If two Catholics marry, have children, divorce, and then successfully obtain a decree of nullity, are the children then considered illegitimate in the eyes of the Church?
This is a concern regarding an acquaintance of mine who I am trying to encourage to come back to the Church.
I am glad this question came up. It is good to clarify this once and for all.
Even in the modern age there are cases in which a child is conceived before marriage and the parents then hastily marry to make sure the child is “legitimate”. Years later, after a divorce and a nullity case has been presented, one parent strenuously objects to the decree: “Annulment? The Church is making my child into a bastard!”
That isn’t, of course, the case, and that must be explained.
And one must, at all costs, resist asking in return: “Where was your concern about ‘legitimacy’ in the back of your VW Minibus with your girlfriend?”
Here’s the deal.
Both the outdated 1917 Code of Canon Law (and the old Catholic Encyclopedia at New Advent) use similar language as in can. 1137 of the current, 1983 Code. Can. 1114 of the 1917 Code states,
“Those children are legitimate who are conceived or born of a valid or putative marriage…”
Even though a marriage could later be declared null, at the time of conception the marriage was putatively valid.
Children born in these circumstances have legitimate status, which cannot be taken away from them.
The current, 1983 Code places no restrictions on children born to unmarried parents. I am sure that the Eastern Code is the same, though I don’t have the references to hand.
A larger question is, why is “legitimacy” a concern? Are children who are born to unmarried parents somehow less important, less worthy?
The former restrictions that were in place were, for the most part, concessions to secular society which may have been otherwise scandalized. I suspect that they also had to do with names and inheritance, etc.
Would we be in a better place today if society were we still scandalized by pre- and extramarital sexual activity? Such is the new norm. Not only. All manner of perverse activities are the new norm and, if you don’t agree to call them normal and even good, then you are hissed down and marginalized.
But I digress.
Our moral rejection of such pre-marital and extra-marital should not descend upon the innocent children born of parents who sin.
Now, before someone jumps in to say “But Father! But Father! Therefore, by your reasoning, we should never punish babies of less-than-sanctioned unions by not baptizing them! And… and… you hate Vatican II! ”
That, however, is a different question and it won’t be a matter of discussion here. This was about legitimacy.
The moderation queue is ON.