Receiving divorced and/or remarried catechumens into the Church properly

I recently obtained a blurb from a mailing of a diocese to priests which had a great summary of how to handle the cases of catechumens who are in apparently invalid marriage situations.  I obtained permission to repost it.

This is useful mostly for parish priests, but it could be good for laypeople who are catechumens who are in the process of coming into the Church.

Lent is coming.  Many catechumens will be received into the Church at Easter.  Make sure you come into the fold properly!

Here is the blurb:

This is a reminder that no catechumen or candidate living in an apparently invalid marriage may be initiated/received into the Catholic Church. [Notice the “apparently”.  Remember that Nemo est iudex in causa sua… no one is a judge in his own cause.  The status of marriages has to be determined by a tribunal.  So, if there is something that appears to be out of order, take it to the proper authority!] This includes anyone who has attempted remarriage while their first spouse is still living or anyone who has attempted marriage to a person bound by a prior marriage. It does not matter if the parties were baptized or unbaptized, what religion they practiced, or if they were married in a civil ceremony. In some cases it may be possible to recognize the current marriage if the first marriage is proven invalid following a judicial process or if the first marriage is dissolved, but in other cases it will be necessary for the parties to separate or at least live chastely together; please refer any questions to the Tribunal. It also includes anyone who attempted marriage to a Catholic outside of canonical form, who would need to validate their marriage in the Church prior to initiation/reception. RCIA catechumens and candidates whose first marriages ended in a divorce but who have not remarried can be initiated/received, but they should be informed beforehand that the Church does not consider them free to remarry given their current status, but they may in the future seek a declaration of nullity through a judicial process, per their discretion.

Clear and helpful.

Marriage is not simply a personal act that affects nobody but the couple.  Marriage is public.  Marriage affects everyone in the community.  Marriage is important for the good ordering of the community.

In a era when lousy education and a culture dedicated to the base appetites has clouded intellect and weakened will, more than ever we need the solid teaching and practice of the Catholic Church regarding marriage.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    “In a era when lousy education and a culture dedicated to the base appetites has clouded intellect and weakened will, more than ever we need the solid teaching and practice of the Catholic Church regarding marriage.”

    True enough. But again I see no alternative to return to those prickly questions: at which point does an understanding of marriage in the culture at large become so warped, so casual, that it is not marriage at all, even though some protestant deaconess at some point waved the flap of her dress and used the word ‘marry’? At which point does the shared understanding that divorce is always an option negate the presence of even natural marriage?

    It’s good that there are tribunals willing to sort such a mess, but I think that at some point we really need to stop kid ourselves and drop the presumption of validity of marriage (even as a natural marriage) for those cermenonies/contracts done outside the church. The term ‘marriage’ has gone the same way as the term ‘liberal’. That one started out as a description of someone in favor of freedom, and now means the opposite. Marriage is close behind, as nowadays in the wider society it is becoming the opposite of stability.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Thank you, Father. Some of us who worked for years in adult catechesis were given these guidelines. I had to turn some people away until their marriage situations were “sanitized”, or until the couple was willing to pursue annulments. Thankfully, most dioceses are actually more in tune with the necessity of looking into “marriages” than in the 1980s and 1990s. In other words, things have “tightened up”.

    I am so glad you noted that marriage is a public act. All the sacraments are public, for the community and not merely for the person, but for the building up of the Church.

    If one is living in mortal sin, one cannot receive the graces of the sacrament, a teaching omitted in some discussions last Autumn, part of the confusion and purposeful deception surrounding the synod.

    Good marriages come out of good families and excellent catechesis. The pretence that most people who want to be married have had these advantages is a lie which creates problems later on. The reality now, in 2015, is that very few people know or have seen really good marriages as examples. The Church has much work to do to combat this lack of solid marriages in our society by helping couples create holy marriages.

  3. MargaretC says:

    I have never married. I think I was the only one in my RCIA class who didn’t have some kind of marital problem that needed to be cleared up.

  4. Traductora says:

    Interesting interview with Cdl Burke on French TV2. He said that if the Pope continues on his current course with respect to homosexuals and to divorced and remarried Catholics, he will have to resist. He said it will be painful but he can’t do otherwise. He was asked if this “dispute” was going to destroy the Church as an institution, and he said that we have Our Lord’s promise that the Church will stand.

