ASK FATHER: A revert wonders about validity of previous marriage

From a reader…


I was Baptized Catholic, but my mother stopped practicing when I was 5. I have been married and divorced in a Protestant ceremony, no priest or deacon was present (a myriad of protestant ministers, of varying qualifications, were involved). I am considering re-converting to the Church, but I fear an annulment might not be possible. I am only 23, and I was very young when I entered into marriage (18) with a man that obviously was not committed to the sacrament. Am I considered a Catholic due to my Baptism, making it an invalid union? Or should I seek an annulment otherwise?

Please sit down and talk with your local pastor or call the diocesan Tribunal and ask for direction. It’s difficult to make calls on situations like this over the internet, since there may be nuances that need to be attended to.

However, based on what you wrote, it seems that your first marriage is invalid.

As a baptized Catholic, you were bound to marry in the Catholic Church. In canonical circles, this is referred to as an issue of “canonical form”, that is, getting married with a qualified priest or deacon as witness. All Catholics, by baptism, are bound to observe canonical form when they marry. You were baptized Catholic. You married outside the Church. That marriage is therefore invalid.

That said, sit down with your local pastor or call the Tribunal and ask for advice.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. gramma10 says:

    I must commend this lovely lady. God knows your heart! You are wanting to do the right thing! God bless you!
    Father Z is a wonderful priest to ask! He knows and practices truth.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Pater’s read is spot on. Of course.

    That said, this, and countless cases like it, shows the pure formality that form has become. Had this lady actually been the Protestant she was in all but name …

  3. Peregrinator says:

    Had this lady actually been the Protestant she was in all but name …

    It almost makes one long for the days of Tametsi when the Church’s law on marriage was more cut and dried.

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Peregrinator, you’re kidding, right?


    See why I dislike sarcasm in comboxes? it’s not always clear when one is kidding.

  5. The Masked Chicken says:

    I just want to stick my beak in here to say that this is not only a problem in marriage nuances, but in evangelization. Her mother stopped practicing when the girl was five. How sad. If she had not, this situation might not have occurred. I say, bring back the fear of sin. Sometimes, even servile fear has its uses.

    The Chicken

  6. Joe in Canada says:

    I think we can thank Emeritus Pope Benedict for the clarity of this. My understanding is that previously, if a Catholic became publicly a Protestant even without a public abjuration of the Catholic faith, his or her Protestant marriage would be considered valid. But Benedict reminded us that once a Catholic, always a Catholic.

  7. Peregrinator says:

    See why I dislike sarcasm in comboxes? it’s not always clear when one is kidding.

    My tongue was partly in cheek but I think things would be simpler if all the baptized were bound to canonical form.

  8. Daniel W says:

    Dr Peters writes:
    “this, and countless cases like it, shows the pure formality that form has become”

    How dare anyone arrogantly state that the form used to express the marriages of countless Catholics is a pure formality. If Peters wants to imply his own marital consent was a pure formality, that is up to him, but I resent the generalisation from those who are just going through the motions when they marry in a Catholic ceremony to all Catholics. Canonical form, as set out in both extraordinary and “ordinary” rites, is appropriately expressive of the beauty of matrimonial consent. It makes explicit the nature of marriage in a society that denies these essentials.

    Yes, form may be a pure formality for couples who lie about their intention to live a Catholic marriage. However, the fact that for many people marital consent is a pure formality means canonical form is all the more necessary to clarify what the parties are consenting to.

    All societies require some form for the expression of marital consent. No matter how complicated it makes life for canon lawyers, the Church should not abandon canonical form and leave spouses and the rest of society to decide what is a legitimate expression of consent. Especially in the West, the Church should continue to ensure that it’s members are obliged to affirm the essentials of marriage when expressing marital consent, because these have been denied in the West ever since Luther protested against them.

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