gigantic foot inserted into the church door. This issue has the potential to divide us into strongly polarized sides, perhaps formerly known as the sheep and the goats. The problem is everybody thinks they’re a sheep, but we’re not all sheep. If we were, the goats would never have been mentioned.

  36. anilwang says:

    Heather F says: ” Regarding your belief that a valid marriage between validly baptized non-Catholic Christians is somehow less sacramental, do you also believe that their baptisms are less sacramental too?”

    Good example. From my understanding, when Protestants with valid baptisms convert to the Catholic faith with infants, it’s my understanding that Catholic ceremony for baptism *except* for the actual baptism because there are additional blessings and prayers that a baptized Catholic receives that a Protestant doesn’t.

    So yes, Protestant baptisms do not have the same graces Catholic baptisms do, even if they are both sacramental. The same can be said about Catholic versus Protestant weddings.

    Magash also raises a valid point that Catholics are at least told in pre-Cana the requirements of a valid marriage so an sincere Catholic couple will agree to avoid contraception, divorce only as a last resort (after trying to work things out with the priest), never “remarry” if they do divorce, understand that marriage is a sacrament, and that three people make up a marriage (the husband, the wife, and God).

    An honest Protestant marriage would not agree to any of those in a Protestant marriage ceremony. So even if their marriages are sacramental, they do not receive the same graces, partially because they will not ask for those graces and partially because they have not fully committed to living those graces.

    The same can be said for all other sacraments. It’s no surprise that when a validly confirmed Catholic treats confirmation as a “Catholic Graduation”, they have a high chance of falling away or becoming lukewarm, despite the graces this sacrament provides.

  37. Marc M says:

    The Chicken- no apology necessary, I am in favor of clarity and precision!

  38. Bea says:

    “the assembly convoked for October 2014 will not be legislative in nature and it will not make policies”

    Forgive my skepticism, but….. It is my best bet that just like Vatican II was a “pastoral council”, it soon became a “dogmatic council” just so, the no-policy/non-legislative gambit will soon become LAW. I won’t hold my breath.

    If all this “niceness” and “compassion” for “suffering” married couples, had been in effect in the 14th-15th Century, we never would have had the “Saint of the Impossible” Saint Rita. Saint Rita, who was true to her marriage vows in the midst of great sufferings, managed to convert her abusive husband and vindictive-minded sons. She was an obedient daughter, wife, mother and nun. But then I’m sure the Synod will not even mention “obedience” but “understanding” of those who seek “happiness” in marriage, even if it means breaking vows.

    Perhaps the Church has been lacking in the teaching of what means “A marriage vow”. It must be brought home to the engaged couple the seriousness of their undertaking.

    Case in point by Pnkn:
    Isn’t marriage a >covenant< between two people ? Not a vow to God ?

    What we were taught long-long ago was that:
    Yes, the vow is a serious vow between bride and groom and this vow is made before God (with the priest standing in "Alter Christus" as a witness for God).
    So Yes, it is a vow/covenant taken between the 2 contracting matrimony with God as their witness.
    This makes it VERY BINDING, indeed, that what God has joined together NO MAN may put asunder.
    We were also taught that once the marriage is consummated it cannot be annulled.
    But this was many moons ago, when reason still reigned.

    Now? Emotions, sensitivity and compassion is the rule of the day-forget about the vows.

  39. Daniel W says:

    Dr Peters writes: “The requirement that Catholics wed before clergy has always been an imposition on the natural and sacramental reality of marriage.” This misconception seems based on an oversimplification of the idea that consent of the man and woman alone is sufficient for marriage. Peters makes it sound as if anything more than the man and woman privately plighting troth is an imposition. Individualistic RUBBISH! We are social beings, marriage is a social institution, and marriage is not just directed at the good of the spouses but to the continuation of human society, which therefore has a role in deciding the acceptable form of marital consent.

    The natural reality of marriage demands that the consent of the spouses be witnessed and accepted by the relevant social entity. Both before and after requiring canonical form, the Church always insisted that marriage occur within the legal framework of the “natural” society to which the spouses belonged, (except in specific circumstances where that legal framework was not binding, for example when it was unjust).

    Catholics belong not only to civil society but also to the Church, and marriage, as a sacramental reality for the baptized directed not only to the good of the spouses but toward the conception and nurturing of her future members, falls within the Church’s mission and interest. The state “imposes” a legal form on marriage because of its interest in the social reality of marriage. Where I am from, the legal form is: a public statement of intention in front of two witnesses AND a state official. The Church integrates the legal form “imposed” by the state, with her own legal form, including the requirement to wed before clergy (ie an official representative of the society who has a vested interest in the marriage). This is no more an unnatural “imposition” than the imposition of a legal form by the state. Both Church and state have valid reasons for requiring a particular form and the presence of official witnesses that are directly related to the reality of marriage as a social institution.

    The Church rightly recognizes marriages of non-Catholics who follow the legal form imposed on them by the state as binding. She does not recognize as binding the unions of those who choose to ignore the form imposed by the state but simply exchange vows privately. She therefore also rightly refuses to recognize unions of her members who ignore her own requirement for legal form.

    Dr Peters is right that there are problems with the current legal framing of canonical form that leads to various complications. However the requirement to wed before an official representative of the ecclesial community is, in itself, an important safeguard for the nature of marriage as an ecclesial reality, just as marriage before witnesses and a state official is an important safeguard to the nature of marriage as a social reality.

  40. chuckharold says:

    I have been married 52 years, and raised a family and enjoy my grandchildren. I have also been highly involved in the local church and diocese, serving on finance committees, pastoral councils, working with strategic planning groups, lectoring, etc. And yet, most of what is discussed here is complete gibberish to most good Catholics. What is discussed here is mostly about laws; canonical formats, annulment processes, etc. At one church I attended the pastor would not let a couple be married in the wonderful gardens of the parish. The couple went to another denomination. Not one discussion has included love. It is all about laws and regulations. Seriously, what difference does it make where someone is married. Get the priest to the park if that is what the couple want. How about if we take the church out of the civil part of the process. Everyone goes to the city hall and signs the legal documents and form a civil union. Then, if the want the marriage blessed they can go to the church. How about just ending the annulment process. Every person I have known who went through the process came away hating the church. Who is some “judge” to decide ten years later that it wasn’t really a valid marriage? I know of nothing that drives people away from the church quicker than the annulment process. Divorce is often the right solution to a lousy marriage. Why should a wife have to live with a man who beats her and the kids? Why should a spouse have to live with another who is philandering on a regular basis? The church needs to get real about the lousy state of marriage in the world and become less legalistic and more pastoral. And, I’m just getting started.