    This was published on a Spanish blog, and there are now Spaniards lined up behind Burke to fight the good fight! You can see how Spain managed to convert the entire New World, back in the day when most of the clergy were orthodox, because even though the Spanish Church is under enormous attack from both liberal Catholics (including the Pope) and the leftist political parties, which will not even let Catholics open schools there in areas the left controls, they are utterly devoted to orthodoxy. Spain loved BXVI and many people – not youth, but people driven away by the VII antics – came back to the Church when he visited for WYD.

    The French program may be accessible from this link ( but I think it actually won’t be broadcast until tomorrow. It’s a program called “13:15 le dimanche” (Sunday at 1:15 pm), so there’s a transcript at this site but the video isn’t fully available yet. Definitely worth reading or viewing, if you speak or read French – if not, I’m sure it will be out everywhere soon.

  5. Elizabeth D says:

    I found that refreshing enough to read twice.

  6. pelerin says:

    Thanks to Traductora for pointing this programme out. I do hope the interview with Cardinal Burke will be available elsewhere on the Catholic blogosphere. I have tried before to get France 2 on the internet but even though I am on the south coast of England right opposite France the screen puts up a message saying this is not available in my geographical area.

  7. JackintheVox says:

    Isn’t there a glaring error in this blurb, namely, It does not matter if the parties were baptized or unbaptized, what religion they practiced,?

    Certain marriages involving at least one unbaptized person can be dissolved by the law itself when the conditions are met, according to these CDF norms promulgated by Cardinal Ratzinger:

  8. JackintheVox says:

    Actually, on second thought I think “by the law itself” is meant to exclude the need for involving Rome, not to exclude a tribunal process of some kind, given this:

    Can. 1145 §1. The interrogation is regularly to be done on the authority of the local ordinary of the converted party.

    This ordinary must grant the other spouse a period of time to respond if the spouse seeks it, after having been advised, however, that his or her silence will be considered a negative response if the period passes without effect.

    §2. Even an interrogation made privately by the converted party is valid and indeed licit if the form prescribed above cannot be observed.

    §3. In either case, the fact that the interrogation was done and its outcome must be established legitimately in the external forum.

  9. avatquevale says:

    I watched the French TV program, because I thought it was to be mainly about Cardinal Burke.
    But fairly early on, they segued from Cdl. Burke, “la fronde,” to the mafia, Church financial scandals, a luxury loving corrupt cardinal, and finally to those who wish to assassinate popes.

    Skew much?

  10. Gerard Plourde says:

    To further clarify the reference to spouses of converts in the section of the Code of Canon Law referenced by Jack – this refers to what has been traditionally called the Pauline Privilege which comes into play in dissolving a marriage of non-baptized persons when one spouse converts while the other spouse does not and subsequent faith-threatening conditions arise in the relationship.

  11. Landless Laborer says:

    There may well be many parishes like the one in which a candidate last year was attending RCIA classes. There they simply refuse to accept anyone who has been divorced without first going through the annulment process, as had been their practice as long as anyone could remember. This is preposterous. The woman very nearly dropped out. She has no intention of remarrying, and after persuading the deacon to bring the matter before a canon lawyer was allowed to be received into the Church. I pray the deacon, who perennially runs RCIA, will remember this.

  12. Gerard Plourde says:

    The discussion triggered another thought for me. Looking back on my own Catholic grade school education, which was almost exclusively grounded in eight years of the traditional Baltimore Catechism, I believe that it is safe to say that even then only the broadest and most basic aspects of the faith stuck with the majority of my classmates. When wringing our hands about the current state of affairs we should not be seduced into thinking that the past was a golden age in which most Catholics had a thorough understanding of what the Church teaches.

  13. JMody says:

    Does this say that the catechumens who are going from no faith to Catholicism, or those who are going from some denomination that does not view marriage as a sacrament to Catholicism, are prohibited from entering? Or does it say that they are to be screened by the diocesan tribunal first? This seems to be very strange wording for something that might get out into the public, as it did …

    And Gerard – too true. If the past were a golden age of proper instruction, much of the chaos of the last fifty years would have been nipped in the bud.

  14. Ben Kenobi says:

    Father Z, I have a question. What actions would pertain to ‘attempts to marry’? Would this include an engagement?

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