ASK FATHER: Sanation of Protestant marriage without dispensation

From a reader…


Thank you Father for your great blog! Are there situations where it would be appropriate to get a marriage regularised as a natural marriage even though there is a possibility it could be sacramental? I ask this as I have returned to the Catholic faith after a long absence. During that absence I married without proper dispensation in a protestant church (I had no idea nor would have cared at the time).

My wife has been less than enthusiastic about my return, but tolerates it and is open to the idea of a radical sanation. Trouble is that it is proving very difficult to source evidence for her baptism overseas and neither she nor her family have much interest in uncovering it.

This has been the situation for over a year now.

Congratulations on your return to the Faith, and your desire to get your situation squared away.

It sounds as though you have been speaking with your parish priest, which is a good thing.

Whether a marriage is sacramental or natural is not an option for us to choose between.  It is sacramental if it is a valid marriage between two baptized persons. It is natural if it is either between two unbaptized persons or a baptized person and an unbaptized person.

A sanation of your marriage could be done regardless of your wife’s baptismal status. If there is no way of obtaining proof of her baptism then the sanation would include a dispensation “ad cautelam“, basically a conditional dispensation. The sanation would regularize your marital status.

If her baptismal status remains doubtful, don’t worry. Your marriage would still be made valid. Whether that sanated marriage is sacramental or merely natural would remain an unanswered question, but that’s okay.  It would not impact your ability to return to the sacraments and regular practice of your Catholic Faith.

Perhaps, at some point in the future, your wife will be inspired by how much more kind, caring, and devoted you are now that you are practicing your Catholic Faith, and she will be inspired to join you at Holy Mass.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Also, proof of Baptism doesn’t always have to be a baptismal certificate or a photocopy of a church registry. I think they also take stuff like pictures on the baptism day or sworn statements by people who were there.

    But yeah, if you haven’t managed to find the person in your wife’s family who keeps everything in a scrapbook, the conditional thing will work!

  2. madisoncanonist says:

    The questioner does not specify whether his wife is also a Catholic, which could complicate things somewhat. There is debate as to whether the diocesan bishop is competent to grant a sanation for two Catholics who married outside of canonical form.
    Those who say that the diocesan bishop is not competent argue that since the diocesan bishop cannot dispense from canonical form for two Catholics (only mixed/disparity of cult marriages) beforehand, it would be absurd to suppose he could do so after the fact. Why would he be competent to dispense from form the Monday morning after the wedding what he could not dispense the Friday night before it?
    Those who argue that he can (I count myself among them) argue that the dispensation from form is not so much the direct act of the diocesan bishop as it is an ipso iure effect of the sanation. As the canon phrases it, the sanation “carries with it” (secumfert) a dispensation from form, if form was not observed. Furthermore, canon 1165 explicitly limits the diocesan bishop’s ability to sanate marriages impeded by an impediment whose dispensation is reserved to the holy see, but it gives no similar limitation on the dispensation from form (inclusio unius, exclusio alterius). Also, there is a sense in which *every* radical sanation entails a dispensation from form: by a fiction of law, the legal effects of marriage are projected back to the time when the marriage was celebrated, but the marriage actually takes place here and now, when the bishop signs the rescript, while the parties are likely at home in their living room.

  3. Supertradmum says:

    If there are canonists who think people will wait for Rome to sanitize, they are not being realistic as to the attitude of most Catholics. The problem is that people do not seek out dispensations, as I learned of one young couple yesterday, married recently without a dispensation, which was needed. The Catholic party has now fallen completely away from the Faith.

    I wish parents would go back to the days of my dating, when my parents did not let us date anyone non-Catholic, or a person who parents they did not know. I suppose the delaying of marriage to ages when single people are no longer under their parents’ guidance leads to confusion about dating, courtship and marriage. It is so hard to repair some marriage situations without much suffering.

  4. ConstantlyConverting says:

    Don’t forget also there are novenas to St Monica (conversion of husband and son), St Anthony of Padua (patron saint of difficult causes) and to Ven Fulton Sheen (champion of Trinitarian sign of marriage.)

    All things are possible in God!!


  5. Suburbanbanshee says:

    You know what we need?

    We need somebody to write some kind of “ask the canon lawyer” romance novel series, where the canon lawyer plays a sort of matchmaker/straightener-out role. Possibly set it in medieval times or the future, to make the moral lessons easier to take.

    Because right now, most Catholics get all their moral instruction on marriage law from stupid movies and stupid television shows and stupid novels, so we may as well go where they are.

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