  41. Johnno says:

    It doesn’t matter what the outcome of the synod is. The damage is already done just by it existing. Schism is coming. The most optimistic outcome is that at least Pope Francis and the cardinals uphold orthodoxy clearly and definitively.

    But in all likelihood, the morality will be upheld, but decisions will be de-centralized to be placed in the hands of bishops to do as they please with a wink and a nod by herr Kasper who will proceed to feed the furnaces of stupidity. I would love and pray that I am wrong. But I really do believe Pope Francis and the Synod have already set up the perfect excuse for rebellious Catholics to really openly rebel against the magisterium. The canons are being prepared and they’re going to go off one way or another. They didn’t drag them up over the hill for years not to use them!

  42. Phil_NL says:


    The basic question you implicitly pose is this: should the Church try to keep sheep within the flock by accomodating the desires inspired by the world, or should it try to teach the Truth, even if it’s unwelcome?

    In a sense it’s both, of course, but without rules people go overboard. And without teaching unwelcome truths, out of season, they most surely do. The couple who left for another demonination because they couldn’t have their wedding outside clearly had no idea about consequences, nor the perils of deserting the Church. Exactly for those cases we have rules; not to save all, but to help guide those who can be saved (i.e other couples contemplating similar folly) away from danger. Clear lines are essential for that. Yes, the Church loves, but it’s often a tough love. It has to be in this world. Especially on such an important issue as marriage.

    (Wich doesn’t mean every iota of every rule was such a great idea; a marriage in the parish garden on a travel altar in front of the Lourdes grotto is perhaps not quite according to the letter, but it isn’t so far off that, given other circumstances, it might be done. But really, leave the church over that?! The best example of people not being taught what matters I’ve seen in years)

  43. Gail F says:

    Kcdoh: You are allowed in the Church! You are welcome in the Church! Part of the problem in all these issues is misunderstanding what it means to be part of the Church. It is not a requirement, although many Catholics apparently think it is, that everyone get in that Communion line every week. It just isn’t. No, it doesn’t seem fair that because your husband was briefly married 25 years ago, you can’t have your marriage convalidated now… but if your husband and his first wife had had a baby, he would still be the father even if he had never seen the child again, and if your husband had robbed a bank 25 years ago, he could still be arrested and sent to jail for it. And if your husband had applied for an annulment after his brief, disastrous marriage, you would not be in this irregular situation. Actions have consequences. The Catholic Church takes marriage seriously, and it takes your marriage seriously enough to not pretend that you have a sacramental marriage when you don’t. That doesn’t mean that your current marriage means nothing, or that you don’t love each other, or that you are bad people. It means that the consequences of actions 25 years ago don’t disappear because time has passed.

    How this works out in real life is the hard part, and I think this is partly what Pope Frances is getting at — unlike in previous eras, when divorces were rare, many, many people find themselves in this situation because divorce is rampant. How we deal with this reality is not working. We need to find a way to deal with it charitably, in a way that people can accept and live with, and that does not violate our teachings on marriage. I think that requires more than just a new way to file papers or a new checklist of points to cover during the annulment process — it means helping people to understand what marriage is, and understand that a lot of people who are making the best of a cultural situation they cannot change should be communing spiritually while we, as a church, try to ensure that things change for future generations. I don’t think that’s harsh, I think that’s realistic. As a society, for instance, we should be working to ensure that fewer single women have children and more marriages stay together, regardless of their religion, because it is better for society. But people won’t do it because saying a choice is wrong might restrict their own choices. And as a church we should be working to ensure that fewer people drift along with the culture when it goes wrong. But people have always done that, and they always will.

    Someone above, for instance, said that a couple in her parish left for “another denomination” because the priest would not let them get married in the gardens. That priest wasn’t being mean to them — Catholic weddings take place inside the church, not in the garden. People today think the wedding is all about them and a way to express their creativity. But a wedding is about making a covenant before God — save your creativity for the reception! And people think that the Catholic Church is just “another denomination.” It’s not. It’s THE Church. Without such fundamental understandings, we’re not going to get anywhere.

    As far as “same sex marriage” goes, I think Dr. Peters is getting at the fact that it is already the law in many countries. We are fighting it in the US, but it is already legal in countries around the world. The Catholic Church cannot demand that Catholics live in ghettos and interact only with other Catholics. But what is the right response? Surely it will vary by country, because customs and law vary by country. This is something that has been imposed on people by extremists, and the extremists are vicious and totalitarian. Their will requires changes in everything from business to elementary school classes. We must figure out how to address it in a way that is doable, and while that might mean sacrifice and loss on the part of Catholics, it has to be something we mostly agree on. Right now, many Catholics feel abandoned by the Church for even saying that same-sex “marriage” is impossible or wrong, much less for taking any action. If people get insulted by the idea that they can’t have a garden wedding, how can they be expected to understand that they can’t marry a person of the same sex?

  44. jflare says:

    I’ll admit to being straight out shocked by some of Dr Peters’ suggestions and some of the views I’ve seen expressed here. I have reached very different conclusions; while I may still be single, I know many people who’re married. Changing rules in the manner suggested strikes me as being stroke of something, for sure, but madness, not genius.
    If it’s the case that people find the stipulated canonical form for marriage to be stringent, I think it wise to remember that we are talking about marriage in this case, a commitment for life. I can’t imagine why anyone would think that a simple ceremony for this momentous an occasion would suffice when we throw a grand ceremony for high school graduation. Within ten years, classmates will likely barely know each other; within ten years, spouses will have learned the true meaning of what loving another each and every day really is.
    I also can’t imagine why anyone would think a civil union contracted by society would be healthy for gay people. If two people are living together and treating each other as spouse, we don’t make practical distinctions between “marriage” and “civil union” that make any difference. In this context then, even a vague approval for civil unions from the Church would be a disaster for marriage.

    I readily admit to the trials that may come about from having to deal with rules and circumstances we didn’t know about that can create all manner of trouble. I would point out though, that while many of these requirements can seem draconian and abusive, they aim to bring persons closer to God by way of their efforts to fulfill His Church’s dictates. Having been required to fill out security background check forms, I well understand the torment of determining what happened 7 years, 10 years, even 25 years ago. I would point out though, that these very procedures help us to understand how very important our actions really are. I won’t go as far as referring to these trials as penances per se, but I do think there’s a good bit to be said for the spiritual growth that these requirements can bring about.
    If the rules are tough, let’s remember that they aim to teach us how to live with virtue.
    Yes, they are difficult.

    I have never seen any cause to believe that life lived virtuously every day will not be even more so.

  45. Pnkn says:

    re: kcdoh –
    “But because two people I didn’t know married in the Catholic Church 25 years ago, then divorced, I’m forbidden from entering the Church. He’s applied for annulment and has gotten an affirmative declaration, but it has to go to another court still. So remember, a lot of anullments are being requested by Protestants who want to enter the catholic church but can’t until they follow rules they didn’t even know existed when they married. ”

    Perhaps this is about the nature of your relationship….and not the previous marriage itself.
    Don’t know, since it’s not stated what the actual reason for denying confirmation is. Also, I’m not sure how a Protestant can request an annulment of someone else’s marriage.

    I’m confused.

  46. Pastor Bonus says:

    The points Ed Peters raises may or may not be worthwhile, but surely the most critical issue facing the Church vis-a-vis marriage is cohabitation and Catholics being totally unaware of it’s spiritual dangers and treating the sacrament of marriage as something optional, this is the REAL issue. In fact it is clear to me that most Catholics have lost the sense of the sacred not only when it comes to marriage but also in relation to every other sacrament. It has also not been lost one how this loss of te sense of sin goes hand in hand with a loss of the sense of the sacred in our liturgy.

  47. Magash says:

    It is factual to say that marriage is a natural institution, independent of its sacramental character, and predating its sacramental character. However as a natural institution it has certain natural aspects. I suppose we could use the terms accidents and natures, as we do when we talk of other sacramental things. For marriage these aspects are the union of one man and one woman joined for the propagation of children. Man and woman marry so that they can be together, form a family and produce children. By its very nature marriage excludes certain kinds of relationships.
    Someone mentioned baptisms which are carried out outside the Church. When the Church recognizes the baptisms carried out in a particular Protestant group it requires that the baptism be done in a certain way. Nondenominational baptisms, which are done in the “Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit(Ghost), conducted with water, with the intent to make the recipient a Christian in the sense of Matthew 28:19, for example, are considered valid baptisms. The Church doesn’t consider Mormon baptisms valid because even though they use the terms “Father, Son and Holy Ghost” A Mormon doesn’t understand these words to have the same meaning as a Catholic.
    For marriage instead of taking that tract the Church has decided to accept that all marriages, between a man and a woman are valid, except when proven otherwise, in a tribunal, are valid. That may have made sense when everyone agreed with the definition of marriage as understood in natural law. This is no longer the case. Couples believe they can subvert the nature of marriage by practicing contraception. They believe that marriage is an arrangement of convenience that can be terminated through legal action. They believe that equivalency exists between marriage and the disordered relationship of same sex couples. What they mean by marriage no longer conforms to the Natural Law definition of marriage.
    My contention is that a large number of non-Catholics when they talk about marriage don’t mean the same thing as the Church. If someone believes that marriage is a state that two men or two women can can enter into then what they are talking about isn’t marriage. If they believe that their situation with a member of the opposite sex is equivalent to the aforementioned state then what they are talking about isn’t marriage as understood by the Church irregardless if they use the term “marriage” for it.
    I can take a bicycle, put a motor in it and call it a car. That doesn’t make it a car. I can put training wheels on it, so that it now has four wheels instead of two. It’s still not a car.
    What we have is a lot of people building motorcycles and calling them cars and the Church saying we’ll assume what you’ve built is a car until we look at it, when what they should be doing is saying: If you build it in our garage we’ll assume its a car. If you build it in someone else’s garage and you want us to recognize it we’ll take a look at it and if its a car we’ll tell you, but our assumption is it’s not a car.
    So I agree with Dr. Peters that lack of form should not be a special case. Unlike Dr. Peters I think it needs to go the other way. All marriage outside the Church should by default be considered sacramentally invalid. If someone wants to enter the Church they should be allowed to make the case that their marriage is valid. If it is great. If not they should be afforded the opportunity to, after proper Pre-Cana instruction (probably carried out as part of RCIA) to receive the Sacrament of Matrimony.
    Naturally, just like baptism, the Church can reserve to itself the authority to declare the Marriages preformed in non-Catholic denominations, which have an understanding of Marriage in conformance to the Church’s understanding of marriage as valid as a group. I suspect those will be few and far between as more and more Protestant groups recognize Same Sex “Marriages”.

  48. Phil_NL says:


    Exactly. The only thing that I’d skip is allowing them to argue their marriage is valid already. As just about all protestant and civil marriage allows for divorce and remarriage, that would seem a long shot to me.

  49. CarpeNoctem says:

    On #3, about eluidating the difference between same-sex marriage or civil (same-sex) unions, and the rights of the faithful, viz, participation in the sacraments and such. It would seem that the attempt to enter into such a union, all things being equal, should not be seen as anything less than a crime subject to latae sententiae excommunication, to be remitted by public renunciation of the union (‘divorce’, or otherwise) acknowledged by the local bishop. This has the added effect, should civil law continue to be deformed, of placing the parties ‘outside’ the membership of the Church, shoud any law demanding that a Church ‘marry’ its members according to the standards of civil law, be enacted– it would be hard for civil authority to force any religious organization to conduct marriage services/ceremonies for someone who is NOT a member of that organization… i.e., I can’t walk up to a Jewish synogogue where I am not a member and insist that the rabbi solemnize my marriage, if I am not Jewish. Maybe this would force the Catholic Church in the USA to insist that the couple solemnize civilly, first, before coming to the Church, as it does in other countries–which is not without problem, either. But it would help the Church insulate itself against rowdy excommunicate non-members who think that their ‘marriage’ is a matter of human or civil rights.

    Let’s further this along… a bishop will not permit a dispensation of form to allow a Catholic to married in a non-Catholic church that permits same-sex unions. Clearly the understanding of marriage in such a non-Catholic community that equates marriage and same-sex unions does not match the understanding of what Catholics do by celebrating marriage, and so, to consign any of the faithful to such a union should be avoided.

  50. dans0622 says:

    Magash: The situation of Mormon baptism is rather unique in that the Church has basically said they are always simulating the Sacrament. Other than that, we still have to believe that people mean what they say, whether it is in baptizing or marrying. Be that as it may, how have you come to conclude that “a large number” of couples “believe” those things? I am not the most experienced tribunal official but I’ve seen hundreds of cases involving non-Catholics and it’s just not that common to see outright ignorance or “beliefs” that are not marital. It is not “belief” that makes marriage, anyway, it is consent/intention. And, I hold that even those who are in favor of allowing “same sex marriage” do not really think that such a union is the same as marriage. This issue a bit too recent in the cultural devolution to have an impact on people who present their cases to Tribunals, though, so we’ll see what happens.
    Considering all non-Catholic marriages to be “sacramentally invalid” (the use of the word “sacramentally” is curious) leads to this question–must we then consider all non-Catholics who are married to be, actually, in a state of objective fornication? I, for one, don’t want to go there and I don’t think the Church will.

  51. robtbrown says:

    Phil_NL says:

    No, I’m not. What I’m saying is that the natural institution has been twisted, warped and mutilated by society over the past century, and what we see empirically, has little to do with the natural institution – that it shares a name does not mean it shares the substance.

    No doubt about the cultural influences.

    On the other hand, everyone has a natural right to marriage–thus, the presumption must be that there are no impediments (e.g., already married, etc.) unless already known. That is why if you presume invalidity for those without canonical form, you deny that marriage is a natural institution.

  52. robtbrown says:

    Magash says,

    As I’ve said before a priest cannot validly consecrate by accident, nor can he validly absolve by accident, so how can someone who does not understand what marriage is accidentally conduct a valid marriage.

    It’s unclear what you mean by “consecrate by accident”.

    If you are referring to intention, then, yes that is so. Intentional, however, can be minimal, and it does not have to be actual.

  53. robtbrown says:

    NB: In any Baptism using the Trinitarian Form, the assumption is validity. The invalidity of Mormon Baptisms is because Mormonism explicitly denies the Trinity, thus the intention explicitly contradicts the form.

  54. robtbrown says:

    If you are referring to intention, then, yes that is so. Intentional, however, can be minimal, and it does not have to be actual.

    Should be: Intention, however, can be minimal–and does not have to actual.

  55. robtbrown says:

    If I might offer a few words in support of the first Peters point.

    Let’s take various situations:

    1. Catholics marrying with canonical form.

    2. A Protestant and a Catholic in civil marriage or in a Protestant church without a bishop, priest, or deacon being present. (A Protestant minister is no different than a Justice of the Peace. )

    3. Two Protestants marrying.

    4. Two Unbaptised marrying.

    The Church recognizes #1 and #3 as valid Sacramental marriages; #4 as a valid marriage but not Sacramental ; #2 neither as a Sacrament nor as a valid natural marriage.

    Phil_NL seems to think the Church should simply say 2, 3, and 4 should all be invalid. IMHO, that contradicts a natural right to marriage because it’s a natural institution.

    I think, however, it makes no sense for #3 to be Sacramental but #2 to be neither Sacramental nor natural.

  56. Phil_NL says:


    Perhaps more careful reading would help, or perhaps I wasn´t clear enough, but some subtle – but vital – elements clearly didn´t get across. let me try to be clear that up.

    First of all, for my position it is not needed to argue that those marriages are by definition invalid, and apart from one loose use of the word in a somewhat different context none of the 43 occurences of “valid” on this page are mine. My argument is that the presumption of a (valid) marriage should cease. I leave open the theoretical possibility that there are valid natural marriages out there. I just regard them as extremely unlikely in this day and age, as I would regard any marriage where the parties allow themselves the freedom to divorce and remarry (should circumstances make that an opportune course of action) as something not meeting the standards of natural marriage.

    I’m not denying the right, I’m doubting the right is actually exercised in practice. Marriage is a natural institution, but that does not mean that what we tend to call marriage nowadays is a natural institution as well!

    As in my opinion, natural marriages (real ones, properly intending permanency) outside the Church are exceedingly rare, I would propose that recognition, i.e. presuming that a marriage is actually that whenever the existence of a marriage is a relevant question, is to be withheld. In a nutshell: “since 99.9% of this type of marriages aren’t natural marriages, we’re not going to extend the benefit of the doubt to the other 999 based on one where it may or may not be a true marriage”.

    Again, the issue isn’t if people have a right to marry. The issue is, do they actually marry?, or maybe even can they actually marry, given their understanding of the ‘terms and conditions’ attached to that? My position is that in any case where divorce and remarriage is an option, even as a last resort, they aren’t marrying in the natural sense. They aren’t denied the right – the right doesn’t change. They aren’t exercising the right. They would only be exercising it if we allow a broader definition of ‘natural marriage’ than what I believe is classically understood, namely one where permanency is no longer a firm condition, but only a “best effort”. if we keep the classical understanding of natural marriage, then society has moved away from it.

  57. Imrahil says:

    On the canonical form issue,

    the Church can go without it (she did for 1.5 millenia), but is it just me that cannot think going back to “I marry thee”, “and I give myself in marriage to thee”, followed by immediate consumption of said marriage, would be a good idea?

    If anything, we could extend canonical form (validly but illicitly) to marriages declared to publicly known separated-Christian ministers and to state officials, the way it is done now w.r.t. Eastern-Orthodox priests (can 1127 ). But that would still be “canonical form”, only a different application of the same idea.

    Dear Phil_NL,

    about the assumption of validity you may have a point. However as to actually demanding canonical form for validity, demanding canonical form as an actual condition of validity has its only justification in the authority of the Church. And the Church is loth to exercise authority (which she has) over baptized non-Catholics, and has none over unbaptized people. (Except to preach general morality, but that here is not general morality but compliance to a Church law.)

  58. Phil_NL says:

    Dear Imrahil,

    I see no problem there. I do not argue for demanding canonical form for validity, only the assumption that validity isn’t there when the form is lacking. So strictly speaking it’s not an exercise of authority over those the Church has none, it’s simply saying “should you marry without form, we’re going to assume your marriage is as inadequate as that of the other 99.9% who do so, if you or your spouse do enter the Church” (and if they don’t enter the Church, it’s no concern of the Church anyway, then it’s for God to sort it out directly).

    Again, though, I reckon that so few marriages outside the Church are consistent with the definition of natural marriage, that the distinction will be a largely academic one.

  59. Pastor Bonus says:

    Cohabitation is the real issue facing us.

  60. robtbrown says:


    I understood what you were saying. The problem is that you’re wrong. Let’s try again:

    Marriage is a natural institution. Thus, there is a natural right. Thus, the presumption (according to human nature) is that a marriage is valid–thus marriage enjoys the favor of law (this was covered some weeks ago on this blog).

    Are there invalid marriages? Certainly. Are there thousands of them? Perhaps. But in considering cases, esp indiv cases, the presumption of validity is assumed. The case must be made against the bond.

  61. robtbrown says:

    Re Canonical form: Of course, it is valuable. The problem is 1) that it’s required for Catholics but not for Protestants in order to have Sacramental validity, and 2) that Catholics marrying without canonical form are not even considered to be in a natural marriage.

  62. Daniel W says:

    you are not quite right that canonical form “is required for Catholics but not for Protestants in order to have Sacramental validity.” Canonical form is required for all the baptized (who can), its just that the Church can’t force her laws on those who are outside her “gates.”

    It might help to compare Protestant marriages with marriages of Catholics in remote places who can’t get a member of the clergy for a long while (a month). Canonical form is not required for them, just two witnesses (again if it is humanly possible)! It would be interesting to know whether the Church recognizes as valid a marriage of two Protestants that is contracted without any witnesses.

    The Church needs to take precautions that her members know what they are doing when they contract marriage and that their are witnesses to the marriage, just as most civil societies require a minimum form and trained, official celebrants and witnesses for similar reasons.

  63. Phil_NL says:


    That marriage is a natural right, is not something I dispute. That such a natural right means that everything some person, somewhere calls “marriage” therefore also is marriage, does not logically follow.

    I think that there is a strong case to be made that practice does not conform to the definitions emcompassed in the natural right anymore. (due to divorce by the way, not same sex ‘marriage’, meaning this is a change that has taken place over the past century rather than the past decade). When society makes a natural institution to an unnatural one, the presumption should change as well.

    To be blunt, your position seems to entail that if the whole world would move to polygamous marriage, you would still presume it to be valid (at least the first marriage – though there’s of course no rule while someone cannot ‘marry’ 10 wifes or 10 husbands at the same time).
    Or, with another analogy, your immutability of recognition would be of the same order as saying “well, in the 21st century biological weapons are a reality, so we must presume they’re covered by the second amendment”.

    I’ll conclude: that there is a natural right, does not mean that people actually use that right. If they don’t use that right, but still give whatever they do the same name, recognition can and should be withdrawn.

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  65. OrthodoxLinguist says:

    It would seem that vows couldn’t be essential to a valid marriage since, in Eastern Orthodoxy, we have no vows in the service and Eastern Catholics follow our practice. While there could be canonical requirements put on Latin Catholics, they would be on the level of ecclesiastical, not divine law, and so it doesn’t seem that they could be binding on those outside of the Catholic Church, no?

  66. dans0622 says:

    OrthodoxLinguist: The couple has to manifest marital consent, somehow, in order for a marriage to be contracted. That can happen without the recitation of Latin Rite “vows.” As far as non-Catholics being bound by ecclesiastical law: yes, the Catholic practice (today) is to bind only Catholics. That has not always been the case, though. In the past, baptism (even if in a “heretical sect”) was seen to make the person a subject of the (Catholic) Church even though he was not made a member of the (Catholic) Church. As such, the ecclesiastical law of the (Catholic) Church bound him. This might be an oversimplification of the matter but is, I think, accurate.

  67. robtbrown says:

    Daniel W says:
    you are not quite right that canonical form “is required for Catholics but not for Protestants in order to have Sacramental validity.” Canonical form is required for all the baptized (who can), its just that the Church can’t force her laws on those who are outside her “gates.”

    Excuse the delay:

    Obviously, Matrimony is a Sacrament that needs jurisdiction, which means that lacking it, its celebration would not only be illicit but also invalid.

    Thus, any recognition of a marriage that lacks the clerical representative must be a matter of iurisdictionem supplet Ecclesia. If the Church wants to apply that to the marriages of Baptised non Catholics, IMHO, in the present chaos it should also be applied to Catholics.

    I completely agree with the Peters assertion about lack of canonical form with Catholics:

    Instead of defending marriage, the requirement of form now permits tens of thousands of Catholics annually to walk away from marital unions that we demand all others honor, deprives Catholics in such unions the graces specific to Matrimony, and relegates such unions to the status of concubinage.

  68. robtbrown says:


    You seem to be confusing the intention going into marriage with the ability to persevere. Valid consent, the manifestation of the natural right, requires intention of the goods of marriage: to be open to children, to be faithful, and to assent to its indissolubility. There are not many, and likely almost no Catholics, who would not agree with those goods during their engagement.

    I have known many who have divorced, including some loyal Catholics. Before marriage none even considered that it wasn’t a lift long commitment. In fact, one couple had 7 children, the father a PhD who has written a book on Maritain, a former member of the Petraeus inner circle, and not excluding Latin masses.

  69. Phil_NL says:


    I think you’re too easily assuming intent. Also, I have nothing to say about the ability to persevere, I am arguing about intent all along.

    I say that if you marry, in a church or civilly, that allows divorce and remarriage* – even if none of the partners ever thinks it’s going to go that way – you effectively have your fingers crossed behind your back, indicating you’re not really committing yourself. There may not be an intent to divorce or remarry, but there is not the intent to enter into truely indissoluble marriage either, as that is not asked of the partners nor confirmed by them. A marriage outside the Church doesn’t mean you – to put it crudely – “burn your bridges behind you”. Hence there can’t be proper intent, unless by accident. Given current culture, I think that last category (accidental natural marriage) is negliable.

    In sum, if society changes what marriage means, those following society will stick to that warped meaning when they marry, and think none the less of it. But the substance is still changed, and therefore the intent; they intent to enter into something that is substantially different.

    *(that’s the crucial element, by the way, civil divorce wouldn’t dissolve the marriage in a natural institution setting either, but remarriage does assume it’s dissolved)

    PS: For the record: I’m also not arguing about Catholics either. I’m arguing that marriages by non-Catholics outside the Church should be held to the same demands of those of Catholics , and if the demands aren’t that they are assumed to be non-natural and non-sacramental.

  70. Phil_NL says:

    erratum: “(..) and if the demands aren’t met” in the last line.

  71. Daniel W says:


    Dr Peters is pretty isoloated amoungst orthodox canonists in this. The requirement of canonical form does not reduce these unions to concubinage according to canon law. They are usually at least putative marriages in most cases. In other words, Peters regards invalid marriages to be concubinage? Can concubinage undergo radical sanation?

    Peters is committing an error here that he often accuses others of – the law does not deprive the Catholic of matrimonial graces, but rather however’s fault it is that canonical form is ignored.

    Peters is completely wrong about the first point as well -the requirement for canonical form is no different from the requirement of legal form in civil society. Any couple can walk away from a marriage where the required witnesses, celebrants etc were not present. It is negligent of any decent society to not require the presence of an official witness. The Catholic Church does not hold any couple to a marriage where the required form is not carried out. If both parties are not Catholic, then they only have to carry out the legal form required by the civil society they are part of.

    By requiring canonical form, the Church is protecting those who are usually weaker in their faith from a commitment that they are patently not ready or disposed for.

  72. dans0622 says:

    Daniel W: All of the “big three” commentaries in English (CLSA, CLSGBI, Exegetical Commentary) point out that c. 1061.3 (regarding the definition of a putative marriage) does not apply to those which totally lack canonical form. This is based on a 1949 response of the Holy See. So, such unions are not “at least putative” in any case. Saying such unions are equivalent (in law, which is the context of the discussion) to concubinage is certainly not incorrect. Maybe only a few people would use that term but it’s not wrong to do so. And, yes, such unions can be sanated as long as proper consent is present (c. 1161). How/why that is possible is a matter of discussion but it clearly is possible.

  73. robtbrown says:

    Phil_NL says,

    I say that if you marry, in a church or civilly, that allows divorce and remarriage* – even if none of the partners ever thinks it’s going to go that way – you effectively have your fingers crossed behind your back, indicating you’re not really committing yourself. There may not be an intent to divorce or remarry, but there is not the intent to enter into truely indissoluble marriage either, as that is not asked of the partners nor confirmed by them.

    I have first hand experience as a novice in the province of a well known US religious order. Of those in philosophy or theology that year 18 were ordained. Of those 18, only 6 didn’t leave the priesthood. I also have a good friend ordained as a diocesan priest with 8 others. He is the only one left: 1, a very good man, died in a boating accident. The other 7 left. And 3 of my friends from Rome–all good men doctrinally and inclined to Latin liturgy–left the priesthood; I also knew others who left. And just in the Paul VI papacy 50,000 left. Following your line of thought, we should presume lack of valid intention for all those ordinations in the West following Vat II.

    Further, concubinage, which contradicts one of the three goods of marriage (fides–fidelity), was allowed in society for years. Does that mean we should presume lack of valid intention for marriages in that era?

    A marriage outside the Church doesn’t mean you – to put it crudely – “burn your bridges behind you”. Hence there can’t be proper intent, unless by accident. Given current culture, I think that last category (accidental natural marriage) is negligible.

    Once again: For a Catholic there is no such thing as marriage outside the Church–it doesn’t exist. Should a Catholic who has married before a Justice of the Peace leave that union and desire to marry another in the Church, no annulment is necessary, neither a dissolution. That first union, and whatever civil obligations (incl children) that might accompany it, are not recognized by the Church.

    And civil divorce does indeed dissolve a marriage.

    I also have no idea where you came up with the notion of “accidental marriage”.

  74. robtbrown says:

    Also: I’m not sure about present statistics, but a few years ago there was no difference in the divorce rate between those in a Catholic marriage and those who are not. So it appears your idea of mandating canonical form would be of little use.

  75. robtbrown says:


    I don’t know what you mean by “total lack of canonical form”. Either the Church requires 3 witnesses (one clerical) or not. There is either canonical form or not.

    I’ll restate a question: A couple, both non practicing Catholics, is married by the Justice of the Peace. Later they divorce. One later decides to marry a practicing Catholic. What action, if any, must be taken by the Tribunal before they are married?

  76. robtbrown says:

    should be: before they can be married.

  77. dans0622 says:

    robtbrown: I think I was the only one who has used a phrase like “total lack of canonical form.” I could have said “lack of canonical form” but threw in “total” to make a distinction between that and a “defect of canonical form” (for example, when the priest does not have the proper faculty). If there is a defect of form, the marriage is putative and enjoys the presumption of validity. If there is a lack of form (proper form was not even attempted), the union is not putative and does not enjoy that presumption.
    To answer your question, to make that marriage both valid and licit, most dioceses require that someone at the Tribunal look at the basic, pertinent documentation and attest that the Catholic party is free to marry. A lot of dioceses/tribunals will use terms like “declaration of nullity” for such a case but it is not a declaration. It is not a judicial or administrative sentence or even an administrative decree. I could give some references but don’t know if they are needed or desired. In some places, the tribunal is not involved in this at all–the premarital investigation which is to be done on the parish level is sufficient to determine the freedom to marry.

  78. Daniel W says:


    Concubinage is a sexual relationship where the couple do not or cannot marry, usually involving dependency of the woman on the man. This covers a broad range of unions, but it is not appropriate or correct to refer to attempted but invalid marriages as concubinage.

  79. robtbrown says:


    Apologies. I was wrong about the source of “total canonical form”

    The question, however, was intended for DanielW.

  80. Daniel W says:

    I don’t particularly care what the tribunal must do. I’ll ask you a question to put your question in context.

    What if the first marriage in your scenario occurred on a deserted island (ie no witnesses)? Or considering another scenario, what if the marriage occurred in front of two witnesses only on a deserted island, (because a member of the clergy was not able to attend within a month of the desired wedding date). What action must the tribunal take in these cases if the couple later separate?

    My point is to highlight that you think the presence of an official witness (Justice or the Peace) is important because many countries have that minimum requirement. It is however quite an arbitrary requirement. Church law does NOT require a JP, just two witnesses if a member of the clergy can’t be present. So if you think the state’s requirement of a JP as official witness for marriages of its citizens should be respected, why shouldn’t the Church have the right to insist on the presence of an official witness for the marriages of its members??

  81. Phil_NL says:


    I think your comparison with holy orders does not apply. Marriage is insoluble, and no authority can change that. Holy orders can be rescinded however, a priest can be laicized – even as a penalty. I’d therefore say that allowing the possibility that men leave the priesthood is fundamentally different from allowing divorce and remarriage. Moreover, if we are making the comparison after all, leaving the priesthood would be akin to divorce. The real issue is not divorce per se, but remarriage afterwards. As one tends to go with the other, there is little application for that in terms of marriage (safe perhaps some Anglican churches, who may allow divorce but not remarriage, of that I don’t know enough). But if you compare with the priesthood, there is no analogy to remarriage. One cannot be ordained twice.

    I would agree that for civil marriages, an analogous argument could be made for fidelity, as you describe. For religious marriages that would only apply to those churches who do no see infidelity as a sin.

    For the second bit: I was talking about non-catholics. I advocate no change for Catholics, as they already fall into the regime I think is best.

    As for the phrase ‘accidental natural marriage’, I mean a natural marriage entered into accidentally, that is, that even though the institutional demands placed on the marriage (civil or from another religion) don’t include the goods required of natural marriage, the partners do intend them and therefore have a natural marriage. Which, from the viewpoint of the church or the civil law they recognize and apply, would be an accident, rather than the normal outcome.

    Finally, you say it would be of “little use”. I disagree. For starters, we would not have the problem that many converts face: they marry while outside the church, divorce, remarry, all still outside, and then, Deo gratias, convert. But since their first marriage is – IMO wrongly – recognized, they have a whole lot of problems getting their situation sorted out. Which does the Church no good at all – basically, it is akin to changing the rules midway. You married as an evangelical, divorced and remarried as an evangelical, all within the bounds of that denomination, and then are told that your first marriage, which everyone involved believed could be terminated by divorce, is still valid.
    That will be the cause of much resentment.

    Secondly, it would at least make clear that the Church does not yield to other parties in the definition of marriage, and reserves the right to live by its own law. That clarity is now sadly lacking in many cases. That would ultimately strengthen marriage, as its meaning would be emphasized. Even if there isn’t a single divorce less (though I think many barely-practicing Catholics now divorce and remarry in part because they don’t see it as an issue that is big deal for the Church, there’s little that gives them cause to pause and reconsider) the clarity would still be an improvement.

  82. robtbrown says:

    Daniel W,

    1. No, I don’t think the presence of witnesses is an arbitrary requirement. Matrimony consists of public promises. The presence of two witnesses, one for each spouse, is intended to be proof that such promises were made.

    2. It depends on the situation after the desert island. If, lacking witnesses, one claims that no promises were made, but the other denies it, then any attempt at marriage cannot be assumed by any court–civil or ecclesial. For example, if they return and live together for 3 years, during which time one wins $10 million in the lottery, then split up in a no fault state, the non winning partner has no right to any of the money or goods purchased during that period.

    If there are witnesses or if both claim the promises were made, it’s another situation. I would think any priest would at least encourage sanation and better yet renewal of vows before the Eucharist. If the couple is non Christian, then not getting a marriage license would be stultissimum and only lead to a mess.

    3. No, I don’t think a Justice of the Peace (or someone else who has civil recognition) is necessary, but it is often used in civil weddings.

    4. We also know that certain nations don’t recognize Catholic weddings, no matter how many witnesses there are. Good friends went to France (Fontgombault) to marry but there was no civil recognition of it in France (thus in the US) until they took out a marriage license. Because of her inherited wealth, we encouraged him to get the license ASAP.

  83. Daniel W says:


    So if you agree the state should have a minimum “legal form” requiring a representative of the state to witness, why are you against the Church having a similar requirement for its members when possible?

    This is why I think Dr Peters shows a limited understanding of the marital consent required by the nature of marriage when he writes that canonical form has always been an “imposition on the natural and sacramental reality of marriage.” Marital consent is only valid when manifested in the form required (justly) by society, civil (if they are part of a civil society) and ecclesial (if they are part of the Church). This is not an imposition but derives from the nature of marriage as something essential to the continuation of society itself, both civil and ecclesial.

  84. robtbrown says:

    Daniel W,

    I don’t have a problem with it. I do, however, have a problem with your portrayal of the requirements as arbitrary, which does not manifest an understanding of its unique status as both a natural institution and Sacrament. The requirements are based on a) marriage as a natural institution, and b) the rights and obligations of the Baptised.

    As I’ve said before, I interpret the Peters comments as referring to Catholics married outside the Church compared with Protestant marriages.

    1. Catholics married in the Church. The requirement of canonical form makes perfect sense.

    2. Marriage of Protestants. Recognized as valid and Sacramental according to a & b above. Its Sacramental status is based on the theology of matrimony–that it is the vows of each spouse administering the Sacrament. Thus, your use of Ecclesial is ambiguous. In so far as Protestants are Baptised, their marriages are considered Christian, thus Ecclesial.

    3. Marriage of Catholics outside the Church. This is where the problem occurs. And so I am left with my question: Two Catholics marry civilly, outside the Church, and there was never sanation. Then they divorce. Later, one wants to marry someone else in the Church. How does the Church treat the first, civil marriage?

  85. robtbrown says:


    1. The subject is intention, which is applicable to every Sacrament. For that matter, also to every civil contract.

    2. There is dissolution of marriage according to the Pauline Privilege. At one time there was difference of opinion over whether the Church had the right to dissolve even Sacramental marriages. My understanding is that now few think that.

    3. There is no dissolution of the priesthood. Tu es sacerdos in aeternum. Once a priest, always a priest. Laicization doesn’t invalidate Holy Orders, but releases a man from sacerdotal rights and obligations. That is why a laicized priest can give valid absolution when someone is in danger of death (jurisdiction having been provided by the pope in Canon Law).

    3. The administration of a Sacrament (and thus its existence) re both Holy Orders and Matrimony) can be declared invalid.

    Generally, those who leave the priesthood are considered to have valid Orders, but I know of at least two men (one I knew personally) whose ordinations were declared invalid.

    4. And your notion that only those with canonical form required by the Church are really married still denies that marriage is a natural institution. Further, it implicitly denies the teaching on the Sacrament, i.e., that the each spouse administers the Sacrament to the other.

  86. Phil_NL says:


    1-3. The intentions aren’t comparable though. Someone who is going to be ordained, will intend to be ordained, which in and of itself does not reach the same level of permanency, as the Church can laicize a priest, but the priest cannot be reordained to another spouse – there is just one Church. So ordination is first of all asymmetrical in terms of the hierarchical position of Church and ordained, and secondly, there cannot be a second ordination that requires the first one to be ended.
    In a true marriage, the position is more symmetrical, neither partners can release the other. Moreover, remarriage is physically possible in case of matrimony, as there are other potential spouses. Not so with holy orders, so there is no need to intend to rule that out there as there is with a marriage.
    My point is, of course, that in most actual ‘marriages’ outside the church, partners do intend to enter into something where they can release eachother and where released (read divorced) parties can marry once more.
    As I see it, “intention” cannot be separated from what is intended. With holy orders, a different set of goods is intended, and the problems regarding marriage (that what society customarily intends and what needs to be intended diverge) do not apply. That a man’s soul will not be changed back if he’s laicized, or that a sacrament can be declared invalid (again and again, I’m not talking about sacarmental marriage as such!!) are likewise not the points here.

    4. I’ll conclude here and leave this thread be, cause I’m simply not getting through, am I? I’m not denying the natural institution, I’m denying that everyone who says “I thee wed” or similar is automatically partaking in that natural institution. From that, my other points logically follow: if there are scores and scores of marriages out there which aren’t natural marriages (since they do not intend the necessary permanency), we should start treating them as such and provide clarity.

  87. Daniel W says:


    I think it important to clarify your B) the rights and duties of the baptised.

    Take the example of our duty to honor the sabbath. This duty is fulfilled by the baptised in union with Rome in different rites according to slightly rules as judged appropriate (arbitrated) by the legislator. By the baptised not in Communion with Rome, their fulfillment of the obligation is not governed by Catholic canon law.

    It is the same for marriage. I do not think that the presence of an official witness is arbitrary, so we agree there, however the decision of the state regarding who that till be (ie a Justice of the Peace, or simply a person over 18) varies from state to state (ie is arbitrary).

    Two non-Catholics who marry civilly are married in the eyes of teh Catholic Church, as they do not have to follow our laws, just as they fulfill their Sabbath obligation in whatever way they wish.

    However, a Catholic who marries in a way contrary to Church law is not married in the Church’s eyes, just as a Catholic who goes to a Protestant service is not (usually) fullfilling the Sunday obligation, because the way Catholics fulfill the obligation is governed by our laws.

  88. robtbrown says:


    Actually, you are getting through. As I said above, you have an incorrect understand of Intention, thus you also don’t understand the exercise of a natural right.

    If you want to have an opinion that contradicts St Thomas, and for that matter, Trent, that’s your privilege. But it would be a mistake to think that by following your error, life in the Church would be better.

  89. robtbrown says:

    Daniel W,

    Two Protestants are considered Sacramentally married because of the nature of the Sacrament. It has nothing to do with whether the Church is able to impose its law. The same is true of Baptism. It is recognized as valid (assuming the 3 conditions) regardless of who is the minister.

    It is the same with the Catholic Sunday obligation, which follows from the nature of the Eucharist; it is not merely an exercise of legislative power.

    Also the civil requirement for witnesses is not merely a matter of positive law but rather of natural law: Witnesses establish that the vows have actually taken place.

  90. Daniel W says:

    I am not sure this is worth continuing, I’ll try one last post.

    You don’t seem to have got the clear point about the Sunday obligation. Going to a non-Catholic valid Sunday Eucharist (eg Russian Orthodox), does not normally fulfill the Sunday obligation for a Catholic.

    You have raised Baptism. Look into what “form” is necessary to celebrate baptism validly or confect the Eucharist. If you do not use the Trinitarian formula, you have not validly Baptised, even with the right intention and the right action with water.

    Now, confession is the closest example to marriage in that it is a juridical act. The priest must have faculties to validly hear your confession. You can have every intention of confessing and contrition and confess etc, but if the priest does not have faculties, except in cases such as danger of death, it is not valid!

    I agree that the requirement for witnesses is related to natural law, that’s why it is natural for the Church to also require a clergyman as witness for its members. Just as the Trinitarian formula is the form required for a valid Baptism, consent expressed according to the law is the form required for marriage, and the law is that Catholics require a clergyman present.

    That’s my last attempt. If the Church get’s rid of canonical form, then I’ll have to admit I might have it wrong.

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